Saturday at Assen was the moment MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi feared would never happen.
After romping to a record 79 wins for Honda and Yamaha from 2000-2010 - an average of over seven victories per season - The Italian's success ground to a complete halt during two dark years at Ducati.
Rossi then cut his losses, re-joining Yamaha and reigning double champion Jorge Lorenzo.
After mixed performances in the opening six rounds, Rossi's victory doubts were finally erased at the Dutch TT.
“I'm happy, but I still don't believe it!” said Rossi on Saturday evening. “I have to see the race another two or three times, as I cross the finish line in first position. Sincerely I wasn't sure if I could win again because it is a long time since the last victory. We passed through two very difficult seasons, very frustrating, with a lot of bad results.”
Rossi paid tribute to his mechanics, led by crew chief Jerry Burgess, many of whom he has worked with since his premier-class debut in 2000.
“I have to say thank you first of all to Yamaha and also my team - all my guys that fought with me and, like me, never gave up in the difficult seasons,” said the seven time MotoGP champion. “We were not sure if we could come back for victory, but we never gave up. We always tried. We never said 'it's over'.
“To win in Assen is also something special. It is an old fashioned circuit and I won my 100th grand prix [in all classes] here in 2009. My rivals are very strong and very fast, but I hope if I ride like this I can fight every weekend. This is the target.”
Starting fourth on the grid, Rossi was behind only the Repsol Hondas of Marc Marquez and title leader Dani Pedrosa by the end of the opening lap. The Doctor overtook the RCVs on laps 5 and 6 respectively, then held firm for a two-second victory.
“For me the race was perfect,” said Rossi. “I did a great start. I was able to overtake Cal [Crutchlow] and also Bradl at the end of the first lap and I was with the two Hondas. This was my target because I knew Marc and Dani were the strongest.
“I was a bit faster in two or three parts and went in front. When I saw Marc [in second] on my pit board instead of Dani I thought, 'now I will understand if I can win'. My lead went up and I thought 'okay, continue like this'.”Valentino Rossi: "I thought, 'F**k! If Lorenzo arrives in front of me with a broken collarbone it is a big problem!'"
Rossi also joked that he gained extra motivation during the race from the heroic performance of injured team-mate Lorenzo.
“At one moment I saw on the big screen that Lorenzo was very close to me and I thought, 'F**k! If he arrives in front of me with a broken collarbone it is a big problem!' That gave me 0.2-0.3 every lap!” he smiled.
Rossi hadn't won since October 2010, in Malaysia, claiming just three podiums on the Desmosedici.
“Before the race I said I want to push hard from the beginning and lead one or two laps. This was the first target for today,” said Rossi.
However once out front, it felt like business as usual: “Sincerely it felt like other races in the past, just more exciting at the finish line for sure. Just more happy.
“For me this is one of the most special victories of my career,” added the 34-year-old. “I put this on my 'podium' [top three best wins] because it is a long, long time. I hope we can raise my speed, my level, ride the M1 in a better way and fight these guys every week.”Valentino Rossi: "After Qatar, people said, 'Valentino is young again'. After the next race in Austin they said, 'Valentino is finished!'"
Prior to Assen, Rossi's only podium of the year had been in the opening Qatar round. The Doctor teased about how quickly perceptions change in MotoGP and insisted he never stopped giving his all, even during the Ducati woes.
“After Qatar, people said, 'Ahh! Valentino is young again'. After the next race in Austin they said, 'Valentino is finished!' Always up and down. For me, I stayed at the same level but to be at the top in MotoGP you need everything 100 percent - a perfect weekend: The bike, track, tyres.
“I was riding also like this last year, but I was 30 seconds slower!
“All I can do is stay 100 percent concentrated, physically and mentally prepare for the races, and try to do my best every weekend.
“My rivals are very strong. The level is so high from the beginning to the end of the race. The pace has changed a lot from when I was young. So I don't want to say that I'll be in front every week, but I think I still have the potential, passion and strength to fight every week.”Valentino Rossi: "We didn't change anything from the warm-up to the race, which hasn't happened since about 2002-2003!"
Lorenzo's injury aside, the biggest clue to the Assen success can be found one week earlier during testing in Aragon, when Rossi and his team got a grip on their braking problems.
“We needed time. When I came back I was very, very happy about the bike but still not at 100 percent. The first race [Qatar] was a very good result for me, but after I struggled a lot. Especially I cannot ride how I want. I cannot use my style,” Rossi confirmed.
“But from the test in Aragon last week we made a good step. I feel more confident. I arrived here and was very fast in practice, very close to the top guys, and I feel good with the bike.
“We didn't change anything from the warm-up to the race, which hasn't happened since about 2002-2003!
“Before the race I thought 'today I have to try to win'. I thought today was my day because I had the pace, I am good with the bike, this morning I was first in the warm-up and also Jorge with his injury is not at 100 percent.”Valentino Rossi: "Jorge is the real hero today"
Lorenzo, winner of three races this year, broke his collarbone during wet Thursday practice at Assen, underwent surgery in the early hours of Friday - then returned to race on Saturday! Rossi, seen chatting with his former arch-rival just before leaving the pit garage for the race, hailed the Spaniard's ride to fifth place.
“For me Jorge is the real hero today,” Rossi declared. “He made something not unbelievable, but close to unbelievable. When I understood he wanted to come back and race, I thought maybe I could not do that.
“To have surgery after a big crash and try to race at that level just one day later is something great.
“He took a risk, but he rode like normal in the first part of the race. Maybe these points will be very important for his championship. He has demonstrated to everybody that he wants to try to win more than 100%.”
As a result of his efforts, Lorenzo is just nine points behind Pedrosa and the championship lead. Rossi is now fifth in the standings, two points behind Tech 3 Yamaha rider Crutchlow.Be there! CLICK HERE to see ticket prices for the remaining rounds of the 2013 MotoGP World Championship from the Official MotoGP Ticket Store.