As riders gathered at Le Mans for this weekend's French MotoGP, friend and former rival Nicky Hayden was at the forefront of their thoughts.

The 2006 world champion, now racing in World Superbike, is in a critical condition with 'serious cerebral damage' after being hit by a car while training on his bicycle in Rimini, Italy yesterday.

The six riders present in the pre-event press conference held a banner of support for Hayden, before Valentino Rossi summed up his feelings:

"Very bad news yesterday. Sincerely it's difficult to realise, but I spoke straight away with a friend, a doctor, who said the situation from the first moment was very difficult for Nicky. Now after a bit more time you start to understand...

"It is a great shame because Nicky is a great rider for sure - a great talent, a world champion and always at the top - but especially, a very good guy. He comes from a good family of racers, his fathers and brothers, is always smiling. It's very bad.

"The situation is very difficult but we all hope for the best."

Rossi was Hayden's first MotoGP team-mate in 2003 at Honda, and the pair were later reunited at Ducati in 2011 and 2012.

Hayden's last MotoGP team-mate was Marc Marquez, the pair sharing the Repsol Honda garage at October's Australian Grand Prix when the American stood-in for the injured Dani Pedrosa.

Marquez first met Hayden in his rookie 125cc grand prix season, when the #69 was a full-time rider at Repsol Honda.

"I've known Nicky since 2008, I arrived in the Repsol KTM team in 125 and he was a really nice guy to me," said the reigning triple MotoGP champion.

"In Australia last year we spent a lot of time together. It was really nice, especially we did an incredible party on the Sunday! We enjoyed it a lot. I remember he was going to sleep but then he stayed until 6am!

"Like Valentino said, it's really sad. Because it's something you never expect. You take big risks every weekend on the motorbike and then something unexpected like that can happen. I wish the best for him and all his family."

The usual light-hearted fan questions from social media at the end of the press conference were cancelled in light of Hayden's condition.

Speaking in the paddock, Pol Espargaro highlighted the seemingly increasing dangers of cycling:

"The problem, or the good thing, is that every year more people are pursuing a healthy lifestyle; riding bicycles, running, or whatever. Bicycle racing is a beautiful sport that is so fun to do, but also so dangerous. More people are doing this sport and car drivers are [not] getting used to that.

"We need to do something because in Spain it's crazy. Already 28 deaths now and we are not in the middle of the year. Last year I think it was 33 deaths all year.

"Nicky is a really good guy. It's not like this is a guy who jumps on a bike on a Sunday and made a stupid mistake. Nicky was riding bicycles for a lot of years, he's crazy about bicycles, and I could put my throttle hand in the fire that he was not the guy who would cause the incident.

"Nicky was almost a professional cyclist, like my brother, and if it can happen to Nicky, it can happen to me or to anyone else in the world."


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