Valentino Rossi, who has announced his retirement at the end of the 2021 season, will not only go down in history as one of MotoGP's most successful riders, but also its greatest entertainer.

After arriving on the grand prix scene in 1996 the Italian's mix of raw talent, cheeky charm and elaborate post-race celebrations built a mass following of supporters as he climbed the grand prix ladder.

Fuelled by a tense rivalry with countryman and established 500cc star Max Biaggi. Rossi mania then exploded when The Doctor arrived in the premier-class in 2000.

Once empty grandstands began to fill with fans, a trend replicated in the television audiences. While no rider is bigger than the sport itself, Rossi's fame soon extended well beyond the confines of the two-wheeled world, lifting the worldwide profile of the newly renamed 'MotoGP' to unprecedented levels.

"The difference between me and all the other great riders in MotoGP history is this," Rossi said of his enormous fan following, sustained despite a lack of race wins since 2017.

"Because, sincerely I don’t know why, but for some reason I was able to bring a lot of people close to motorcycle racing. I did something in my early career that switched on the emotion of the normal people. I’m proud of this. It’s something really special.

"Especially in Italy, a lot of people followed motorcycle racing to follow me. It's a little bit like what happened with Alberto Tomba in Skiing. I think this is the most important thing I did in my career together with the results.

"I don’t know why, sincerely! But I think that I entertained a lot of people on Sunday afternoon. For 1 or 2 hours when they don’t have to think about anything and just enjoy to follow my races. I think this is the best thing.

"I have to say to my fans that I always gave everything. For a long, long time. Because it's more than 25 years. I always tried my maximum to stay in the game, to stay at the top.

"It’s been a long trip together. I think a lot of my fans were maybe born when I was on the track and now arrive at this moment! It was great because I have incredible support from all the fans in all the world.

"Now the results are not fantastic, but people are still very excited to see me. Some cry and for me it's always a surprise. I say 'don't cry, why are you crying?!' I think this is the biggest emotion."

Such fame has led to obvious comparisons with the likes of Michael Jordan in basketball or Tiger Woods in golf.

"It's not good if I say 'yes, I am like Michael Jordan!' But the feeling is great. The people recognise me everywhere, also in the most particular places in the world. When you go in Thailand and you see the 46 on the scooter. It's something special."

Having spent over half of his life as a motorcycle grand prix racer, celebrating 115 victories and 235 podiums, what will Rossi miss most when he walks away from the paddock for the final time as a rider?

"I think I will miss a lot life of an athlete," he said. "To wake up every morning and train with the target to try to win. I like a lot this life.

"But number one, I will miss riding the MotoGP bike. Because when you are on the track with the MotoGP bike it's a great emotion.

"Second, also to work with my team, trying to fix all the small details to be stronger.

"After that I will miss a lot also the feeling of Sunday morning, the two hours before the race.

"It’s something where you don’t feel comfortable, because you are scared, but it’s an emotion because you know the race starts at 2 O'clock. I think these things will be hard to fix."

Rossi starts the second half of his final MotoGP season in Austria this weekend.