After 26-years, 432 grands prix, 115 wins, 235 podiums and nine world championships, Valentino Rossi rode his final MotoGP race at Valencia on Sunday.

The result, "very important" to Rossi but largely academic for the 76,000 fans that travelled to the cramped stadium circuit or tuned in around the world to witness a moment in motorsport history, was tenth place.

That's nothing compared to the height of Rossi's powers, when he won 11 races per year on four occasions between 1997 and 2005, including a stunning 16 out of 17 podiums during the 2005 campaign (and 15 as late as 2015).

But by the tough standards of his final season - in which, for the first time, he failed to stand on the rostrum with a high of eighth in the Austrian rain - Rossi was proud to have saved what he felt was his best race for last.

After a surprise meeting with teenage idol Ronaldo and overlooked by a huge 'Grazie Vale' mural painted onto the side of a paddock building, Rossi made a strong start from tenth on the grid to go 'bar-to-'bar with Yamaha's new world champion Fabio Quartararo at Turn 1.

Spending the early stages in ninth, Rossi yielded a place to the Ducatis of Johann Zarco and Enea Bastianini, putting The Doctor at the head of a three-way fight with fellow M1 riders Franco Morbidelli and Andrea Dovizioso.

Alex Rins' exit moved Rossi back into the top ten and, while VR46 protegee Morbidelli looked to be riding shotgun behind Rossi, the #21 insisted Rossi upped his pace and left no room to attack as the pair pulled several seconds clear of Dovizioso.

Rossi thus took his final chequered flag in tenth place, as the second-best Yamaha after Fabio Quartararo.

Most importantly, it had been a competitive showing at The Doctor's "worst" track, Rossi losing less than half-a-second a lap to Ducati race winner Francesco Bagnaia, now VR46's most successful premier-class rider, and 0.3s to Quartararo (in fifth).

Rossi spent an emotional slowdown lap celebrating with his fan club and fellow riders before continuing the party in the Petronas Yamaha garage.

"It was a really special weekend and I didn’t expect it like this. I was a bit worried about the last weekend of my career, because you always think about this moment for a long time and you don't know how you will feel, if you are able to stay concentrated on the race, or if you will be very sad and everything," Rossi said.

"But it was great. A great weekend from Thursday. I received a lot of surprises from the championship-winning bikes and also the riders of the Academy using my helmet was very emotional. And also great support and great respect from all the people from the paddock and also from all the MotoGP riders. I have to thank them. It's very important. It's not so normal I think.

"And especially it was a great weekend already from yesterday, I ride well and today in the race I was able to arrive in the top ten. So it means I close my long career with the top ten riders in the world. This is so important for me. It means a lot. And I can use this result for a long time, because I can say that in my last race I finished in the top ten!

"So I feel very good, also because after the race we did some serious party and we enjoy like we win the championship. It's something I will never forget."

Given his tough season and poor record at Valencia, venue for his final round title defeats in 2006 and 2015, Rossi and his crew had made a big push to avoid bowing out of MotoGP at the back of field.

"In the last races we improved a lot the bike and we worked well together with David, Idalio, Matteo and all the team," Rossi said.

"Sincerely they give to me a fantastic support because the season was long and not easy, because it was a crucial season for me to decide if I continue. But the results didn’t arrive and it's very easy when you say 'okay, I'll stop' to give up.

"But after Portugal we speak together and I said, 'f**k in Valencia we have to give the maximum' because it's the last race and I want to make the maximum because that track is the worst for me and I don’t want to arrive last.

"But it was more positive than we expected and to finish in the top ten today, I think this is the best race of my season.

"First of all we work well with my team and yesterday already from the morning the bike was really improved from Friday and I started to feel better from FP3. This is very important. Anyway also from Saturday to Sunday we improved and yesterday also Pecco helped me stay in the top ten and go direct into Qualifying 2. And then you can do really another race.

"But also today I feel the motivation and concentration like if I have to play for the world championship. Because it's the last race and it's very important. You will never forget.

"And, f**k, it's not easy because already from the Monday I had a lot of pressure, a lot of things to do, but I want to try for me the most important is try to be strong in the race, because I'm still a rider.

"For me it's a great emotion today. I ride very well. I never made any mistakes and I gave the maximum from beginning to the end."

Rossi's only regret is that it's now all over, something he will have to come to terms with over the next weeks and month.

"The first thing that I regret is that it's finished.  I think it will be more difficult in the future, in the next weeks and months, and especially March when they restart," he said.

"What else? For sure I wanted to try to win the tenth championship but I cannot regret about my results and the nine championships. I think that if I put the same effort of the last ten years, into the first years, I could win also more than I won. But I think it's normal that when you are young you are more of a dickhead! This is something you learn just with experience.

"But apart from this, I'm very happy and today was a great final."

The Complete Racer

Rossi bids farewell having helped transform the sport he entered as a wide-eyed teenager in 1996.

The Italian's mix of relaxed, fun-loving charisma and supreme racing talent, especially race craft, helped turn each GP into a party atmosphere, the great entertainer attracting a new wave of fans not normally interested in motorcycling or indeed motorsport.

In turn, MotoGP has brought the 42-year-old riches beyond his wildest dreams, but also the pain of injuries and anguish of an accident that cost the life of close friend Marco Simoncelli at Sepang 2011.

The most successful rider ever in the premier-class in terms of wins, Rossi is just seven victories shy of the all-time grand prix record by Giacomo Agostini. It’s a feat he would probably have achieved without the broken leg in 2010 or ill-fated switch to Ducati for the next two seasons.

Many felt Rossi's career was done and dusted when he failed to win on the Desmosedici, but Yamaha repaid the faith he had shown in them when he sensationally walked out of Honda as a triple world champion in 2004 by welcoming the Italian back for 2013.

Never one to dwell on past success, and with popularity counting for nothing each time the red lights go out, Rossi kept looking forwards as he raced on for an astonishing nine more seasons.

The subject of frequent retirement rumours, Rossi instead watched all of the next generation of 'aliens' - Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo - retire before him while he claimed a further ten wins, 58 podiums and battled for the 2015 title until the final round.

Without a victory since 2017, Rossi's fans have continued to paint the grandstands yellow and - while some feel he raced on too long - Dorna's Carmelo Ezpeleta thanked the Italian for helping the sport navigate the treacherous Covid waters, rather than walking away when wins dried up.

Rossi's passion for two-wheels was inherited from his father Graziano, a grand prix racer in the late '70s and early '80s.

The #46's own world championship career then went through the complete cycle, from up-and-coming star in the junior classes, pioneer of amusing post-race celebrations, baiting countryman Max Biaggi then going head to head in the final years of the fire-breathing 500cc machines, dominating the early years of four-stroke MotoGP, stunning the sport by leaving Honda for Yamaha and instantly winning the factory's first title in over a decade, battling younger rivals as experience and hard work replaced raw speed, the humbling Ducati years and comeback to Yamaha, falling short of the 2015 title after a bitter end to the season, then a gradual decline from occasional wins to occasional podiums, which came to a halt with his 199th premier-class rostrum at Jerez 2020. Along the way, he dabbled with F1 testing for Ferrari and was good enough to seriously consider a switch.

While Agostini (15) and Angel Nieto (13) achieved more world titles, and Stoner probably possessed greater outright talent, Rossi leaves having been the most complete motorcycle racer - and certainly the most famous - the world has so far seen.

Although most of Rossi's infamous rivalries (Max Biaggi, Sete Gibernau, Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo) have healed with time, Marc Marquez - absent this weekend due to eye problems and just one title behind Rossi's tally - remains the exception.

Having taken part in 44% of all grand prix events held since 1949, redefining and mastering every aspect of what it means to be a modern motorcycle champion, Rossi now plans to spend his semi-retirement in sportscar racing.

MotoGP meanwhile crosses its fingers that the millions of fans attracted to the sport during his era - either supporting Rossi or his rivals - remain interested.

Rossi's name will continue in MotoGP next year through the VR46 Moto2 and MotoGP teams, plus the VR46 Riders Academy, based at his home in Tavullia.

Some of Rossi's happiest and proudest moments this season have come from the success of protegee Francesco Bagnaia and, always focussed on the next result, Rossi's two-wheel attention will turn to overseeing a VR46 MotoGP world champion.

The nine VR46 Academy grand prix riders each wore one of Rossi's title-winning helmet designs for his farewell on Sunday and the Academy goes into the 2022 season boasting its biggest ever MotoGP line-up of title runner-up Bagnaia (Ducati), fellow race winner Franco Morbidelli (Yamaha), Rossi's younger brother Luca Marini and rookie Marco Bezzecchi.

"I am a great supporter of all our riders and next year we will have four riders in MotoGP. Franco and Pecco with the factory Yamaha and Ducati. And luca and Bez with our team," Rossi said. "I think that Pecco but also Franco can fight for the championship next year and I hope that between those guys can arrive the new superstar of MotoGP."

And how would Rossi sum-up his career in a few words? "Stunning... First of all, funny... And very competitive."

Valentino Rossi - Career Statistics:

World Championships: 9 (1 x 125cc, 1 x 250cc, 7 x MotoGP)

2009: 800cc MotoGP, Yamaha

2008: 800cc MotoGP, Yamaha

2005: 990cc MotoGP, Yamaha

2004: 990cc MotoGP, Yamaha

2003: 990cc MotoGP, Honda

2002: 990cc MotoGP, Honda

2001: 500cc, Honda

1999: 250cc, Aprilia

1997: 125cc, Aprilia

World Championship Runner-up: 6 times (250cc: 1998. MotoGP: 2000, 2006, 2014, 2015, 2016)

Race Wins: 115 (12 x 125cc, 14 x 250cc, 89 x MotoGP)

Podiums: 235 (15 x 125cc, 21 x 250c, 199 x MotoGP)

Pole Positions: 65 (5 x 125cc, 5 x 250cc, 55 x MotoGP)

Fastest Laps: 96 (9 x 125cc, 11 x 250cc, 76 x MotoGP)