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14th November 2005


Books: 'What if I'd never tried it?' by Valentino Rossi

Many classic bikers, says Kel Boyce, are attending GP races again after staying away for several decades. The reason? The return of 'proper' race-bikes in the form of snortin' four-strokes. A review, then, of Valentino Rossi's autobiography seems as natural as a Hailwood biography...

Valentino Rossi - man or god?

'What if I'd never tried it?' by Valentino RossiWho knows? But finally we have word from the man (…god…) himself.

Yes, The Doctor has now realised that umpteen motorcycle journalists have been busily earning mega-bucks by publishing their own versions of his life - and come up with his own 'true story'.

This is a book that I would probably have dipped into in a bookshop but, as I received three copies for my birthday (two returned to shop in exchange for a good night's drinking), I had little excuse for not reading the whole thing.

The modest (gulp) Italian's offering amounts to 281 pages including championship tables, 16 pages of colour photos, and a brooding Rossi portrait on the front cover. Unfortunately, most of these photos have been seen in print before.

At £18.99 (including R.A.T - Rossi Added Tax) the book is hardly cheap but most retailers are now flogging it with a six quid discount.

My first question concerning this book was, 'How did Rossi (who's no academic) find time to write his autobiography without a ghost-writer?' The answer is, 'He didn't'. When you open the book you find that he had a co-writer, ie; a ghost-writer who's come out of the closet.

Co-writer Enrico Borghi is a MotoGP journalist and his input is apparent right through this book. For instance, when the book tells of the MotoGP genius' visit to the Ducati factory in 2003, the text adopts a very un-Rossiesque, nostalgic tone as it describes the sense of history and creativity within the hallowed Bologna walls. Classic journalese!

However, much of the emotion within the book clearly emanates from Mr Rossi himself. One notable passage concerns Rossi's first win for Yamaha at Welkom in 2004, where he parked up the M1 on the run-down lap and sat, head between his knees, apparently weeping. 'No', says Rossi, 'I was laughing … laughing because I'd screwed them all!'

If that's so, then he must have been laughing his helmet off at Phillip Island in 2005 when he cruelly toyed with Nicky Hayden, giving the latter the false impression that he could win. He snatched that win away - like taking sweets from a baby.

The book does, indeed, reveal the cruel streak in Rossi's character and, for the first time, the champ admits that he intentionally rode to eminence on the back of rival Max Biaggi's fame. The regular fall-outs between the two and that famous post-race punch up, were all instigated by the 'pleasant' Valentino but, as Mick Doohan once pointed out, 'No-one ever got to be multi-world champion by being Mr Nice Guy'.

Many of us have a long-held suspicion that The Doc is a shrewd tactician and there have been many instances of those suspicions have proving correct. What we didn't know, until now, was that Rossi introduced the concept of tactics to the 'naïve' Yamaha team. Rossi claims Yamaha were too 'straight-up' for their own good and, consequently, were dead keen to release his fabulous lap times, achieved at a private test session in March 2004. Rossi apparently blocked this action and ordered the times to be kept secret until the final pre-season IRTA test, where maximum psychological damage would be inflicted on a smug opposition.

Revealed also was the fact that the Honda-Burgess team hadn't meekly followed The Doctor to Yamaha - Burgess & Co needed quite a bit of persuasion to abandon Honda (although it has been reported that they'd been told by Honda they were 'surplus to requirements'). The Doctor goes on to describe a pre-season 'ruck' between Burgess and Rossi, which erupted when the latter announced it would be impossible to win the championship in 2004. Burgess apparently blew his top at this and announced that he hadn't gone to the trouble of joining Yamaha in order to finish second!

The bust-ups between Rossi and Honda are legendary. Apparently, Honda had promised to give Rossi the NSR500, on which he won the last-ever 500 Championship in 2001, but then failed to deliver. The Doctor, it seems, is unable to understand the reason for the 'no show' but, as the NSR would, theoretically, have been competitive for the next two years, then it is not surprising that Honda welched on this particular promise. Anyhow, Yamaha have now provided him with a 250bhp M1, which father Graziano and friends regularly wheelie around the streets of The Doctor's home town, Tavulli.

Random Rossi Stuff on eBay.co.uk

'What if I'd never tried it?' by Valentino RossiThe language of the original manuscript for Rossi's book was Italian but the translator has made a tolerably good job of the English version - there are few glitches in the text although some of the technical terms come over as a bit odd. The phrase 'bent over in a corner' had me perplexed until I realised that it actually meant 'leant over'. Rossi also alludes to falling off 'when the steering locked up'. Now, I haven't a clue what this means, unless it refers to the propensity for the telescopic fork to lock or jam under heavy braking, so that the front tyre is overloaded and lets go.

Chronology does not exist in this book and the text rambles and jumps about in time like a wayward Tardis. It begins in 2001, jumps to 2004, settles to a form of chronology for his early years, and then alights on the theme of the paparazzi (who, in Italy, pursue Rossi relentlessly).

The rambling chronology does seem to have a purpose, however, and that is to explain the Strange World Of Valentino through a series of unconnected events. Rossi is an odd fish who, like a mole, rarely surfaces in daylight. He prefers the night and usually meets with prospective teams in bizarre places during the wee hours - a time when he also likes to 'bond' with his race-bike and affix his numerous and quaint stickers.

Rossi attempts to explain his mindset over many, many pages but, like Mohammed Ali, his view of the world, and his place in it, are so far removed from the norm that mere mortals could never really hope to understand. Basically, in Rossi World, the Earth revolves around Valentino, the hero who has changed world history. And that brings us to the point of the book - where would we all be 'If he had never tried it?'

Unfortunately, like all the previous Rossi books, this text was out of date before the ink dried. The book was published in August 2005 and Rossi was correctly predicted to become champion for this season. However, although Rossi had won 72% races up to that point, his win rate has plummeted since - the last three races of the year are normally The Doctor's but this time he won only in Australia. New software on both the Ducati and the Honda have left cash-strapped Yamaha gasping and Rossi uncharacteristically critical of his team. Yamaha have now lost their major sponsors (one to Honda), and will have to grovel to Bridgestone for a supply of their 'Teflon' tyres next season - a major rewrite of Rossi's autobiography appears inevitable.

All in all, there are few facts that are completely new in this account of Rossi's career and if readers expect some deep insights into the Italian's private life, they will surely be disappointed. Basically, if you've read the biographies (such as Oxley's 'MotoGP Genius') then there is little point in buying this, now outdated, autobiography….. unless you really want to be confused by Rossi's psychotic state of mind.

'What if I'd never tried it?' by Valentino Rossi

  • Century, ISBN 1 844 138 801. Normal price £18.99
  • Buy a copy from Amazon

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