Friends know that I am not a big fan of sport of any kind. I avoid football wherever possible (and that's getting harder these days - even Kellogg's Cornflakes now scream "Feast of Football" on their packets) and generally find team games dull and pointless. If I'm going to watch a ball game, it will probably be Rugby, which has the virtue of being mostly free of prima donnas and theatrical types who can't kick a ball without kissing someone. But, for the most part, if sport comes on the television, I'll be moving to another room.
As a biker, you might expect me to follow motorcycle racing. Most bikers do, to some extent. I would say that I am far more interested in motorcycle racing than in any other sport (with the possible exception of ladies' gymnastics, hur hur), but that isn't saying a great deal. However, there is one rider who is always worth watching (even Anna watches him) and that is Valentino Rossi.
Rossi is the greatest bike racer of our time. In the 500cc Grand Prix (later MotoGP), he has the greatest number of wins (78), the greatest number of podium finishes (129) and the most points ever in one season (373). He is second only to the legendary Giacomo Agostini in the number of world championship wins, and he's only one behind (7 chasing 8). Beyond the boring stats, he is great to watch. He is both aggressive and precise, courageous and clinical. He will display the greatest persistence in carving through the field of riders, and then unleash an audacious overtake (probably up the inside, on the toughest corner of the circuit, on the painted kerbing) to pull ahead on the last lap and scream on to victory. He's a force of nature.
In addition to all that, and something that matters to me, he seems a genuinely nice guy. After the races, he has barely got his helmet off before he is laughing and joking with the pit crew, signing autographs and chatting unselfconsciously to the cameras. Even at 31, he has a boyish grin and the kind of indestructible confident charm that Italian males seem to be issued with at birth. One of the great things about watching MotoGP is the way that, while the riders may have been fiercely competitive on the track, banging panels all the way round, when the race is over they will catch each other up and shake hands or pat each other on the shoulder while riding the cool-down lap. It's great to see, and in stark contrast to the sullen bad temper so often seen in other 'professional' sports.
Adding to the charm and mystery is Rossi's famous superstition. Amongst many other arcane rituals before a race, he will approach his bike from the right side, kneel down and put a hand on the footpeg with his head bowed. It's almost as if he is praying to the god of bike racers, but he says he only does it to focus and 'talk to' the bike. Whatever, it seems to work.
And now he is out of things for a while. In practice for the Mugello GP on Saturday, he came off and badly broke his right leg. It looks like a tyre problem - on only the second lap of practice, his tyres were cold and he low-sided  going into a chicane. The bike flipped him off and he landed directly on his right foot, creating an exposed fracture of the tibia. An accident like that is rare for Rossi. He has been taken to hospital, and the leg pinned and screwed together, and then he will have it all stitched. His surgeon says he will be six weeks on crutches.
There is a lot of speculation that, as 31, this may be the last straw for one of the older riders on the circuit. He's a multi-millionaire and doesn't need the money. My guess is that he will be back, and soon. He does it for the sheer love of racing, and I can't see an injury stopping him until he recognises that he is no longer competitive.
There's a video clip of the accident here.
Good luck and best wishes, Vale, old chap. The sport is duller without you in it.
 EDIT: the accident that threw Rossi off was, or course, a high-side, not a low-side. Thanks to Nikos for being "morbidly pedantic". You see, I was vair vair drunk at the time ...