Race stars unite for Hayden
Huge outpouring of emotion for popular American superstar after terrible cycle crash in Italy last week
Valentino Rossi has led the Motogp paddock’s tributes to Nicky Hayden following his cycling accident last week. In a moving statement Rossi spoke of not only the 2006 Motogp champion’s skills on a motorbike but also to his personality off it, describing the American as ‘one of the best friends’ he’s ever had in his 19 seasons of Grand Prix racing.
Rossi was team- mates with Hayden not once but twice – in the American’s rookie Motogp year in 2003 and more recently during the woeful Ducati days of 2011 and 2012, where the pair struggled with the Desmosedici.
Speaking before news broke that Nicky had died as MCN went to press on Monday night, he said: “It’s really bad news, and when we first heard it, it was difficult to take it in. But I spoke with a friend of mine who was the doctor there, and he told me that it was a difficult situation. Now with a bit of time, we can understand how much of a shame it is because he is a great talent and always at the top; but more importantly, he is a great guy. Nicky is one of the best friends I’ve ever had in the paddock. He often came to my Ranch, where it was always a show to see him and have some secret battles together. He was one of the fastest flatters in the world and before going to road racing, he won the most important American Flat Track races like the Peoria TT.”
And that friendship stood the test of time. Still friends despite the tight title fight in 2006 that saw Hayden come out on top by only five points at the final race of the year and the battles for top Ducati honours later in their careers, Rossi says that the respect between them always won.
“We were team-mates with Honda in 2003, when he was a young debutant having his first European experience. After a few years we fought against each other for the 2006 world championship until the last race and in the end, unfortunately for me, he beat me and became the champion of the Motogp world. After the race we shook hands and we hugged. Afterwards we were still team-mates in the difficult years of Ducati when we fought several times, perhaps to win the last place in the top five.” However, Rossi also singled out one moment in their friendship in particular – a small gesture on the day that he lost the 2015 title race to Jorge Lorenzo in high emotion at Valencia, a day that also marked Hayden’s final day as a full-time Motogp racer. “The most beautiful memory I have of him is when he came to shake my hand after the unlucky race at Valencia in 2015, on the lap of honour. For him it was a farewell to Motogp and I had just lost the world championship. “The supporting look inside his helmet is one of the most positive memories I have of that day. Nicky, we’re all with you.” Kevin Schwantz is finding it ‘very tough to swallow’ the sad situation of his American motorcycling buddy Nicky Hayden. Emotions ran deep for Schwantz as he continued with his Suzuki GSX-R1000R media ride days at Mugello after receiving news of the injuries suffered by Hayden in a cycling crash. Schwantz was in Italy in his role as ambassador for Suzuki and staying
By Colin Young Schwantz heartbroken after turning down offer to join Hayden on fateful ride ‘A great talent and, more importantly, a great guy’ VALENTINO ROSSI
on the Adriatic Coast at Gabicce Mare, close to Hayden’s Italian base at Cattolica.
Just a couple hours before Hayden’s horrific bicycle crash near the Misano Circuit the two Americans were together jogging on the beach front near Cattolica. That is when fate intervened.
“I was running towards Riccione when I came across Nicky also jogging on the beach front near Cattolica,” Schwantz said. “We ran for a while and chatted and then as I left for my hotel Nicky asked me to join him for a bicycle ride but I said no because I did not have my road bike with me.
“A couple of hours later I get the news of his crash and his injuries. Nicky’s situation is a tough thing for me to swallow. I’m not saying it would have been any different if we were together but who knows, maybe we would have been in a different place at another moment.”
Schwantz, the 1993 500cc World Champion, says he vividly recalls his thoughts as he left Hayden after their morning run.
“The real irony is that about one minute after I started running back to my hotel I thought that I should have taken a selfie with Nicky to post on Facebook,” Schwantz said.
“The message would have been: ‘Look who I bumped into in Cattolica this morning!’ But I thought, no problems, I’ll see Nicky soon over the next few days because we are both in Italy.”