Perhaps not as strong as you think, says Dr Michele Zasa, boss of the Clinica Mobile, MotoGP’s in-house sports medicine clinic
hile Doctor Zasa and his team of physiotherapists admit you have to be in great physical shape, part of what draws them to motorbike racing is that it isn’t how fit and strong you are on a bike that decides whether or not you win; it’s about talent.
“For sure, MotoGP is a different kind of sport from most others, because you have a machine with an engine – and you don’t have to use all the muscles you use in other sports.
“If you look back to the old days, you’d see riders smoking on the podium, drinking – they weren’t the same athletes. What made a huge change then was opening the gas earlier, braking later – being brave.
“Nowadays, we have to say, especially in the last five or ten years, we’ve seen a huge change in the physical preparation of the riders. Although it’s still on a machine and it’s still important to be talented, to be at the level to win you need to be physically prepared as well as skilled.”
ABOVE: Rossi doesn’t look particularly strong, especially next to gym-honed Marquez. But they both have the power and fitness to win a MotoGP. In case you’re wondering why Valentino and Marc look so friendly, this pic was taken in 2015 pre-season testing. Might not be so easy to organise now. The lady sharing the moment is Harley PR Vi Dinh.
And while there’s no doubting that today’s top racers are athletes just as much as an Olympic competitor or a Premiership footballer (just look at that pic of Marquez!), they don’t need to have the same incredibly detailed gym routines and training plans.
“When you do physical preparation in other sports, you take a lot of care in the preparation of the body; the body weight, the body fat, where the muscles are. In motorbike racing, you need to be fit but it isn’t so crucial to have the 0.5% fat just right – at the end of the day, a very powerful engine is pushing you. You need to be very fit in general, but you don’t need to look in the same detail.”
And without that need for detail the rider can train at what he loves, rather than spend hours in a gym lifting the same weights.
Cal Crutchlow, for example, spends enough time riding on the roads of the Isle of Man to be a pro cyclist, according to friend and world champion Mark Cavendish. For Valentino Rossi, it’s mixing it with his Academy apprentices on the flat track at his ranch. Dani Pedrosa is a windsurfer. Scott Redding is training for an Iron Man. So the MotoGP grid is an eclectic range of physiques.
“Different riders are different shapes, depending on their height, their riding style, their preparation and their genetics. If you look at Cal Crutchlow, he is naturally big, and has big legs because he loves cycling. He does more training than he would need to even if he was a cyclist, but he loves it.
“Valentino is relatively slim – he is an athlete and he trains, but he’s not so big from a muscles point of view. Lorenzo too, he is fit and trained, but he’s not big compared to others. It depends on the kind of training you do and the style when you ride. It’s genetic for some of them too, though.
“Muscle size and strength changes depending on riding style, too – with taller riders working on their arms to help leverage, while for the shorter guys or those who don’t hang off as much it’s all about the core and the lower back.”
BELOW: Vale and Marc touch at Assen last year – and thus is born the feud that consumed MotoGP in 2015. Riding this accurately makes great telly, but it must take a lot of strength, especially in fast turns. Tiny Marquez chucks his Honda RCV around with big muscles. Taller Rossi does the same job with long levers. Both of them stretch a lot
But key to all the working out, according to the Clinica physios, is not necessarily strength but flexibility.
“You have to stretch; it’s better to stretch than to strengthen. Nowadays, some do yoga, pilates – things to keep their muscles loose, because they have to be quick on a bike. If you have big muscles and a big body, or if your muscles are tight, you can’t move around the bike.
“Volleyball is possibly the closest sport to MotoGP. Modern volleyball has rapid actions and direction changes, so the type of muscles you need are very similar – not too big, well stretched, and not too heavy. Compared with bikes, volleyball is the closest, at least in terms of muscles. But maybe not cardio.”
Words Simon Patterson