MARC MARQUEZ FIGHTBACK
A wheel has yet to be turned in anger in 2022. Yet Marc Marquez is in a race of his own to be fit and competitive ahead of the curtain raiser in Qatar. Again
The recent months marked the fourth winter in succession in which eight-time world champion Marc Marquez has fought back from serious injury. It could be argued these recent months were the most critical of all. A heavy knock to the head last November re-injured the fourth right nerve behind his right eye that nearly curtailed his career back in 2011, leading to dizziness and double vision that persisted for months. Steadfast self-belief and a side order of patience has been required.
As the 2021 season ended with Marquez absent from the final two races, the situation was grave. It was far from a given that his eye would even heal.
“It’s not a bone – it’s something more complicated, more delicate,” said team manager Alberto Puig at the season’s final race. “It’s not so easy to know how the eye can react. You have to be patient because there is no other option.”
Yet Marquez is used to these situations by now. At the start of 2019 he was recovering from serious surgery on his left shoulder. A year later it was another operation, on his right shoulder. And the first months of 2021 were fraught with uncertainty over his recovery from the complications of a broken humerus bone in his right arm.
Serious injury and the doubts that come with them have become commonplace for the rider that will soon turn 29 years old. And in his first interaction with the media since this recent injury in mid-January he was upbeat. Yes, November and December were dark months, filled with uncertainty. But steady improvement with his vision brought tangible benefits.
First, his doctor gave him the all-clear to ride at a local motocross track in Catalonia. Days later, he was riding a street version of Honda’s RC213V around Portimao in southern Portugal. And on 20 January, he took a CBR600RR to the Motorland Aragon circuit, three hours’ drive from his home. Each outing was positive, meaning the rider that won three races in 2021 was at least present for the first MotoGP test of 2022 at Sepang earlier this month.
“Since I had the accident with an enduro bike it was difficult,” Marquez said of his latest injury ordeal. “From the start I just followed the advice of my doctor (Dr. Sánchez Dalmau), the one that helped with my vision in 2011.
“I’ve just followed his advice. Was a very slow process but we know this when I had injury. It was a nerve that affects the muscle. It’s the exact same as the 2011 injury. Since that moment it was hard as you never know. This last month especially the last weeks I feel some improvements.”
The timing of Marquez’s recent setback was cruel. The Catalan had gone to hell and back as he shrugged off pain and discomfort from the right humerus break in 2020, an injury that required three operations and countless hours of physio.
Having missed all of preseason and the opening two races, 2021 was a slog. Yet by October there were signs he was approaching that formidable form of old. A customary win at the Circuit of the Americas was expected. That he followed it up with a surprise win at Misano – his first at a clockwise layout since breaking his arm in 2020 – felt significant. But 10 days later he was struck down again.
“I was with Josep Garcia who is the world champion of enduro,” he said of the crash. “I stopped at a circuit close to my house and I rode 20 minutes. I said I’ll do two more laps before I go. On that point, crash in a right corner, a high side. I hit my head on the ground. But I got up, went home and took a shower. After three hours I start to feel something strange with my vision, and my head. Straight away I called the doctor. He said don’t panic. But after one week we saw the problem is there.
“Maybe it was one of the most difficult moments of my career. It’s the fourth winter (of recovery). But now it looks better. Then came another injury. When I won in Austin and Misano I felt well. But in life you never know. You need to always be positive. It’s hard. I didn’t wish this to any rider to have this kind of feeling. In the first month I couldn’t have a normal life. I was on the sofa, I stood up and for one hour I was dizzy.
“Anyway, now I’m feeling better. Since I got injured, my goal has been to try and be at the first test or the first race of the season. At the moment I feel really good. This is the most important thing.”
A day of riding at Portimao on 16 January went without a hitch.
“It’s a great feeling, a feeling of relief,” he said. “When I was riding, I didn’t have any discomfort with my vision. Since I haven’t ridden in so long, I did notice some physical areas where I’m missing a little bit but this is just because I have not been able to have my usual pre-season.”
Even with Marquez’s eyesight issues resolved during preseason, question marks remain over his upper right arm and shoulder, which contributed to him scoring his lowest points haul over a season in which he completed a race since 2009.
“During these three months we were working hard on the shoulder,” he said. “But we concentrate more on the vision. We are planning the perfect way because shoulder is much better, the arm is much better. But we need to understand the better way to work during the season to not have the same problems like last year, that is these kinds of irritations. Then the pain arrived after and everything becomes more difficult. We need to prepare all these things.”
Providing he arrives at the first race in decent physical shape, only a fool would bet against Marquez going on to claim his ninth world title in 2022. And after the trials and tribulations of the past two years, it would surely rank as the greatest feat in a career full of them.
Words Neil Morrison Photography Gold&Goose