Whirled Ducati Week in Italy

60,000 loud clutches save lives

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Jack Lewis, Milagro

Virtually every participant took to the track to drag their elbows. Although beer flowed, no fists flew. No one yelled "Ci mostrano le tette!", and tattoos seemed more artistic than brand-driven right up until I saw the guy enhanced with desmodromic shoulder blades.

There were squadrons of like-branded, incomprehensibly accessorized bikes. As the afternoon wore on, clothes peeled off until the biggest difference between Italian stallion pillions and the Playboy bike wash was the perfected dentition of the bunny's smiles.

I love motorcycles and riders and Ducatis maybe best of all, but my body was not built for 37 degrees Celsius. (Okay, technically it was, but only on the inside.) Who would have imagined the racetrack bleachers a quiet refuge? Wallowing in cool breezes like a salmon under a waterfall, I hummed along to the relaxing boom of Ducatis at speed as mid-50s industrialists in speed-hump leathers joyously ground the pegs off their S and R twins.

Ducati may be Italy's Harley-Davidson in certain ways-once a motor company starts branding fashion apparel, it's a full-on lifestyler-but here at least it seems all about actually riding the motorcycle.

Italia is no more immune to carnival food and cheesy T-shirts than Stati Uniti, but Ducati is. Team Ducati shirts are sharper than anything I ever wore with a tie and their Xerox hospitality tent was enough to ruin me for good ol' truck-stop food, possibly forever.

There isn't much good about press conferences except they're air-conditioned. Also, at World Ducati Week we got to hear directly from certified racetrack heroes. I'll say it here: If Nicky Hayden ain't the nicest guy in racing, then bike racing must be a pleasant sport indeed. Nicky said he was still having fun and would be around for a while. I found that heartening.

Acknowledging that he started his own rumor after cutting a track-record practice lap at Mugello, Troy Bayliss quashed hopes that he might return to World Superbike. He said all the right things and they sounded heartfelt, but he looked like he was chewing on glass.

"I love riding the bike, and I love doing the races," Bayliss said, wincing, "but I spoke too soon. I don't want to come back racing." Actually, what he said was, "Oi dun wanna kem beck r'icing" (translation from Australian provided free with your Motorcyclist subscription).

Smiling a rueful champion's smile, Bayliss looked at Michel Fabrizio and Noriyuki Haga, adding graciously, "Even if I did come back, I couldn't do any better than these guys. It ended very well, and I probably shouldn't go back and ruin that story."

Asked if the night's planned drag race on stock Streetfighters was for next year's contracts, Bayliss got a glint in his eye.

"It's just a bit of fun, really, but we're gonna smash those GP boys, that's for sure."

When the MotoGP team filed into the press room, the Italian press was more interested in Valentino Rossi's injuries than anything the beleaguered Ducati team might do this year. Forearm criss-crossed with purple scar tissue, Hayden noted Rossi's amazing run with little of the physical pain of racing.

"It is a shame," Hayden said. "Valentino is huge for our sport, and certainly something's missing with him out.

"It sounds bad," he continued, "but really it's a broken leg. It's up to him whether he comes back stronger."

Casey Stoner's response was simpler: "Truthfully, it doesn't change much for me, because I haven't been fast enough to run up front."

Professional jocks routinely recycle sports clichés and toe the company line, but I was impressed by the simple decency of these young men. They showed grace, humor and patience, the lot of them.

Days later, Stoner revealed that he had already signed with Honda for 2011. Gracelessly, I hope Nicky hands him his ass next year, all tied up in frilly ribbons.

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