Max Biaggi: The Emperor Strikes Back

To the Max!

Like any good Roman emperor, Max Biaggi has been enigmatic, arrogant, revered and reviled through two decades of racing. Always provocative, occasionally irascible and outwardly irrepressible, the 39-year-old clinched the 2010 World Superbike Championship for his team Aprilia Alitalia Racing. An Italian riding an Italian motorcycle sponsored by an Italian airline, crowned world champion at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari. For admirers of all things red, white and green, it doesn't get any better. Especially for admirers of this Italian.

Say what you will about Biaggi-most fans do-but here's the bottom line: When HRC or the FIM or some other subset of international roadracing's cognoscenti gave up on him, he never gave up on himself.

"Mad Max" ruled the 250cc Grands Prix from 1994-'97 with a take-no-prisoners approach that won him 29 races and not so many friends. His seven seasons in the premier class were somewhat less definitive. After starting from pole and winning his debut 500cc GP at Suzuka, Japan, on an Erv Kanemoto Honda, Biaggi's brilliance gradually gave way to consistent inconsistency. Finishing that '98 season second to Mick Doohan, Biaggi came second behind Valentino Rossi in '01 and '02 before slipping to fifth in '05 and losing his Repsol RC211V ride to Dani Pedrosa in '06 after a nasty public feud with Honda.

Where a less determined or more realistic racer would have called it quits, Biaggi turned to the World Superbike paddock, taking Troy Corser's vacant Corona Suzuki to third in the '07 title chase. Subsequent contract disagreements took Biaggi to Sterilgarda Ducati for a disappointing seventh-place season in '08. But things were looking up for '09, when Troy Bayliss was set to relinquish his top-dog status at Xerox Ducati. Biaggi was the heir apparent, but Noriyuki Haga got the nod instead. A more pragmatic rider would have started looking for a comfy retirement villa and Claudia Schiffer's phone number. Biaggi signed up to ride a works Aprilia RSV4 and took fourth in the '09 series. Had the prodigal enigmatic come home?

Pretty much: Biaggi won 10 of 26 races on the Aprilia Alitalia Racing RSV4 in 2010, finishing on the podium a total of 14 times and ending the season with 451 points and his first World Superbike Championship. Aprilia edged out Ducati for the 2010 manufacturer's title. Race fans around the world got a contemporary parable on the value of perseverance. Everybody lived happily ever after. At least until the story starts all over again this February at Phillip Island, Australia. Remember, this is Max Biaggi we're talking about here.