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Nicky Hayden gets on a dirt-bike and undergoes a small operation

Nicky Hayden gets on a dirt-bike and undergoes a small operation

Nicky Hayden gets on a dirt-bike and undergoes a small operation

Nicky Hayden may not have finished his first ever season contesting the World Championships like he would have hoped (16th place at Valencia after suffering a small crash) but his debut term has been suitably encouraging for the 22 year old recipient of the ‘Rookie of the year' award (in decent company along with Marco Melandri, Colin Edwards, Troy Bayliss, Andrew Pitt and Makoto Tamada).

As team-mate to reigning Champ Valentino Rossi, Hayden seemed a little like a fresh fish at the team's press conference launch back in March at the Catalunya winter test and there was certainly a hefty dose of pressure as he mounted the most sought after ride in the paddock.

It was a cautious first half of the season and he needed 8 races before breaking into the top five (although only registering one DNFin the process). The podium results arrived in the flyaway period of the calendar at Motegi and Phillip Island (rounds 13 and 15 of the 16) as Hayden at last found his speed and limit on the factory Honda. A final Championship placing of 5th, (five positions better than his predecessor Tohru Ukawa at his first attempt in 2001), and some excellent performances at a crucial stage in the season hinted at things yet to come. Hayden was one of the new wave of American riders and rapidly became the most promising of the group in a short space of time.

Now entering December and Hayden has headed back to the US after a long year traversing the continents of the world. Like most racers he wasn't going to be twiddling his thumbs for long and joined MX legend David Bailey at one of his ridings school for some extra curricula tuition. "My bros and I rolled over there for the day to do a bit of riding and try to learn something," he remarked. "I had a good time. David taught me some things in a rhythm section of the track but more than anything I just enjoyed hearing a champion talk. He said some stuff that really makes you think!"

However the prang at Valencia produced some complications over the last week or so. "It was a small crash but when I fell I tried to hold onto the bike with my right hand and it spun away from me," he reflected. "I hyper extended my thumb which caused the ligament to tear and break a small part of the bone. After the race it was not bothering me much and when I returned home I was just hanging and chilling out. I began some light training like lifting weights and riding bicycles and dirt bikes and it started to hurt more. It became more painful and started to swell. After getting some x-rays I realised that there was a problem. It had been a few weeks since the crash the small part of the bone that had broken had started to die and had to be removed. Now I am back home and resting and feeling a bit better everyday."

As the negotiations continue to see who will be his partner in the Repsol Honda squad for 2004 (that has already lost team boss Jerry Burgess and some other key personnel) it remains to be seen whether Hayden will be spearheading the factory efforts in 2004; for sure the Japanese firm see the rider from Kentucky as their star for the future, in very much the same way that Rossi was promoted and groomed at a similar age in 2000, regardless of who else will be sharing his garage come testing in January.

MotoGP, 2003, Nicky Hayden

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