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MotoGP blooms in South Africa

MotoGP blooms in South Africa

MotoGP blooms in South Africa

The MotoGP World Championship burst into colour at the Phakisa Freeway in Welkom today, where the pan-continental paddock pulsated with the excitement of the new season and the anticipation of one of the most spectacular contests in the history of the sport. On a bright and sunny day in the South African Free State, the teams put the finishing touches to their preparations for the first race of the season to the rhythm of traditional xylophone music, which drifted gently across the circuit throughout the afternoon as the riders completed a packed schedule of safety briefings, equipment inspection and the customary pre-race interviews and photographs.

This Sunday's 28-lap contest around the 4.242km circuit has been as eagerly anticipated by the riders as it has by the fans, with Valentino Rossi's switch from Honda to Yamaha opening up a whole new avenue of possibilities for the 23-man field. The Italian opens his defence of the MotoGP World Championship for the third successive season this weekend and admitted that after an intense preseason testing period he was looking forward to measuring up to his rivals on the track.

"It has been a long winter, especially for the riders, but now we really start," commented Rossi, who made his premier-class debut at Welkom four years ago. "For me, for my team and for Yamaha this is a new adventure. We have completed many kilometres in testing but a Grand Prix is a different matter and we need to see if we can make the bike work at this track in just four hours of practice. I have liked the circuits we have tested at so far but this is not one of my favourites so we will have to see what happens. It is a big challenge but I hope to be celebrating on the podium on Sunday."

Despite the festivities at the circuit, there was also time for quiet reflection after the news that highly respected technician Antonio Cobas had lost his long battle against cancer. Cobas, a key member of the MotoGP team run by Sito Pons, was remembered by Alex Barros, one of a long list of current riders who had been touched by the genius of the Spaniard. "The thing about Antonio above all his achievements in motorcycle racing was that he was a great man – a calming influence and a generous person," said Barros. "Right now our thoughts are with his family – we are all thinking about them. I am sure that Antonio will be watching Sunday's race from the best seat in the house."

Later in the afternoon Barros helped MotoGP newcomer Neil Hodgson make the most of his first visit to Welkom on a trip to the Thabong Arts and Cultural Centre. The pair were joined by Manuel Poggiali and were treated to a dance show including Zulu, Tswana and Xhosa tribal routines and the traditional Monyanyako song.


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