Thumbs up or thumbs down from Emperor Vale?

When in Rome... Nick Harris talks Marquez, Stoner, and what he visualised standing above the Colosseum

I was sightseeing in the magnificent city of Rome last week and every time I closed my eyes standing above the spine-tingling arena of the Colosseum, the same picture emerged. There was the Emperor Valentino Rossi sitting on his throne, while two leather clad gladiators called Marc Marquez and Casey Stoner fought below, as the crowd roared their encouragement baying for their blood. After all, these two gladiators had found both the bravery and skill to defy their beloved Emperor in battle. They were part of a very select band of warriors.

Back to the real world and the modern-day Colosseum arena on Sunday afternoon, which this weekend was the HJC Helmets Grand Prix de France at a sweltering Le Mans. Marquez was a comfortable winner to secure his third win in succession on the Repsol Honda, which opened up an impressive lead in the Championship as he chases his fifth MotoGP™ crown. The win equalled the 38 MotoGP™ victories for Stoner that brought the Australian those two World titles for both Ducati and Honda, before his premature retirement.

They had arrived at different times but both still in the middle of the long Rossi revolution. While others fell by the wayside under the sheer weight of the Rossi factor, both on and off the track, Marquez and Stoner stood their ground and were prepared to face the Emperor head on. Two very different characters off the track but once in the arena, true gladiators - who were and in Marquez’ case - are afraid of nothing and love nothing more than a bit of hand to hand conflict.

Their records are very similar. Marquez won those 38 grands prix in 95 races, all riding the factory Honda. Stoner achieved a similar number in 115 races, 23 on the Ducati and 15 in his two years on the factory Honda. Stoner grabbed two more podiums than the current MotoGP™ World Champion with 69 appearances on the stage, but it will probably not surprise you that there is a big difference in one department – the crashes. Stoner had his moments in that memorable seven-year MotoGP™ career and crashed 61 times. Marquez is five races into his sixth year in MotoGP™ and has crashed 89 times. Crashing in his case is actually when you lose complete contact with the bike, and not when you keep the bike upright with your knee, elbow or any other part of your body.

I never got to the finish of the dream at the Colosseum and so didn’t discover if Emperor Vale gave the thumbs up or thumbs down to decide if either Marc or Casey - or probably both - were thrown to the lions. With 38 MotoGP™ wins apiece, I think those hungry lions would have been licking their lips at the prospect.