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Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) is on an undeniable roll as the Championship rocks into Mugello, but this is now unmistakably enemy territory. Not only for the banks of yellow that trim the circuit every race weekend, but also for the swathes of red crowding into the track to support home factory Ducati - the most recent winners twice in a row. As venues for a pivotal point in the Championship go, it couldn't be better.
Mugello, put simply, is a masterpiece. Sculpted from the hills of Tuscany; fast, flowing and boasting perfect curves, the place is a special one even before the crowds roll in. And boy, do they roll in. Yellow is their colour. Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) is their hero and the volume level is a record one. And they have good reason to come to worship at the alter of speed: Rossi won every year from 2004 to 2008 with Yamaha, he was on pole last season...is now the time for another?
For the partisan crowd though, there's more: Ducati were the ones who took the baton from the Rossi winning streak when they won with Casey Stoner in 2009, but they have won the last two too: in 2017 with Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati) and last year with Jorge Lorenzo. It's a venue the bike works well at, and it's one that would provide the perfect stage for 'DesmoDovi' to fight back against Marquez. The Italian has a lot more points at this stage in the season than he had last year and the year before, so Marquez's form aside, it makes for good reading. Can he cut his seven point deficit to the number 93's Championship-topping 95 points? And can and will teammate Danilo Petrucci, on the podium in factory colours for the first time in France, get in the battle too?
There's also Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) to consider. The Australian made Marquez work for it in the early stages at Le Mans and has been one to watch so far this season. With the bike underneath him, will he be another weapon in Borgo Panigale's armoury this weekend?
Behind the Ducati-riding army and Rossi, there are many more to consider too. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) showed serious speed at times in France, and, of course, man of the moment Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) has already proven he's not a flash in the pan. Despite a tough start at his home race, the Frenchman had Marquez pace. If the cards fall differently in Mugello, can he convert that speed into a podium? Or will teammate and home turf contender Franco Morbidelli get ahead?
In 15 mins: French Grand Prix MotoGP™ highlights
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar), meanwhile, remains third in the standings despite his tough French Grand Prix. It never quite came together for the Hamamatsu factory there, so Mugello needs to be a turnaround if Rins is to continue to charge in the Championship. That's also true for compatriot Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) after he suffered another tough round.
There were encouraging signs for the five-time World Champion and he's gaining experience every weekend, and now we're into a run of venues that have all been Lorenzo's Land - Mugello most recently last season as he took his first win in red. That adds to five more, making the 99's record at the track the most enviable. A good place to start a challenge further forward and, if he can echo his 250cc days, a good place for a return of the king.
Pol: “Simply stunning! We've seen today they are not Gods”
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing's Johann Zarco is looking for a similar step forward too, although the Austrian factory more broadly had a top weekend at Le Mans. Pol Espargaro took an awesome P6 for the factory team, in the dry and with nothing else tipping the scales his way, and all KTMs scored points. They'll want more and Mugello will be an interesting one as home team Aprilia Racing Team Gresini push to close the gap in the constructor standings. They're another gunning for further forward and that home turf boost will see many cheering for the Noale factory.
Mugello, in all its glory, awaits. Will Marquez' form be enough to see him take another win? Or does the venue - and the awe-inspiring crowd - leave the likes of Dovizioso and Rossi walking a little taller into the Tuscan track? The Gran Premio d'Italia Oakley could prove pivotal for those aiming to chase down the reigning Champion and it gets underway on Friday 31st May, with the lights out for racing on Sunday 2nd June.
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