The grace of middle age

Having recently celebrated my 40th birthday (I know, thanks), there is an important life question that I have found myself mulling over quite a lot: at what age is it still acceptable for a man to wear a tracksuit?

You see, I am a big fan of the tracksuit: sporty, comfortable, and the closest you can come to looking like an athlete without having to bare your arms. There comes a stage in every man’s life, however, when you put on a tracksuit and look less like Usain Bolt and more like Elton John. The moment that happens, you need a good friend around to let you know.

So, what about the 40-year-old who still goes to work in a trackie top, cargo shorts, Monster Energy cap and Nike Air high-tops? As a new MotoGP season dawns, just weeks after celebrating his own landmark birthday, I fear Valentino Rossi might well be facing the biggest crisis of his professional career. And, sadly, I don’t think Uccio is going to be the guy to help him out on this one.

Thankfully, Valentino has plenty of other friends around the world, as the occasion of his big FOUR-O reminded us. Did you even see the roll call on the video posted by motogp.com? Global sports stars from Diego Maradona to Roger Federer, Marc Webber to Mick Doohan, and a bunch of Italian pop stars and actors who wouldn’t dream of an Adidas two-piece, all chipped in with their best wishes to make up a star-studded birthday showreel.

And they’re just the ones who made the cut!

Those who didn’t were forced to post their own videos and photos, on the auspices of wishing Valentino a happy birthday although in reality what they were actually doing was trying to convince their followers that they are good friends with the man they fawningly call the #GOAT by reposting a fan selfie they took when they were supposed to be working in what amounts to nothing more than a self-serving, social-media-age, heavyweight name drop.

Ah yes, that’s the other thing about turning 40: you become a cynical old bastard. But having mastered every other trick in the book, I’m pretty sure VR nailed that one years ago too.

I’m guessing Tom Cruise wasn’t available to send a video, which is a shame because if anybody knows anything about growing old in style it’s 56-year-old, self-confessed MotoGP fanatic Tom.

In the most recent Mission Impossible film the guy was wearing a leather jacket with jeans and shoes, and yet he still managed to not look like your mum’s new boyfriend. But, then, he did also commandeer a helicopter in mid-flight, making it hard to say which was the more impressive stunt in the movie.

Cruise made his own personal idolatry of the number 46 public at Laguna Seca in 2008, when he was so desperate to spend more time with Valentino after meeting him on the Sunday morning that the rider actually had to tell his PR manager to make up an excuse so that the actor wouldn’t try and visit him again in his motorhome before the race.

After the famous battle that ensued that afternoon between Rossi and Casey Stoner, I was waiting – as I always did during that period – to conduct the post-race interviews in the television reporters’ pen at parc fermé. It was an exclusive area, with just the BBC and Italian TV represented at the flyaway races outside Europe at the time, and it always felt like a massive privilege to be the one of the guys getting the first word with the protagonists so soon after such a momentous race.

As I waited for an elated Rossi and seething Stoner to return from their cool-down lap and planned my first question to both, a figure appeared alongside me between the steel barriers that I sensed was not the familiar, rotund, profusely sweating, effervescent, bearded mass of Sky Sport Italia’s Paolo Beltramo.

In fact, right there next to me was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, hijacking my primo real estate so that he could congratulate the race winner in person. Within seconds, in my earpiece, I was given the instruction from my producer back in London to grab his thoughts about the race.

“Tom… a quick word for the BBC?” I offered, politely.

Taking my hand gently in his soft, moisturised palms, Cruise smiled kindly back and nodded his head, saying, “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t do that.” Anybody watching our exchange via the live television cameras that surrounded us would have thought he was being friendly and accommodating. But that famous Top Gun smile held about as much sentiment as a happy birthday video message from Kimi Raikkonen.

The truth is, not everything is as it seems, and as long as Valentino Rossi continues to defy the laws of ageing on track, who could dare to tell him what is appropriate for his image off it?

Whether he starts to look like Elton John one day or not, when that guy decides to stop having fun, it will be a sad, sad situation for all of us.

By Matthew Roberts @matt77roberts

Photos by CormacGP @cormacgp

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