'Grazie Vale!' - Fans from all over descend on Italy as Rossi's retirement tour goes home

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Valentino Rossi
Valentino Rossi
Mirco Lazzari

• Valentino Rossi announced his retirement from MotoGP earlier this year.

• Since then, the remainder of the 2021 MotoGP season has been regarded as a retirement tour for 'The Doctor'.

• Thousands of fans descended to Rossi's hometown of Tavullia.

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Valentino Rossi's MotoGP farewell tour makes its most emotional stop this weekend with his last race at his home track in Misano with fans describing their affection for "The Doctor" as an "illness, but a nice illness".

For Rossi's army of fans, this offers a chance for two pilgrimages, one to see him race in the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix and the other to Tavullia, his home village just 10km away. "Vale" announced in August that he would retire after the season-ending race at Valencia on November 14.

Since then, he has already made one emotional return to Misano for the San Marino Grand Prix in September. Sunday will mark his final arrivederci on an Italian track after a 26-year career which brought one world title at 125cc, one at 250cc and seven in MotoGP and an army of fans.

Valentino Rossi,motogp
Valentino Rossi

Life after MotoGP

At 42, he is about to become a father. He is a seasoned businessman and team owner, using the brand VR46 after his number. He has ambitions to race cars, with the 24 Hours of Le Mans in his sights. "The Doctor" has charisma. He is a star but always smiling and accessible.

On Friday, after free practice at Misano, fans made the 20-minute trip to Tavullia, which is "Rossiland". The local boy is omnipresent in this village perched on top of a hill. At the entrance to the town a huge sign, reading "Grazie Vale" on a background in Rossi's favourite colour, yellow, has been taped to a wall.

READ: An end to an iconic era: Valentino Rossi officially announces his MotoGP retirement

"You would see him speeding by on his little motorcycle on his way to school. He is part of the family," said the local bookseller, whose shop is adorned with images of Rossi as is the nearby barber's shop.

There is his fan club, the VR46 store, and the "Da Rossi" pizzeria. Just outside the town is his VR46 Academy for training young Italian riders. Graduates include Francesco Bagnaia, who will start on pole position on Sunday, 22 places ahead of his mentor who is at the back of the grid.

Florence, a Frenchwoman, surprised her partner, Stan, by organising their first Rossi pilgrimage to the track and then to Tavullia.

'We just love him'

Seeing the "Doctor" in the flesh on the track brought tears to their eyes.

Florence says: "This is almost historic. If there's one place to be this weekend, it's here. It's unique, you can't do again what he did. It's his career in MotoGP as well as all the extras: the merchandise, his academy, his teams. Marc Marquez is also a world champion. In Spain, you see his red everywhere, but there is no Marquez town, no Marquez business, no comparable thrust."

Anita, a Dutchwoman living in Germany, is a regular at the village and at races.

She said: "Sad because it's his last race but, on the other side, I think he is right. He is becoming a dad, life has to go on and there comes a time when you have to say: that's it. It's his time and his choice. But he is not out of our lives. A really true fan loves him until the end. And if he is last in the race, we are still his fans. He is a people's person, nice and normal always. We just love him, it's an illness... but it's a nice illness."

"I don't know what we will do next year with no Valentino. I really don't know what we are going to do."

The Doctor", whose helmet this weekend incorporates images of his fans, said on Thursday that he hoped to be remembered as "a racer with a long career and good results, but the most important is that people enjoyed with me."

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