It’s not an easy time to be a professional athlete, with events cancelled, schedules turned on their heads and a huge amount of uncertainty about what the future will bring in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, LCR Honda rider Cal Crutchlow isn’t stressing too much about what’s going to happen next, as Britain’s only MotoGP race winner in 40 years weathers out the storm at his California home.
Having left his usual residence in the Isle of Man for his winter house outside San Diego when it looked like the opening round of the series would be in Texas, he’s been in lockdown there with wife Lucy and daughter Willow since the MotoGP season went on hiatus.
But what does the future hold for Crutchlow when action gets back underway?
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but they’ve got nothing else in their lives but racing motorbikes” :: Cal Crutchlow
In 2019 he was toying with the possibility of 2020 being his final season in MotoGP, and his contract expires at the end of this year.
But he put the notion of stopping behind him before coronavirus ever got in the way of this season.
Currently negotiating a new deal with Honda to remain for another two years, Crutchlow is confident there are still plenty of good times ahead.
“I only ever said that I might stop at the end of 2020! It’s inevitable that at some point every rider has to say it,” he tells The Race in an exclusive interview.
“When I was first asked the question I had just been on the podium – it’s not like I made a comment after a bad race!
“What I said was that I didn’t have a contract for after this year, but neither do a lot of others.
“My desire and motivation were strong at the end of last year, it was good at the tests this year, and I’ve already started speaking to Honda about renewing.
“I’ve had a lot of great years with my team and Honda have backed me and the team well. It’s only fair to start speaking to them as soon as possible, but we’ll have to go from there and see how it goes in the next few months.
“It’s a bit of a different situation at the minute because some of the guys have already signed up and some haven’t, though.”
While many of his rivals are tearing their hair out at not being able to ride their bikes and race right now, Crutchlow says he’s discovered that being a few years older than many of his rivals (he’s now the second-oldest rider on the MotoGP grid at 34) has its benefits too.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but they’ve got nothing else in their lives but racing motorbikes,” he says.
“At one point I was exactly the same, but now I have things other than racing too. I’ve got Lucy and Willow and we’ve got a normal family life, instead of just being sat at home waiting for the next race.
“I’ve got family stuff to do, some businesses – lots of things beyond bikes – and I’m very lucky in that sense. It keeps you a lot busier in a normal off week!
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult because it’s hard for an elite athlete or sportsperson to not have a set time or date. Obviously other people have to think about going back to work, or their wedding date, or whatever it might be, but our entire lives work around our schedule and we don’t have one anymore.
“We have to adapt, we have to do what’s best for us, but we have to do what’s best for everyone as well.
“It’s difficult not knowing when we’re going racing but thankfully I’ve never struggled with motivation so I’ll have no problem when it comes. There’ll be people who’ll have a more difficult time when the time comes, but I’ve done it for so many years and I’m in a bit of a different situation to some of the younger guys.
“MotoGP.com quoted me as saying that I don’t like to ride motorbikes, but that’s a little out of context.
“Of course I love to race motorbikes and my passion is racing. But I like to ride fast and be competitive, so I don’t go to the motocross track or take a production bike and go out on the road – I want to be doing 200mph and racing the guy alongside me at the traffic lights! I don’t use motorcycles as training either and I’m sure it’s a difficult situation for the guys who do.
“I think Europe will start to open up again soon, though, and they’ll be able to ride again.
“The only one able to ride all the time right now is Jack [Miller] because he’s got his own land to do it on in Australia. We should all expect him to win the first race by 30 seconds because he’ll be the only one able to remember where the throttle and brakes are!”
“If you carry on like it’s January, people are going to get to August and be wrecked” :: Cal Crutchlow
A cycling fanatic away from MotoGP – he rode nearly 7000km in December and January! – Crutchlow’s in the perfect place right now to be able to continue to keep his fitness levels high, despite having to take precautions while he rides and while he adjusts to the new world.
“I keep six feet away from everyone, I’m riding on my own instead of in a group, but that’s not much different from normal.
“I don’t have a problem with a turbo trainer and I’ve done 30-hour weeks on it before, but right now there are no restrictions on going outside so you follow the government’s advice and rules.
“I’m lucky to be able to do that because I know a lot of people can’t right now. The UK, the Isle of Man and the US have done it right by allowing people out to exercise. That’s not to say that Italy and Spain and other countries have done it wrong, of course, because it’s different situations and scenarios in every country.
“The rules here are that you can be outside for exercise but you can’t be mooching around. A lot of the trails around me are closed, but I live near a military base where the police helicopters are based and we can see them flying over people on the trails and telling them to go home!
“The weather at the moment is incredible, temperatures are red hot, and it’s been good to be able to enjoy it. Not good, because everyone is in these bad times, but you’ve got to make the most of where you are.
“I get out on the bike every day, but beyond getting out to the shops once every two weeks that’s it. One thing that’s for sure is that the lockdown really teaches you how to do things like freezing your food!”
While Crutchlow is making the most of his time to cycle, he’s also keenly aware that it’s possible to do too much. Adamant that many of his rivals are overtraining while trapped inside or near their homes, his approach right now is definitely more relaxed than his usual pre-season preparations.
“The others are all lunatics, going flat out right now! It’s pointless for me training like it’s January when you’ve got no set date to get back on the bike.
“In January I was riding for 30 hours a week, and now I’m doing 22 hours at a much easier pace. I’m not not riding hard, but I’m not bothering too much and I’m eating what I want because the earliest we’re going to go racing is two months away.
“If you carry on like it’s January, people are going to get to August and be wrecked.
“When you’ve got no goal and no set date, it’s hard to make a training plan. But let them all go and burn themselves out!
“Exercise is great, but I’m exercising instead of training hard. I’m just going through the motions and having fun riding my bike while I still can.”
With no date in sight for when we might be able to return to track, he’s also not wasting energy stressing about when the season might begin.
One thing he’s keen to see before MotoGP does make a return to action, though, is the opportunity for a test.
It’s now seven weeks since a MotoGP bike last turned a wheel and over five months since the last round of the championship at Valencia in November 2019.
With that in mind, Crutchlow says that the whole paddock, not just the riders, will need pressure-free time to get back up to speed.
“We all love to race but being alive and safe is the biggest thing in the world, not racing bikes” :: Cal Crutchlow
“I don’t think it’s a bad plan, because it’s not that we can’t have six or eight months off a bike and then go racing, but it would be very strange,” he says.
“It might turn the race on its head to not test, which would be great for the fans, but it’s safer to go testing first. Not just safer for the riders, but for everyone.
“We work with some of the best mechanics in the world, but everyone will need to get their brains back into gear. Whether we do it on the week of the race or not is still a question, because obviously everything is going to be run to very tight time schedules.
“If we’re going to have new protocols around testing peoples’ health at races, it would be a good opportunity to try that out before everyone is in one place too.
“I love what MotoGP, Dorna, IRTA and the FIM have done with regards to everything because they’re not taking it lightly and they’re really on it with regards to our health.
“We appreciate that because we all love to race but being alive and safe is the biggest thing in the world, not racing bikes. They’re working hard to manage that situation too and Carmelo [Ezpeleta] has done a good job of keeping the teams and the riders informed.”
With the 2021 season also set to start on 2020-spec bikes due to emergency decrees issued in the face of the current global situation, Crutchlow also knows that he’s going into both this season and next with machinery that can be competitive on a closer-than-ever grid.
“They’ve taken the right decision; Herve [Poncharal], IRTA and the MSMA have done it correctly,” he says.
“It’s difficult because we always want to improve the bike and make it better, and so do the engineers, but this is fairer for everyone.
“The key is whether you’re happy with your bike and its setting, and it’s hard to know how you’ll be able to improve from where we are now.
“Some people that were maybe planning to make a good step from 2020 to 2021 will be hit more, but the grid we had was already very competitive.
“One bike was very strong – I’m not saying which one! – and they’ll have the benefit of that, but the riders make a big difference sat on the bike too. It’s the right thing and it’s good for the championship.
“It’ll keep things close and continuing in the way things have been going since 2014. Even Aprilia and KTM don’t need to close up too much on the rest of the bikes, because they’ve got good strong bikes and fast riders.
“We’ve got a good championship and I’m excited to see when it starts.”