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"Is Federica Pellegrini pregnant?" asked some Italian media, both pink and sports press, in January. At Christmas, the former swimmer, champion at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, had posted on her Instagram some photos in the Maldives and the fact that she did not toast with champagne on New Year's Eve triggered the rumor. Anything will do. Shortly afterwards in an interview in La Repubblica, Pellegrini denied a close motherhood and recounted how great her holidays were with her husband, Matteo Giunta, and unexpected friendships. In the same resort, Baglioni Resort, the former swimmer met an Italian athlete and his recent wife and, although they did not know each other previously, they made good friends and the four ended up sharing dinners. Who was this athlete?

Pecco Bagnaia, the reigning MotoGP world champion, the first Italian champion since Valentino Rossi, the leader of the very Italian Ducati. Pecco Bagnaia, a secondary in the story of Pellegrini, a figure lacking the pull of the former swimmer among Italian readers.

Why? The low popularity of Bagnaia is framed in the loss of attractiveness of MotoGP and its many reasons – the withdrawal of several legends, the move to pay TV, the excessive weight of aerodynamics ... – but also responds to its character. Unlike the champions of yesteryear, especially Rossi, Bagnaia is a very correct driver, shy, not very charismatic. And that's a problem for all parties. MotoGP, Ducati and Bagnaia himself need them to sell more and this year they have taken several paths to achieve this.

The World Championship, for example, has doubled the number of races it will compete this year, to reach 42, so that it stars duels with its generational rival, Fabio Quartararo, and that interest skyrockets. Ducati is focused on strengthening its own brand, with actions such as painting the Frecciarossa, the Italian AVE, and so by the way, if possible, help the rider. And Bagnaia is trying to gain a foothold among the referents of Italians with a very familiar profile -prominence for his mother, his gnocchis recipes ...-, very white, avoiding possible controversies.

Favorite for this year

After all, the reigning MotoGP champion has always considered that his fame should come from his victories, his riding, and nothing else. Following the fashion of Formula 1's Drive to Survive and Marc Marquez's All In, Bagnaia published in December on YouTube a short documentary about his triumph in 2022, Nuvola Rossa, but it was practically only about motorcycles. The same happened in his interviews as champion, such as when he appeared on the program Che tempo che fa of the Rai2 and the most interesting thing he explained was his relationship with Rossi and how he offered him -unsuccessfully- to be his coach.

"This year everything is perfect", proclaimed the day before yesterday upon his arrival in Portimao, where this Saturday there will be the first sprint race of the year (16.00 hours, DAZN) and this Sunday the first classic race (15.00 hours, DAZN), and where he will embark on the road to the second MotoGP title. Because maybe that's the solution to their lack of fame: win and win and win again. As seen in pre-season, his Ducati is exaggeratedly faster than the rest of the bikes and, if he does not make the mistakes of early 2022, his chances of success are very high. As the main adversary is his new teammate, Enea Bastianini, and as secondary, waiting for Marquez, Quartararo and the army of Ducati riders, Jorge Martin, Johann Zarco, Luca Marini, March Bezzecchi, Fabio Di Giannantonio and Álex Márquez.

If he takes another World Cup he will be placed as the third Italian with the most crowns in history only surpassed by Giacomo Agostini and Valentino Rossi, legends among legends. That place in the books should serve to obtain the relevance it deserves, despite the current lack of pull of MotoGP and its own introverted character. And if not you will always have to meet on vacation with a star of your country, Pellegrini herself, Francesco Totti, Danilo Gallinari, Vincenzo Nibali or Matteo Berrettini and appear from time to time in the Italian press as an illustrious secondary.

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