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Legends: Carlo Ubbiali

Submitted by on January 31, 2012

At the Assen Centennial Classic 1998, events were decided on regularity of lap times. Italy’s nine-times world champion Carlo Ubbiali, then aged 68, was a clear winner in his class.

His face was weathered from years of riding in pudding-basin helmets and goggles, but he was still a class act, and such a contrast to today’s small-bore riders.

Ubbiali was never flashy, kept his own council and did not have one major crash in a decade when ‘circuit safety’ was an oxymoron. He was nicknamed “The Fox” for good reason, often luring rivals into a race-long duel and then doing them cold with decisive moves on the last lap.

Born in Bergamo on September 24, 1929, he began competing in 1947 and won a gold medal in the 1949 International Six-Day Trial.

Ubbiali won 39 classics between 1950 and 1960, first with Mondial but the majority with MV-Agusta. He was double world 125/250 champion in 1956, ’59 and ’60 and, we might surmise, adept at MV team politics.

He showed his good judgment again by retiring at the top, just as he turned 31 at the end of 1960. He’d just lost his brother and confidant Maurizio. He could sense Count Agusta was cutting back his race effort and would have seen the growing 125/250 challenges of Honda’s multis and MZ’s two-strokes.

A new champion would soon emerge from the same part of Italy, namely Giacomo Agostini, and he eclipsed Ubbiali as Italy’s most successful racer. Today, Agostini, Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi are the only Italians who’ve won more GPs.

This against the likes of Tarquinio Provini, Cecil Sanford, Luigi Taveri and (in 1954-55) top NSU riders Werner Hass and H-P Muller, and in an era when the there might be as few as six GPs in a season.

by Don Cox

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