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Legend Rossi seeks world title in Mugello

Italian motorcycling legend Valentino Rossi, seeking a tenth world title in all categories, bids to return to the top of the podium in his home MotoGP this weekend.

Legend Rossi seeks world title in Mugello
Valentino Rossi won at Mugello on seven successive occasions from 2002-08. Photo: Guerrero/AFP

The 36-year-old Yamaha rider — who won the first two MotoGP of the season but has gone winless in the three since then — has seen team-mate Jorge Lorenzo close in on his lead in the championship by winning the last two races, Rossi finishing runner-up in France last time out.

Rossi leads the standings on 102 points with Lorenzo on 87 and two-time defending champion Marc Marquez, who has struggled thus far this season after his dominant campaign last year, in fourth 33 points adrift of the Italian.

Rossi, who won at Mugello on seven successive occasions from 2002-08, is determined to reverse the positions in Sunday's race.

“Arriving at Mugello as the leader in the championship and being in great shape is perfect,” Rossi told the team website.

“We are fast from the start of the season and this is important.

“I really like the Mugello circuit, the Italian Grand Prix is always a nice weekend, but also Jorge loves this track. Jorge and I will try to put our Yamahas on top again, but this time I hope it will be in a reverse order! In Le Mans I struggled a bit, but I still managed to take second.

“At Mugello we must not make mistakes with the setup of the bike, starting from the free practices.”

Rossi has reason to fear Lorenzo as the 28-year-old Spaniard – a two-time champion in this category – also has a superb record on the track having finished on the podium, including three wins, in the last six editions.

“Le Mans was confirmation that I'm feeling stronger and that I'm in great shape,” said Lorenzo.

“Claiming a second victory in a row was very important to me and the team in order to know for certain that Jerez (his first win of the season) wasn't a one-off.

“It is a nice bike to ride and permits me to ride in the manner I like.

“The track (Mugello) is maybe one of my favorites throughout the MotoGP calendar so I'm eager to race there.

“In the past I got so many wins in Mugello and it's a suitable circuit for both me and the bike.

“It's fluid, with many uphill and downhill sectors and amazing, long high-speed corners.

“I will try to fight again for the podium here and keep this nice momentum going!”

Marquez, who was hindered in the Spanish MotoGP by a broken little finger but then produced a listless performance in the French race, said that things were coming together with his Honda team and they were in great shape to try and put a spoke in Yamaha's wheels.

“We are very motivated after the weekend in Le Mans and arrive in Italy in good shape,” said 22-year-old Marquez.

“We must work hard from Friday to find a good setup as Mugello is a complicated circuit, however, I like it and have good memories from my first victory in 2010.

“We know Valentino will be very strong at his home race, Jorge and Dani (Marquez' Honda team-mate Pedrosa) have a good history there and Ducati were testing there just a few weeks ago, so we will have to be focused all weekend.”

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IMMIGRATION

In ‘Calais of Italy’ tension soars over migrant crisis

Emmanuel Macron is not a welcome guest in the Italian border town of Ventimiglia, a flashpoint in Europe's migration crisis.

In 'Calais of Italy' tension soars over migrant crisis
A migrant waits for a a host house at the Italian Red Cross camp in Ventimiglia. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Residents are furious at the French president for charging Rome with “cynicism and irresponsibility” this week after it turned away a rescue boat carrying more than 600 asylum-seekers.

“It's bad what happened to the Aquarius (ship) but how dare Macron criticise Italy!” vented retired teacher Fulvia Semeria who volunteers for the Secours Catholique charity, a key aid group for migrants.

“It's unacceptable from a country that does nothing for migrants and even rejects them,” she said, calling his remarks “insulting and totally unfair”.

The pretty northern town at the gates of the French Riviera has received tens of thousands of asylum seekers pushed back by France since the eruption of Europe's worst migration crisis three years ago.

This is in addition to scores of desperate African refugees landing on its shores after undertaking the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

The influx has seen Ventimiglia dubbed the “Calais of Italy”, in reference to the French coastal town notorious for its sprawling migrant camps.

Tapping into anger over the arrivals, the far-right League party reaped a record result of 30 percent in March elections here. The score helped catapult the party and its leader Matteo Salvini into a coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

Semeria laments Rome's rejection of the migrant vessel last weekend — triggering a diplomatic spat between France and Italy — but says it may have been a much-needed “wake-up call for Europe”.

“I have been volunteering here for years and seen so many children and even pregnant women being turned back by France.”

'Italy's fed up'

At least 16 migrants have died trying to cross from France into Italy since September 2016, falling off mountains, being hit by cars or electrocuted while hiding under train carriages.

Every morning, Secours Catholique hands out food, clothes and medicine to hundreds of asylum seekers — many from Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea — in central Ventimiglia.

The struggle to help them increased last summer when police shut a nearby migrant camp, opened by the local church following an appeal from Pope Francis, after receiving complaints from residents.

Instead, some 400 migrants are now hosted at a Red Cross site outside town.

“It's enough, Italy's fed up! Why should it all fall on us?” exclaimed vendor Giuseppe Piccolo, 60, at Ventimiglia's famed market.

The fresh produce draws many French visitors who travel in the opposite direction of the migrants for their weekly shopping.

“Yes, I've voted for the League, against the migrants,” Piccolo told AFP.

Fellow vendor Davide Regina, 59, praised Salvini — now interior minister — for blocking the Aquarius migrant ship.

“Sadly, Salvini was right to do so. It needs to serve as a lesson because we can't cope here anymore,” Regina said.

'Out of place'

Under a current bilateral agreement, France can return more than 85 percent of all rejected migrants to Italy.

For now, French officials say that the system continues to work.

However, during a February visit to Ventimiglia on his campaign trail, Salvini vowed to “do what the French do: control the borders, welcome those who have the right to stay and reject the hundreds of thousands of people who don't have the right to stay in Ventimiglia or the rest of Italy.”

Since entering government, he has reiterated his pledge to clamp down on illegal immigration and already made good to on his promise to turn away boats.

In light of recent developments, the centre-left mayor's office is feeling the heat ahead of regional elections in 2019.

Deputy mayor Silvia Sciandra called Macron's comments “out of place”, stressing what was really needed was a common EU migrant policy.

“From one day to the next in 2015, we found ourselves with hundreds of people at our train stations,” she told AFP.

“We are doing what we can to maintain the dignity of migrants and of our citizens who have the right to not see their town turn into a camp.” 

By Claudine Renaud