It’s June 16, 2022—and you know what that means? It’s motorcycle racing legend Giacomo Agostini’s 80th birthday! The 15-time World Champion and 10-time TT winner’s career still stands as the best in the world in 2022—and best of all, the champ is still with us.
In this clip from Duke Video, even those of us who weren’t around to witness Ago’s astounding career in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s can appreciate what we’re seeing. Leading a race from the front is one thing, but climbing up from the back of the pack is a singularly impressive feat.
After all, it’s passes and not parades that make for exciting racing. Here, you get to witness Ago climbing steadily up the field in 1974, his first year switching to two-strokes with Yamaha. Watch as he goes wheel to wheel with the likes of contemporaneous legends like Barry Sheene, new teammate Kenny Roberts, and former teammate Phil Read. The footage may be vintage, but the emotions are as strong as ever.
Before Ago was dominating the Italian and World Championship racing scenes, though, he had to start somewhere. On June 16, 1942, he was born in Brescia, a city in Lombardy, northern Italy. By the age of 13, he’d moved to Lovere with his family—and naturally, that town is just as happy to celebrate one of its most accomplished sons with exhibitions to this day.
As the story goes, young Giacomo knew he was interested in bikes from an early age. His dad, however, did not approve. So, young Giacomo would race in secret, using his family’s Bianchi Aquilotto.
When he reached the age of 18, he was finally able to get a bike of his very own: a Morini 175 Settobello. Even though he was racing against other competitors with specially prepared race bikes, he managed to finesse all the speed and performance out of his stock bike that he could. What else could Alfonso Morini (yes, the man whose name was on the bike Ago rode) do but offer him a racing contract? Thus did Ago enter the professional racing world in earnest.
After building his reputation in the Morini stable, he made his 1963 250 debut at the Nations Grand Prix in Monza. Although his machine broke down and he wasn’t able to complete the race, he’d already shown what he could do in the laps he’d completed, winning the attention of people both inside and outside the paddock.
By 1965, he’d signed with MV Agusta, where he rode in both the 350 and 500 World Championship classes and performed impressively well right from the start. In his debut year, he managed to finish second in the 500cc championship, trailing only his teammate, Mike Hailwood. He also came second in the 350 class that same year, hot on the heels of Honda racer Jim Redman. In fact, if his bike hadn’t broken down in the final 350 race of the season, he would have won that championship outright.
The failure that time was due to a loose wire, which dislodged itself from the condenser. As the legend goes, that’s what boosted Ago’s extremely detail-oriented nature into overdrive. From that point forward, he was well known for carefully checking over each and every detail on his machines prior to racing them, multiple times. That level of fastidiousness, combined with his sheer talent, are large parts of what made the man the living legend he is today.
Between 1966 and 1975, Ago won seven 350 World Championship titles and eight 500 World Championship titles. He’d switched teams in 1974, moving over to Yamaha and winning the Daytona 200, the Imola 200, and the 350 World Championship, but the completely different bike and team made no difference to his winning ways.
After Ago and Yamaha opted not to sign a contract for 1976, the champ returned to MV Agusta—which was unfortunately now in its well-documented period of decline. Still, through sheer force of who he was and is, Agostini pulled together a racing team good enough to at least win some races in 1976 and 1977—if not championships. That year marked his racing retirement, but his legend still burns at least as brightly as the birthday candles on his cake in 2022.
Sources: Pirelli, Cycle World, Motor Web Museum, Best of Bergamo