We look at how Alex Criville’s 1999 world title paved the way for Spanish riders in the top flight.
In Seva, a small village about 40 miles north of Barcelona, there is a statue of Alex Criville. The village’s favourite son, Criville was born there in 1970 and rose to prominence racing motorcycles, winning the 1989 125cc world championship before making the jump up to 500cc class in 1992 after two difficult years in 250cc. What he would go on to do for Spain was definitely worthy of a statue or two.
Criville’s first year in the 500cc world championship brought a breakthrough for his country, as he took Spain’s first ever win in top-flight motorcycling at Assen. Sure, he had benefitted from the absence of Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner and Wayne Rainey to take the victory – but the win and Criville's subsequent rise to prominence in the class would pave the way for the careers of an entire generation of Spanish riders. 14 more victories followed for Criville en route to another landmark, with the Spaniard claiming his country’s first ever 500cc world title in 1999 for Repsol Honda. Spain had been well and truly put on the grand prix motorcycling map.
14 years have passed since Criville’s world championship. MotoGP, the series that 500cc morphed into, now has no less than six Spanish riders currently representing their country. In Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez, Spain can also lay claim to having the three best, with the trio having shared out all five race victories this season between them.
Since Criville’s title, Jorge Lorenzo has taken two more world championships for his country, in 2010 and 2012, and you’d be getting pretty long odds for this season’s champion not to be Spanish if you went down to the bookies. Spain is now the force to be reckoned with in top-level motorcycling, then – and it was Alex Criville’s 1999 championship that lit the touchpaper of the country’s current success in the sport.