"Then," he says, "I touched myself carefully all over before getting up. I was all there, so I got up. The engine, it stops, but the bike, it keeps going. It was in the middle of the race and I was leading. It was raining very hard and the piste was so slippery"—he grinned, his teeth white against the black mask hanging at his chin—"you are all leaned forward, see, and you always look under your arms to see who is behind you. I did not have time to think very much. Except perhaps, 'Mother of God!' These things happen, you know. It is mostly oil spots on the road or the sudden cutting of the engine if you are trying to go over the maximum revolutions.
"When I risk such things—going over the maximum—I know I will maybe make a fall. But I must risk it, else how can I win?
"I was in shock for a time, but I woke up again and the doctors sewed 13 stitches across my nose and sewed seven in my right hand...."
Now, a year later, it is better than a saber scar. It is perfect, and women run the tips of their fingers over the new scar and shudder delicately. And he smiles and looks at them through those heavy hazel eyes because he likes being the champion of all the world in this insane sport and the gentle moments and women are as much a part of the reward as the money and trophies.
Agostini was always this way. Listen to wise old Dante Lambertine, who was Agostini's first mechanic—he works for Morini Motorcycles, a competitor—and who is like a Cus D'Amato hunting for just one more champ before he quits. Standing at the side of the Modena test track, the sun glinting from his gold eye-tooth, his white hair rumpled and with years of grease accumulated in the pores of his nose, Lambertine says: "Since 18 years old I know him, Agostini. He first came to me. I could see immediately, I promise you, that he was a world champion. On motorcycles the champions are born, not made. It is a natural daring you can feel; it washes you all over, this feeling, and you look and you know.
"When one is not born a champion, one begins to dare too much on the bike and it is better for him to stop. Agostini has a feeling for the speed, for the turns. That is all, a feeling. He listens to the engine and it sings to him and he hears what it is telling him."
Agostini heard the song early enough. He comes from Brescia, where there are more bicycles and motorbikes than cars, because not many people there can afford anything more.
"When I was 10." Agostini says, "I had a 250-cc. Guzzi. Not mine, really. It belonged to the man who made the bread for our village. And to ride the bike I would deliver the bread for him. But I was still so small I had to drive the bike up alongside a wall to stop so I could put out my foot and balance it.
"What does a boy do? I went to the eighth year in the intermediate school and then to the classic high school for two years. But I was mad about motorbikes, so I quit. From 10 to 18 I owned six or seven motorbikes. But they were—how you say?—tourist models." He made a face. "Then at 18 I started to race for Morini, until 1964. But he wouldn't let me race for the world title. He didn't think we could win it.
"Then Count Agusta called me to come over and have the first talkings. He proposed me to run for him and I accepted and started in 1965 as a team with Mike Hailwood."