The Professionals: James Toseland

James Toseland is going to win a MotoGP race sometime soon, and you’d better believe it. Then he’ll go play the piano for a while...

Congratulations on your second WSB title. Was it more gratifying for you this time around?

The first one was a little bit too overwhelming really, as it went down to the last race. That first time I was five points down, in France and racing against a French team mate. I was so wound up wanting to win I never really thought about what would happen if I actually did! When it happened I didn’t realise how much pressure I had put myself under, the one-track mindedness to not come away without the trophy, and I was a bit overwhelmed when I was carrying that trophy home. For a 23-year old it was hard to digest. This second time I knew what came with it and I’ve been able to enjoy it a lot more rather than deal with the shock of it all.

And You are now where you’ve wanted to be since you were kid. Does it freak you out at all?

It does, but I’ve worked so hard for it and to see the rewards coming back motivates me more and more. I wasn’t born into a motorcycling family, I wasn’t expected to win a Championship on a motorcycle, I was expected to be a pianist for God’s sake! To see that it is possible to become a World Champion, to make it to MotoGP, well I don’t want to put limits on things now. I exceeded my expectations years ago.

You seem to have put a lot of dedication in...

Yeah, I love my training, I always have done, but I love my job. It’s not difficult to try this hard. Everybody says ‘he trains so hard blah blah blah’ it makes it sound like it’s unnatural to do that. But I don’t take for granted just how lucky I am to have a career that I love doing. Yeah it’s hard work to go to the gym and bust yourself as much as I do, but it’s worth it when the rewards start coming back.

Do you think you’ve missed out on any aspects of growing-up due to your commitment to racing?

When you are sat next to Murray Walker and Amir Kahn and you have the possibility of wining the BBC Sports Personality award and you’ve just played piano on BBC television how could you think you have missed out on anything?

Did you used to get grief at school because of your pianist habits?

No, because I didn’t tell anyone! No-one really knew because I was really conscious about it. When mates would say, ‘you coming out to play footie’ you don’t want to go ‘actually I’ve got a piano lesson lads.’ It wasn’t as camp as ballet dancing, but it’s still a bit Billy Elliot! It wouldn’t have been so bad if I played the guitar, that’s far more cool. One Christmas I came into school and said ‘I’ve got a motorbike.’ And I gained a lot of street cred, so that’s when my love of bikes soared through the roof. It’s all basically down to a need for street cred!

But Your piano playing at the bbc gig was seriously Jools Holland! you must love music...

I couldn’t live without it. Racing will always be number one to me because it’s my passion, but I need so much concentration and dedication for this sport that I have to get away from it. The only time I don’t think about motorcycle racing is when I’m playing the piano. I need it to get away.

How nervous were you the first time you met Rossi, and what did you say to him?

At the Jerez tests we came out of the pits together and he looked behind, got his head down and let me follow him for four laps. At lunch I went over and said thanks for showing me around, he said ‘not at all, welcome to MotoGP.’ That felt good, but at the end of the day I’m in MotoGP to be competitive, I’m not one to be in awe of somebody because I have to go out there and beat him.

Do you put yourself under huge pressure to be professional in everything you do, and therefore risk the ‘boring’ tag?

On the grid you see the James Toseland who is about as charismatic as a piece of paper, but then you watch me on the BBC and hopefully you realise there is a bit more to me. Everybody has their own way of getting into the zone, into the concentration level that they need to be competitive at racing, to get on bike and go over 200mph for 50 minutes. I’ve grown up and got into a routine that I like to be competitive and that’s just my way. Yeah, I’m quite difficult to read and relate to when I’m stood there with a blank face before a race, but come to one of the band’s gigs and meet the other side!

But Do you ever wish you could just explode and do something a bit insane?

No, because if I did something like that before a race and finished 8th people would say ‘he wasn’t himself, he usually concentrates before a race, doesn’t say anything.’ It’s a no-win situation. When you are consistent, and consistently winning, no one gives a crap that you don’t smile on the grid. I like to smile at the end of it. It’s not me being miserable, not wanting to be a showman, but all I want is to succeed.

Racer bullshit aside, what do you want to achieve in your first year of MotoGP?

Realistically I want to go in there and give it my best shot. I don’t know what is possible, I haven’t put a limit on it, but I’m going to go in to win. I’m training to win, and I have to think this way, it’s what motivates me. Whether this happens or not I don’t know, but I am determined to win MotoGP at some point in my career.

Finally, How much can you drink before you turn into a complete and utter mess?

I’m rubbish, if I have two pints I need an orange cordial before my third to recuperate! I’m really crap at drinking. If it came to World Championship boozing instead of bike racing I’d be a judge instead of a competitor!