There was clearly something very nasty in the water at Estoril. For almost as soon as the riders rolled into the paddock in Portugal, the atmosphere soured badly, with verbal sparring matches breaking out between Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner, and Jorge Lorenzo and Marco Simoncelli. Rossi and Stoner clashed over the crash at Jerez, when the Italian accidentally took out the Honda man in a crash at turn 1. Lorenzo and Simoncelli, in turn, clashed over Lorenzo's accusations that Simoncelli was a dangerous rider, a claim refuted by the Gresini Honda rider.
It now appears that at least one of the feuds is continuing to simmer on. According to reports from the Italian broadcaster Sportmediaset - and confirmed by the Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport - Valentino Rossi has claimed that Casey Stoner attempted to block the Italian while the pair of them were riding during the official MotoGP test on the Monday after the Estoril round.
The first reports on Mediaset - reporting rumors passed on by "a little bird" from the MotoGP paddock present at the Monza World Superbike round - suggested that Stoner had run Rossi off the track once during the Estoril test, having first circulated slowly, waiting for the Italian, then blocked Rossi again a second time later on. When asked by journalists at the opening of a store in Milan for Enel, the Italian energy company that sponsors the Ducati factory team, Rossi claimed that Stoner had indeed obstructed him a little, riding on his line as the Italian approached. "To me, it looked like he did it on purpose," Rossi told the press, before then passing the incident off as "not a big problem". In the end, Rossi told reporters, these little quarrels between the riders were "just a bit of fun."
So far, of course, we have only heard one side of the story, from the unnamed MotoGP source at Monza, then partially confirmed by Rossi in Milan. Identifying the source at Monza would be difficult, given the number of Italian MotoGP riders and team members attending the Monza World Superbike round. And Rossi's version of the story is much milder than the original claims, Rossi only claiming that Stoner rode on his line and got in his way, rather than waiting for him and running him off the track. No doubt that on Thursday, when the riders speak to the press for the first time at Le Mans, we shall get to hear Stoner's version of events, one which is likely to be different to the original rumor being passed around at Monza. Unfortunately, the pair will not be in the official press conference together at Le Mans, and so another public confrontation like the one between Lorenzo and Simoncelli will not happen, at least not on Thursday.
Of course, this is sometimes the problem with judging the truth of reports in some sections of the Italian press. Though both sources of this story are impeccable - the Gazzetta dello Sport is Italy's biggest daily sports newspaper, while Sportsmediaset is the sports arm of Mediaset, Italy's largest commercial broadcaster - some sections of the Italian media are known to be susceptible to making more of a story than the pure facts alone suggest. And speaking from personal experience, rumors in the paddock are about as reliable as rumors in any small community, sometimes being absolutely accurate, whilst at other times being completely baseless and fabricated, with every other shade of truth or fiction in between.
What is certain is that Rossi believes that Stoner in some way balked him during the test on Monday. He also believes that this was a deliberate action on the part of the Australian. Whether this is what actually happened remains to be seen. No doubt that Casey Stoner's media debrief on Thursday will be packed with Italian journalists, and no doubt that the Australian will face a grilling on the subject. Nor is there any doubt that this topic will fill countless column inches in the Italian papers on Friday. But by then, the fans will have some actual on-track action to concentrate on instead.