For a man who lives in a three-bedroom apartment on the beach at Monte Carlo, Troy Bayliss was carrying a surprising burden of worry as he prepared to lead Xerox Ducati's charge in the 2006 World Superbike Championship.
He felt uncertain about whether he could still triumph on a superbike after three winless years in MotoGP. He had doubts about whether a 999cc Ducati could still be competitive when the engines of rival Japanese bikes had grown from 750cc to a litre during his time away. He also pondered how he would cope with world superbike racing's control-tyre environment, where everyone runs on identical Pirelli rubber.
But Bayliss, a 37-year-old Australian, is dominating the superbike circus, and aims to build on a run of five consecutive wins when he competes at Silverstone tomorrow.
"As soon as I got back on the bike I felt confident," Bayliss said this week. "It's like I can breathe again: I feel like I've rejoined the family." That adopted family is the Ducati racing organisation, who believe that they can beat Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki in superbike and MotoGP competitions.
Amazingly, they consistently do. Bayliss's fire-red F06 Ducati has only two cylinders to the four of its Japanese rivals, but it thumps out an impressive 194-horsepower - sufficient to propel Bayliss to 198mph.
"The bike's aerodynamics are really good, so on a fast track such as Monza our top speed is as good as the other bikes," Bayliss said. "But on stop-and-start circuits I lose four to five lengths on the four-cylinder bikes on acceleration through the first four gears."
Yet the combination of Bayliss's talent and Ducati's racing heritage has produced an all-round package that the reigning superbike champion, Alstare Suzuki's Troy Corser, is finding hard to match.
Motorcycling has been good to Bayliss. Yet this is a man who appears to value his quality of life above material rewards. He shares his Monaco home with his wife Kim and their three children and hasn't succumbed to the typical sports stars' temptations.
"I don't have anything, really," he laughed. "I'm just concentrating on the job at hand. I don't know how long I can keep on riding bikes, but at the moment I'm as hungry as ever."