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August 4th, 2017

Angel Nieto passed away on August 3rd, 2017 after succumbing to his tragic road accident that happened on July 26. While many internationally today might not be so accustomed to hearing his name, Nieto was the most prolific Spanish riders, and the country’s first international motorcycling legend.

Angel Nieto was the first Spanish who moved up from scouring odd jobs to becoming the country’s first motorcycling world champion. Nieto had 13 Motorcycle World Championships to his name that included wins in 50cc, 80cc and 125cc category. And while his specialisation was with racing smaller displacement motorcycles throughout his career, Nieto was considered as one of the greatest racers of all time.

Angel Nieto wins at the 1971 Assen TT

Apart from the world championships, Angel Nieto won the Spanish National Championships in 50cc, 125cc, 250cc, 500cc and 750cc classes. When he retired from racing in 1986, Nieto had won a total of 90 Grand Prix racers and 13 World Championships. Being a man of superstition, he preferred his championship count to be tallied as 12+1 instead of 13. Angel Nieto’s 90 Grand Prix victories are the third highest after Giacomo Agostini at 122 and Valentino Rossi at 115.

Angel Nieto moved to Barcelona during his early years to pursue motorcycle racing. He started off as a “handyman” at Bultaco. From here, Nieto moved to Ducati and then Derbi. It was the last team that allowed Nieto to compete in the world championship. His first world championship race was in 1964 where he scored fifth place. His first full-season was in 1969 as a rider for Derbi. This would also be the year where he would secure his first of twelve-plus-one world championship titles. His final title came in 1984 in the 125cc class, two years before he retired at the age of 39.

Valentino Rossi riding behind Angel Nieto after 90th GP win at Le Mans.

While Angel Nieto started racing at an age of thirteen, it wouldn’t be until he was permanently with Derbi where we could win is first Spanish championship in 1967. The next year Nieto got into Grand Prix action from where it would be merely one more year when he would bring home the first Spanish 50cc Motorcycle World Championship. Angel was escorted in bullfighter fashion through the streets of Barcelona. He had become a national hero overnight while also becoming the first Spaniard to bring home a world championship in the history of road racing.

Cover image: (Left) Angel Nieto with Giacomo Agostini (right) source

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