That’s due to the damage inflicted on his eighth vertebra during the brutal practice accident at the Portimao season opener, in March.

The GASGAS Tech3 rider was left with a long list of fractures when he was caught out by a cold tyre.

Large rocks in the gravel trap and lack of an airfence may well have contributed to the extent of his injuries (an airfence was installed the following day) but Espargaro didn’t want to deflect the blame.

“The first one ‘guilty’ is me, because I crashed,” he said. “It wasn’t the right moment to push into this corner.

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"There were a lot of circumstances. The tyre was cold. Also, the tyre in the right side, especially in that track, we were struggling because we felt it a bit harder than normal.

“There was one right corner before the one where I crashed where Viñales was coming very quickly, so I went out of the line. So, I couldn’t warm the tyre on the right side. Then when I tried to push to make the fast lap, it happened.

“But it’s not about saying someone is guilty. Things could be improved. Dorna tried [with the airfence] after my crash, which is great. The best thing is to learn and it’s what we do.”

Espargaro was disappointed to miss his goal of a return to MotoGP action before the summer break, but the fact he was fit enough to be present trackside at Assen was a 'miracle’ given his initial condition.

“When I was in the ICU in the hospital after the crash, I had so many fractures in my body, I couldn’t feel which one was more painful. The pain level was in the sky, it was so much. I was fully with the painkillers,” he explained.

“When I started to wake up, I could start to feel where the pain came from. That was hard because during a certain time, the pain was coming from the mouth [jaw], the back, the neck, the ribs…

“I had so many troubles with my body that finally to end up in this situation after three months is a miracle. I’m very pleased.

“I was planning to go to the Sachsenring to race, maybe even to Mugello. But the last x-ray didn’t show up as the doctors expected so they told me it’s better to wait. But I wanted to [come here to Assen to] see people before the summer break.”

“I was losing 2.5kg of muscle per week”

Despite the initial pain, Espargaro’s worst moment was still to come; when his mouth was locked closed to allow his fractured jaw to heal.

“The worst moment I believe, was the 4 weeks after I left hospital. I had my mouth completely closed. Completely. Not even 1mm open. For four weeks. I couldn’t eat. I was just drinking soups and was losing like 2.5kg per week. This is insane.

“I was losing 2.5 kilos of muscle, not fat, because I didn’t have fat at the beginning of the year. Every week, you go on the scales, and think how much work will I need to do to regain 8 or 9kg? It was not a nice feeling.

“I looked at the mirror and it was not my face. It was not my body. You don’t recognise yourself in the mirror and that was hard.”

“I’m 1.5cm shorter”

While the muscle will return, Espargaro revealed that one of the fractured vertebra has left him 1.5cm shorter.

“In the vertebrae, I had broken numbers 3, 6 and 8," he said.

“Number 8 was split in four. Plus it reduced a little bit the height of the vertebra – well, quite a lot. That’s why it took a bit longer than the other ones.

“For sure, I’ve lost 1cm and a half. OK, I’m married with 2 daughters so I don’t care about this!

“But for sure in 2 or 3 weeks it’s going to be fully healed and also it’s going to be harder than before, just reduced the height of the vertebra, but everything is going to be perfect.”

Espargaro has been using a hyperbaric chamber to speed up his recovery time.

“That was not nice. It feels like home now because I’ve been a lot of hours inside this and other machines. In 24 hours I’m maybe resting like 3 or 4 hours not doing anything. Because I’m going to another one.

“But the doctors said it would take between six to seven months (to race again). And after the summer break, it’s going to be like 4 months. So I reduced it by 3 months which is amazing.”

"I’m recovering my spirit, I’m ready for it"

All of which means Espargaro is viewing the summer break as a second pre-season.

“I have my Supermoto ready, waiting for the back. Maybe I will ask for the street bike that KTM - even if it’s not a GASGAS, I think they will allow it!” he said.

“It’ll be like another preseason. I plan to go to several tracks during the five weeks. Also training-wise, I’m gaining my weight again quite good.

“I was like in 125cc weight, even a little bit lighter. I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. Nobody was there!

"I’m recovering everything, recovering the spirit, the soul and I’m ready for it.”