Nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi signed a new two-year contract with Yamaha on Thursday, scotching any rumours about his immediate MotoGP future.

The veteran Italian, who celebrated his 39th birthday last month, will now remain in the sport until at least 2020.

His existing contract runs out at the end of 2018, his 23rd season.

“When I signed my last contract with Yamaha, in March 2016, I wondered if that would have been the last contract as a MotoGP rider,” said Rossi following the announcement of the contract and ahead of this season’s opener in Qatar.

“At that time, I decided that I’d take that decision during the following two years.

“During the last two years I came to the conclusion that I want to continue because racing, being a MotoGP rider, but especially riding my M1, is the thing that makes me feel good.”

Rossi is still arguably the sport’s biggest draw, despite finishing fifth in last season’s championship and his last world title coming back in 2009.

He has claimed 56 race victories with Yamaha, the Japanese team he was with from 2004 to 2010, and then returned to in 2013 after a two year spell with Ducati.

He told a Doha press conference on Thursday that he was “happy” to sign the contract and said his love of the “lifestyle” made him want to continue.

Asked if by extending his contract he runs the risk of tarnishing his legacy, Rossi replied he would rather continue racing regardless.

“Yes, it’s possible. I saw a lot of the great riders stop at the maximum of their career,” said Rossi.

“But I think not everybody is happy about this, Schumacher came back on the track, so I decide to race until the end.

“If I thought this (retiring at the top), I stop six or seven years ago.”

It also means Rossi will continue partnering Maverick Vinales, who finished third last year, at Yamaha as the Spaniard has also signed a new contract taking him up until 2020.

Vinales said he was also happy that Rossi was continuing.

“It means that the competition will be really high, that’s great, you push a little bit harder,” said Vinales.

French rider Johann Zarco said it was “a dream” for the other riders to be racing against such a legendary rival as Rossi.

This year’s season gets underway in Qatar on Sunday. Rossi finished fourth in last year’s race at the Losail circuit.