Motorcycling: Toseland braves the elements to move into contention

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James Toseland bounced back into contention for the World Superbike Championship yesterday when he finished fourth in provisional qualifying at Monza for tomorrow's Italian round, in conditions that tested most riders' bravery.

With drizzle in the air and spots of rain falling on riders' visors, Japan's Noriyuki Haga was fastest, with a lap of 1min 47.007sec on the 3.6-mile track on his Yamaha Italia YZF R1. The championship leader, Troy Bayliss, was only .036sec slower on his Xerox Ducati, and Alstare Suzuki's Troy Corser filled third place.

Toseland was happy with his effort, even though he lapped three-quarters of a second slower than Haga. It represented a massive improvement on his performance in the previous round at Valencia, when he slumped to ninth and 11th places in the two races.

"The conditions were difficult and it wasn't worth risking a crash this early in the weekend," Toseland said. "I'm happy to be back in the hunt, and Monza is one of my favourite tracks."

Toseland's engineers in his Dutch-based Ten Kate team appear to have changed very little on his Honda Fireblade CBR1000RR after the Spanish débâcle, when they could not find grip for his rear tyre. It left him sliding wildly sideways, while Bayliss motored to two wins and a 22-point championship lead over Corser.

Toseland, in third place, trails Bayliss by 39 points, but is hoping that Monza's long straights and high average speed will this time favour his four-cylinder bike over Bayliss' twin-cylinder F06 Ducati.