Motorcycling: Toseland's brilliant comeback breaks up the battle of Troys

James Toseland claimed two podium positions in the second round of the World Superbike Championship in Australia yesterday to maintain pressure on the series leader Troy Bayliss.

The Yorkshireman finished third in the first race on his Winston Ten Kate Honda, and improved to second place in his second outing. He has now scored 74 points from four races, and is only one point behind Xerox Ducati's Bayliss in the championship table.

"In race two I kept getting a 'plus zero' on my pit board, because Troy was right behind," Toseland said. "I didn't make a mistake, but he just out-braked me into the hairpin and then pulled away. But I'm happy - we had a good, consistent weekend again, and we're pushing them hard."

Toseland has made a much stronger start to the season than his rivals could have predicted, after losing his factory Ducati ride last year and joining the private Ten Kate team, of the Netherlands.

Australia's two Troys - Bayliss and Corser - were expected to dominate the Superbike series after testing strongly during the winter. But Toseland has quickly adjusted to the four-cylinder Honda after several seasons on the twin-cylinder Ducati, and could be poised to regain the world title that he first claimed in 2004.

In Spain, for nearly 20 glorious minutes yesterday, Britain's James Ellison experienced what it feels like to ride faster than Valentino Rossi. Ellison, 25, led the world's greatest MotoGP riders in the winter season's biggest practice session on a wet Catalunya circuit near Barcelona.

He impressed his new boss, the Frenchman Hervé Poncharal, the owner of the Tech 3 team, as he splashed around the 2.9 miles of rain-soaked track on his 250-horsepower Yamaha M1.

Veteran MotoGP hands crashed: the former world champion Kenny Roberts, Suzuki's John Hopkins, Ellison's team-mate Carlos Checa. Even Rossi, seven times a world champion, went down when making an error under braking.

Ellison kept upright for 15 perilous laps, but it was Colin Edwards who finally won the BMW Z4 sports car - for the rider who set the fastest lap in the session - from fellow American Nicky Hayden and Rossi.

Ellison's fourth place impressed everyone, not least his Dunlop tyre engineers. "Now I feel part of the MotoGP championship," Ellison said after his soaking. "This has given me a real confidence boost, for riding in the dry as well as in the wet."

With six minutes remaining in the 40-minute session, Ellison put a final Dunlop tyre on the rear of his 990cc bike in an attempt to win the BMW. He cut his lap time to 1min 59.619sec, but Edwards slithered round the track 2.5sec faster on his Michelin-shod Camel Yamaha.

At least Ellison, from Kendal in Cumbria, now knows that he possesses the finesse and coolness of temperament to compete with the sport's best when the MotoGP season starts at the Jerez circuit in Spain on 26 March.

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