Biaggi profits from Rossi's vulnerability

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The Independent Online

Max Biaggi capitalised on one of the few races when his Marlboro Yamaha team have been able to find complete harmony between man and machinery to close the gap on 500cc series leader, Valentino Rossi; Biaggi led from start to finish of the German Grand Prix.

The Italian has often cited the perceived greater horsepower of Rossi's bike as the reason for his countryman and rival's domination of the championship. However, on a tight circuit better suited to more easily manageable machinery, Yamaha claimed five of the first six places.

With nine of the 16 rounds now completed before the mid-season month-long break, Biaggi has reignited a fascinating contest between two volatile characters. The next venue, at Brno in the Czech Republic where he is due for a test session next week, has also proved a happy hunting ground for Biaggi – he has only failed to win there on two occasions in the last seven years.

Rossi, whose lead is now just 10 points, appeared vulnerable from the start of the weekend, having qualified in 11th place on the third row of the grid. An arduous test schedule in Japan since his victory at Donington Park, when Rossi was putting Honda's four-stroke bike through its paces at Suzuka, was blamed for disrupting a previously impeccable rhythm on the two-stroke NSR.

However, having dropped down to 15th place on the first lap, Rossi started to pick his way through the field with typical ease until he hit the wall of Yamahas. In the meantime, Biaggi had been lapping at more than half a second a lap quicker to develop an eight seconds advantage at the halfway stage.

"There's no better way to win a race than leading all the way from pole. I'm riding harder and harder at the moment as I've been in this situation in the past. The guy who is second must push so hard, while the guy in front always has a bit of a psychological advantage," said Biaggi, who beat team-mate Carlos Checa into second place, with Shinya Nakano claiming his first podium finish in third.

It was a cruel day for the Shell Advance Honda team, who this week sacked British rider Chris Walker after a first half of the season plagued by crashes. Teenager Leon Haslam, who had initially been placed on a less powerful V-twin in order to ease his way onto the grand prix stage, crashed Walker's V4 on the first lap and dislocated his shoulder. Walker's replacement, the 18-year-old Australian Brendan Clarke, also perished midway through the race.

Jeremy McWilliams, competing in the 250cc race despite undergoing an operation to pin his collarbone after a crash at Donington last week, lost the front end while in second place but without suffering further injury. That race was won by Marco Melandri.

Steve Hislop warmed up for his wild card round of the European round of the World Superbike championship at Brands Hatch next week with another good weekend in the British championship at Oulton Park. In the first race Hislop, who won both races in the earlier round at the Cheshire track, seized on a final lap mistake by his main title rival, James Reynolds, and repeated the result in the second race to open up a 20-point lead.