Hodgson ends his long wait for world title triumph

Neil Hodgson fulfilled a 10-year quest for a world title when he rode his Fila- Ducati to the Superbike championship yesterday in front of more than 50,000 fans on the 3.74-mile Assen circuit.

The Briton, 29, finished second to his team-mate Ruben Xaus in the first of the two 60-mile contests, but it was enough to establish an unassailable lead in the series, with five races remaining.

"I've got that monkey off my back!" he rejoiced before the sizeable British contingent that had crossed the North Sea to back him.

"I've been racing since 1990, and I've had an up-and-down career. But now I've proved a few people wrong by winning the title."

The victory climaxed the most eventful week of Hodgson's life. On Tuesday his wife, Kathryn, gave birth to their first child, daughter, Hollie Jean. But his paternity leave was limited to just two days: on Thursday he had to leave his home in the Isle of Man to get back to work at 175mph on his twin-cylinder Ducati.

Hodgson needed only a fifth place from any of the remaining races to secure the title, but he declined to take the easy way out. He wanted to clinch the series with a victory, and showed his intent by blazing past pole-sitter Pierfrancesco Chili to take the lead in the first corner of the opening round.

The pair were joined by Britons Chris Walker and James Toseland, and the Spaniards Xaus and Gregorio Lavilla. The latter crashed when leading, blaming oil or water on the track, and it was left to Xaus and Hodgson to dispute first place.

Xaus had just a slender chance of winning the championship, and used all the elegant body swerves of a matador as he wrestled his 1,000cc bike through Assen's 150mph curves. Several times he and Hodgson traded places, but Xaus won the final elegant battle of cornering lines on the final lap. It was his fourth victory of the year.

But the title was Hodgson's, and he underlined his new dominance by leading Xaus almost all the way in the second race, scoring his 12th victory of the season.

"I can't think of a better way of celebrating the world championship than by having a battle like that," said the irrepressible Hodgson.

"I could tell Rubens was only a foot behind me when we were doing 170mph on the back straight because you can feel your leathers being sucked from your back.

"The last thing you want is a crash at that speed. I was just thinking, 'Don't make a mistake!'"

Other British riders featured strongly in both races. Chris Walker and James Toseland took fourth and fifth places in race one, and 20-year-old Leon Haslam claimed sixth and seventh in only his second appearance in World Superbike racing.

The Australian Troy Corser gave Carl Fogarty's Foggy Patronas team its best result since the opening round of the season, claiming points in both races with sixth and ninth places.

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