Motorcycling: Rossi surges away from Gibernau showdown on final lap

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The Independent Online

The reigning world champion, Valentino Rossi, avoided a last-corner confrontation with his great rival Sete Gibernau when he set the fastest lap of the race on the final circuit to win the French MotoGP at Le Mans yesterday.

The reigning world champion, Valentino Rossi, avoided a last-corner confrontation with his great rival Sete Gibernau when he set the fastest lap of the race on the final circuit to win the French MotoGP at Le Mans yesterday.

The pair dominated the closing minutes of the 28-lap race after disposing of the early leader, the Texan Colin Edwards, with Rossi ahead on his Gauloises Yamaha. But Gibernau, desperately needing his first win of the season, pinned his Telefonica Movistar Honda to Rossi's rear wheel.

As they entered the final lap, the crowd lining the 2.6-mile circuit wondered: would Gibernau seek revenge for the last-corner nudge he received from Rossi in the opening round in Spain? But Rossi never gave the Spaniard a chance. The seven-times world champion put in an incredible sprint on worn tyres to keep clear of Gibernau and record his third win in four races this year. Gibernau was forced to accept second place, 0.382sec behind.

"I stayed behind Edwards for a while because his rhythm was good," Rossi said. "But Gibernau arrived very fast, so I decided to try and overtake Colin and push to the maximum."

Gibernau said: "We're back in shape. We learnt a lot from this weekend."

The Spaniard kept his challenge alive by climbing to third place in the championship, 42 points behind Rossi. The 22-year-old Italian Marco Melandri, who finished fourth yesterday, holds second place in the table, 37 points behind Rossi's 95-point total.

Edwards, 31, was the hero of the early part of the race. In only his fourth race in the Gauloises Yamaha stable, the former World Superbike champion powered into the lead on the first corner. Rossi and Gibernau started badly, and had to battle up from sixth and seventh positions respectively. They dived past the American on the 17th lap, but Edwards was delighted to take his first podium of the year.

¿ Michael Rutter retained his lead in the British Superbike Championship by finishing second and fifth at Mondello Park, Co Kildare, yesterday. Ryuichi Kiyonari, of Japan, and the Spaniard Gregorio Lavilla were the race winners.

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