Rossi recovers as sparks fly

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The Independent Online

It took just a couple of gentle nudges to remind Valentino Rossi that there was work still to be done in his quest for the 500cc championship. The first came when he was barged wide at the first bend of the Catalan Grand Prix, the championship leader being shunted to the back of the field, from where he plotted a meticulous path towards a fourth win in six races.

The second contact, a more aggressive dig in the ribs of Rossi's manager from second-placed Max Biaggi as the podium finishers prepared for their post-race commitments, provided extra incentive for Rossi to maintain his domination of the series. Sparks continue to fly between the two Italians, but Biaggi is unable to match the sparkle of Rossi in full flight.

Having qualified in pole, a poor start left Rossi vulnerable to the vagaries of the crowded first corner at Barcelona's Montmelo circuit and, when Sete Gibernau edged Alex Criville wide, a domino effect sent Rossi wider still and left him down in 15th position at the end of the first lap. Incredibly, he had carved his way back into the lead by the start of lap 13.

Having won the first three races, doubts about Rossi's focus had surfaced when he needlessly crashed on the final lap of the previous race at Mugello, with second place in the bag. "After the crash at Mugello I needed a good race," said Rossi, who now leads Biaggi by 26 points going into the next round at Assen on Saturday. The British rider Chris Walker finished 13th, despite the injuries sustained when Johan Stigefelt ran over his arm in Friday's qualifiers.

In the 250cc race, Ulster's Jeremy McWilliams finished in sixth place.