Stoner delays surgery to focus on runner-up fight

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The Independent Online

The deposed MotoGP champion Casey Stoner has revealed he faces a career-saving operation in the winter to repair his left wrist.

The 22-year-old Marlboro Ducati rider heads into his home Grand Prix of Australia at Phillip Island this weekend in contrasting mood to 12 months ago.

Stoner won in front of an adoring home crowd last year days after being crowned champion but this year is fighting to secure second place after watching Valentino Rossi seal his sixth title last weekend in Japan.

And after learning a broken scaphoid bone in his left wrist, originally damaged in 2003, has never healed properly, Stoner now faces corrective surgery if he is to fight for a second title in 2009.

He said: "I have to have an operation; if I don't it could be my career over. It's disappointing, five years after getting an operation done, it starts to flare up now. But in some ways we're lucky it did show us what the real problem was, so we weren't just ignoring it and finding a bigger problem later on.

"It's better for us to get it fixed at the end of this season," said Stoner. "It'll take about three months to come good, but we should have that amount of time before testing starts next year and then we should be a little bit more competitive."

Stoner has been affected by the problem since crashing at Misano at the end of August, with the Australian noticeably slowing in Japan last weekend after setting a lightning pace during the first few laps. He said: "Pain- wise it's fine, it's just a weakness in change of direction and things like that. I'm a little bit worried about this weekend, to see how many laps I can do in the race before I start getting tired.

"If I feel comfortable and the bike is working well that should make things easier. So we're going to have to work really hard this weekend to set the bike up as best we can."

With Rossi wrapping up the title with three races to go, attention will be on Stoner's fight with Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa for second. The Spaniard is only 11 points behind Stoner and will be keen to claim runner-up spot for the second year in a row.

nWorld Superbike champion-elect Troy Bayliss insists he will not relax until his third title is officially confirmed ahead of this weekend's penultimate round at Magny-Cours. Bayliss was only three corners away from being crowned champion in Italy last time out when he fell while disputing the lead with Noriyuki Haga.

Despite remaining 79 points clear of nearest rival Troy Corser with only 100 points still to be claimed, the 39-year-old Xerox Ducati rider, who will retire at the end of the season, is desperate to finally get over the line. He said: "After the results of Vallelunga, I'm obviously wanting to tie things up this weekend. I still have a fairly big advantage in terms of points but that doesn't mean I'm going to relax, not until it's all over. It's very strange to know that I'm so close to the end of my Superbike career, just two races to go. I can't really explain how I'm feeling."

Haga is something of a Magny-Cours specialist – claiming a double victory last season – and the Yamaha Italia rider is hopeful of a repeat to close in on yet another runner-up spot. He said: "Magny-Cours is always good for me. Last year we won both races so of course we would like to do the same this year too."