MOTORCYCLING: Criville rides his luck

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The Independent Online
IT TAKES a special breed of rider to make the grade in grand prix racing; single-minded determination that pushes the rider through any adversity. A classic example of this is Alex Criville, the Spanish rider who competes for a fifth victory of the season here tomorrow to maintain his hopes of a maiden world 500cc championship crown.

Less than a week after dislocating a hip in a 140mph crash during the Dutch TT at Assen, the Repsol Honda rider was shrugging aside the obvious pain to charge his powerful machine into provisional pole position for the 30-lap British Grand Prix, the eighth round of the series.

Every point is vital in the title chase and Criville, who has ridden in the shadows of his illustrious team-mate, the five times world champion Michael Doohan - ruled out of this race through injury, is keen not to let the initiative gained by winning four consecutive races slip away.

Criville flashed a warning to his rivals that he means business, big business. In the morning free practice, he quickly dialled himself in, and amazed by topping the leaderboard with a 1min 33.455sec, 95.98mph lap of the 2.5mile Leicestershire circuit. Then, in the hour-long timed session, he went a third of a second faster on his opening lap, and that proved too fast for the rest.

"The injuries are getting better - my back and hip are still stiff, the biggest problem is my knee and the muscles inside the top of my leg. That is where it really hurts," he said. "But after a couple of laps, it all gets better, you get into the rhythm of riding. In my bad luck of being injured, I am still lucky because I am here and riding."

The pain of this weekend is outweighed by the long-term financial rewards of being crowned champion, with Criville well aware that Kenny Roberts, no longer tagged junior, but making a name for himself, could make large in-roads into his 35 points advantage here, as the championship moves into its second half.

The 25-year-old American, son of Kenny senior, the former triple world champion, started the season, his first with the works Suzuki team, by taking victories in both Malaysia and Japan and then after an indifferent spell, returned to form with a second place at Assen. It was a result that has put him in confident mood for the race at a circuit where Suzuki has a good pedigree, enjoying four victories in past years with former champion Kevin Schwantz.

"This is a real handling track, and my bike is the best for that - I am confident of a good result," said Roberts, who with a series of consistent laps closed within 0.088sec of his rival amid a closely fought session that saw the top 10 qualify within less than half a second of the pole time.

Practice times, Digest, page 31