Motorcycling: Criville's courage seals win

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The Independent Online
IT TAKES special qualities to become a champion at any level and Alex Criville demonstrated the fighting spirit here yesterday that could take him to a first world 500cc championship. He completed a victory in the British Grand Prix that seemed unlikely a week ago, when he lay under a tyre barrier with a dislocated left hip after crashing at the Dutch TT race.

The Barcelona rider had the 25,000 crowd on its toes as he fought off a frantic last-lap challenge from his Japanese team-mate, Tadayuki Okada, to take his fifth victory of the season, and open up a 41-point lead in the championship.

Criville, who had extensive treatment prior to his arrival at the Leicestershire circuit, had been on the pace throughout, just missing out on pole start and shrugging aside the pain from his injuries. Yet he was a slow starter to the 30-lap race, as Okada made the early running with Kenny Roberts just adrift.

But the Repsol Honda rider was on the charge and in successive laps he moved from third place to the front. Behind him pressure was applied by Max Biaggi and towards the end, the Aprilia rider Tetsuya Harada, who moved into the top three with 10 laps to go.

Harada and Okada traded places before the Honda rider settled in, line astern to Criville, prior to making a dive for the lead at the Melbourne Hairpin on the final lap. He nipped ahead, but only for a few yards running wide as Criville, in his 100th grand prix, regained the advantage to take victory. "It was fantastic - a great feeling after Assen," the Spaniard said afterwards of his win. "The adrenalin made me forget the pain but the last lap was incredibly hard."

Okada, with his second place, moved to second place in the rankings as Roberts, eighth in yesterday's race, dropped to third. Michael Rutter, 11th and last, was the only British finisher. John McGuinness stopped with machine problems when lying 12th at two-thirds distance, while James Whitham crashed out early on after tangling with Nobuatso Aoki.

Valentino Rossi may only be 20 years of age, but the Pesaro rider showed great maturity as he snatched a brilliant victory in the 250cc race.

Rossi, who won the 125cc title in runaway style two years ago, was running inches ahead of fellow Italian Loris Capirossi when the race was temporarily halted because of rain. The decision initially seemed premature as the track remained dry and the sun shone but Rossi supported the decision: "I put my hand up very quickly - there was not a lot of rain, but it is too dangerous to push hard on slick tyres. Loris went past me, but then two corners later he too stopped."

It made little difference to the outcome - on the resumption, the two fought out a furious contest. Capirossi looked to have it, moving ahead after three laps, but Rossi, sensing a fourth victory of the season, swept through at the Old Hairpin with three laps to go - a result that moved him within seven points of the series leader, Tohru Ukawa.

Ulsterman Jeremy McWilliams had to settle for sixth place after tyre problems in the second part of the race, while Jamie Robinson, drafted into the Chesterfield Yamaha team to replace their injured start, Olivier Jacque, took a solid 12th place.

In the 125cc race, victory went to Masao Azuma. It was the 27-year-old Japanese rider's fifth victory of the season and extended his lead in the championship to 20 points.

Results, Digest, page 9