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Alex Lowes has reduced Shane Byrne's advantage in the MCE British Superbike Championship standings to just a single point after prevailing over his main rival in a thrilling 'Title Showdown' opener at Assen.
The first of seven races that will decide the outcome of the 2013 championship, Lowes came into the encounter with all eyes on him having dominated free practice and qualifying around the Dutch circuit, not to mention win each of the last four races.
However, while he would eventually emerge victorious, Lowes was forced to work hard from start-to-finish, the youngster showing the racing mettle he will need to win this year's title with an aggressive last lap challenge that would give him the edge at the chequered flag over Byrne.
Indeed, contrary to his single lap efforts over the weekend thus far, Lowes had spent much of the race trailing either Byrne or James Ellison, the latter getting the better of Lowes on the opening lap with a daring pass around the outside of Mandeveen to take an early lead.
It was an advantage the Milwaukee Yamaha rider would maintain for much of the race, the former MotoGP rider rebuffing both Lowes and Byrne as they diced for second position behind him. However, Ellison's hopes of getting his Title Showdown off to a perfect start would end abruptly on lap 12 of 18 when an apparent technical problem forced him into a costly retirement.
Allowing Byrne into the lead for the first time, Lowes would calmly hold station behind his rival until the closing stages before unleashing a fine overtake through Hoge Heide on the penultimate revolution, an exploratory pass that would set up a thrilling last lap exchange between the main rivals.
Beginning with a swap of positions through Stekkenwal, Mandeveen and Dulkersloot, it was Byrne that would find himself nosing in front with just two bends remaining.
However, as is often the case at Assen, the race would ultimately be decided through the final complex with Lowes repeating his pass from a lap earlier to slice in front before holding his line into Geert Timmer to catapult out of the final kink and across the line ahead of Byrne.
A fifth victory in a row for the in-form Lowes, the Samsung Honda rider has shortened the gap to Byrne to just a single point, the pair in turn pulling a sizeable gap over Josh Brookes – who was never in contention in fourth – and the hapless Ellison.
Raising some cheer in the Milwaukee Yamaha garage after Ellison's demise, Tommy Bridewell marked his debut with the team by claiming a superb podium, the Briton unfortunate to lose time in the pack early on as he matched the leaders' pace during the second-half.
Brookes crossed the line a very distant fourth, ahead of Noriyuki Haga, who came out top of a boisterous final corner exchange between himself, Jakub Smrz and PJ Jacobsen, the latter only just losing out on a top five finish having fought his way back from 18th on the grid.
Title Showdown contender James Westmoreland finished down in eighth place, with Jon Kirkham and Barry Burrell rounding out the top ten, while Ryuichi Kiyonari's hopes of challenging for a fourth BSB title got underway with a lacklustre run to 14th, behind Danny de Boer, Peter Hickman and Matteo Baiocco.