Former double world champion S?bastien Tortelli and reigning nine-times world champion Stefan Everts emerged tied on points - with a heat win apiece - after Sunday's season opening Grand Prix of Flanders.

Despite showers on race day morning, the sandy and slightly uninspiring Zolder track remained in fairly good condition and - although the MX1 racing was a little disappointing - the MX2 class threw up some interesting lead changes.

Tortelli, making his grand prix return after racing in the AMA championships from 1999-2005, silenced his doubters with a start-to-finish race one victory. The Frenchman faced initial pressure from Everts, but the Belgian legend suffered a small fall and was ultimately unable to get close enough to attack, then dropped right off the KTM rider's pace in the closing stages.

"After the mistake I came back quickly on the track and didn't lose a position, but I couldn't get back into a good rhythm," explained Everts.

However, race two was to see almost an exact reversal, with Everts leading from to start-to-finish - and therefore claiming the overall grand prix victory due to a better race two result - while Tortelli settled for a safe second after clashing with a lapped rider, and stalling his KTM, while trying to close down Everts.

"I was only three seconds behind Stefan when I crashed and lost a lot of time to re-start the bike, but I'm pretty happy with my results," declared Sebastian. "We proved today that our team has work hard to solve the problems we had in the pre-season, and it was great to battle again with Stefan, with so many fans cheering us."

However, Zolder was far less successful for two other championship contenders - whose 2006 title hopes now already look to be over: 2005 championship runner-up Josh Coppins was forced to withdraw from the event due to a dislocated shoulder, for which it appears he will need surgery, while former world champion Mickael Pichon was a shadow of his normal self due to illness.

"Mickael got a cold two weeks ago in Valence and tried to ride, but he has too much fever - 40?C - and crashed in the first race. He can't focus on the lines and that could be dangerous so he had no real choice (but to retire from race two)," explained the KTM rider's manager.

Those high profile casualties helped Estonian Tanel Leok claim his first podium aboard the 450 Kawasaki, ahead of Team Suzuki riders Steve Ramon and Kevin Strijbos and Coppins's CAS Honda team-mate Ken De Dycker.

No less than six different riders led the MX2 races, but it was title contender Tyla Rattray who took overall honours after a third in race one and victory in race two.

"I was third in the first race, but suddenly I had no more front brake! It was not really easy but I finished third and went to the second race with a strong motivation," said Rattray.

Second overall was factory KTM team-mate Marc De Reuver, with fourth and third, followed by Yamaha's Kenneth Gundersen (second and sixth), David Philippaerts (first and thirteen) and Christophe Pourcel (seventh and fourth).

Reigning world champion Antonio Cairoli finished just 15th after a crash in the first heat, before finishing second to Rattray in race two for seventh overall.