Valentino Rossi moved confidently to the top of the 2009 MotoGP World Championship by picking off all three of his title rivals in Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez.

The Italian, second in both Qatar and Japan, began round three from fourth on the grid and one point behind Fiat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, after losing out to the 21-year-old one week earlier at Motegi.

But Lorenzo's resistance lasted just one lap on Sunday before Rossi overtook the pole sitter for third position and set his sights on 2007 world champion Casey Stoner.

Stoner, winner of more 800cc races than any other rider - his most recent at the Qatar season opener - provided arguably Rossi's toughest opposition, and was the only rider to re-pass the #46 during Sunday's race.

Nevertheless, the Italian's second move stuck and - while Stoner concentrated on securing a career best third at the Desmosedici's bogey circuit - Rossi was left facing a 1.3sec gap to race leader Dani Pedrosa.

The 2007 title runner-up is at his most dangerous when left unattended at the front, and Rossi initially struggled to hunt down the Spaniard. The pair were almost even in terms of best lap time, but Rossi was more consistent and Pedrosa's advantage suddenly evaporated.

Rossi ultimately made his victory pass on lap 18 of 27 and confirmed his 98th career win by 2.7sec over Pedrosa at the chequered flag.

Afterwards, Rossi rejected claims that he had been sandbagging on Saturday, when he qualified 0.7sec behind Lorenzo.

"This is a wonderful victory because yesterday we were really quite worried," he said. "I couldn't ride how I wanted to and it was very hard.

"We had to work all together to understand how to fix the problem and finally we made a big change to try to make the bike feel how I like in the corner, which worked, so I have to say a huge thank you to Jeremy [Burgess] and all my guys.

"This morning we could tell immediately that things were much better and then we made a couple more small changes after warm-up, which made my M1 feel even better.

"In the first few laps I was behind but I came back and had a great fight with Casey. When I arrived in second place, Dani was already more than one-second ahead and I know in that situation Dani is always very difficult to catch," continued Rossi.

"I tried to concentrate and push. At first I didn't gain, but lap by lap I was able to improve my pace and be consistent. My bike worked very well and I was fast with a sliding tyre so I was able to catch and then overtake Dani.

"To win at Jerez is fantastic. It is always a great pleasure and I'm proud to get my first victory of the year."

On the slow down lap, Rossi repeated his famous 'portaloo' celebration from the 1999 Spanish 250GP.

"It's ten years since I made the joke with the toilet here and so I thought it would be funny to do it again if I won - I liked that a lot!" he said. "Now I hope that the changes we've made here will help us for the rest of the season."

"This is a very important victory and after two second places everyone in the team was waiting for it and really wanted it," admitted team manager Davide Brivio. "To win like this is something special; after being in trouble and quite sad on Saturday there was a lot of effort, long meetings, hard work by all the engineers, mechanics and technicians and finally we were able to give a good package to Valentino.

"If you can make Valentino feel happy on the bike then he will always give you this kind of performance and today it was wonderful to watch."

With Lorenzo crashing out of fourth place late in the race, Rossi is now eleven points clear of Stoner heading into round four, the French Grand Prix at Le Mans, with Pedrosa and Lorenzo both 24 points from the top in third.

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