For the first nine laps of Sunday's Grand Prix of Catalunya, Casey Stoner matched the Fiat Yamahas of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo blow-for-blow at the front of the field.

Some changes to the set-up of the young Australian's Desmosedici had helped turn around a mixed Saturday, but the 2007 world champion's physical condition was heading dramatically downwards.

"On Saturday we really struggled with the bike, we were away too far off the pace to even be competitive. Then before the race we changed a few things and made a big improvement," explained a visibly exhausted Stoner.

"I haven't felt in great shape all weekend - I wasn't ill but I wasn't quite myself. Then last night I couldn't sleep, I probably got a couple of hours at the most, and after just a couple of laps in warm-up I was destroyed," he revealed.

After setting the fastest lap of the race on lap 2, Stoner admitted he had nothing left by the halfway mark of the 25 laps, when he gave up on any chance of victory and began a damage limitation ride.

Despite his condition, Stoner was able to cling on to third position by just 0.052sec from Honda's Andrea Dovizioso, a result that means Stoner is now tied with Rossi and Lorenzo for the world championship lead.

"I was really afraid that I wouldn't finish the race. We did everything we could to prepare for it, but halfway through I gave up, I was absolutely dead and had nothing left.

"I started to suffer from really strong cramps and I could barely ride - I was falling over the front of the bike in the hard-braking areas and I was struggling to keep my concentration so I just decided to run around to get points.

"I was braking late to keep Andrea behind me and in the last two laps I put a bit more effort in.

"My bike was fantastic and if I wasn't so ill, I think I could have stayed with Valentino and Jorge until the end, although I'm not saying I could have beaten them," added the double 2009 race winner.

"Casey was outstanding today - he certainly wasn't in top physical condition but once again he gave it absolutely everything," said team boss Livio Suppo. "He set the fastest lap of the race and for as long as he was physically able he was right there with Valentino and Jorge, who have otherwise been one step ahead of us all weekend.

"The team also did a great job to make some changes after the warm-up and get the bike in the right shape. So today is a third place that actually means more than that, like Jerez."

A test session will be held at Catalunya on Monday and Stoner intends to be present.

"Tonight I'll try to get plenty of rest and recover my strength for the test tomorrow because this is an important period in the championship and we need to test," he said. "After that it's Assen and I'm already looking forward to it."

Team-mate Nicky Hayden had made a strong start to the weekend with sixth on Friday, but had to settle for tenth in the race - still his best result of the season so far.

"I was hoping for a little more than this but realistically at the moment it was the best I could manage," he said. "I started from near the back but kept passing people and made progress throughout the race.

"I got close to Kallio and tried my best to pass him but made a couple of mistakes and he beat me. All in all it's not a spectacular result but it is definitely a step forward.

"I've been close to the front guys all weekend, we've worked well and we've learnt a lot about the bike. I'm already looking forward to getting back on the bike for the test tomorrow and continuing to work down this path, which we think is the right one."

"As far as Nicky is concerned we're starting to reap the fruit of a lot of hard work," claimed Suppo. "It was a much more positive weekend than Mugello, from his sixth fastest time on Friday right through to a top ten finish today. We just need to shave a few tenths more off his lap time and that will be the objective for us in the test tomorrow."


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