Randy de Puniet made the most of a tow to set the fastest lap time during Thursday practice for the Dutch TT at Assen.

Having climbed to fifth place with three minutes remaining, the Frenchman's LCR Honda crossed the line in a time of 1min 37.842sec on the penultimate of his 25 laps, while following Chris Vermeulen, enough to place the satellite RC212V rider just 0.005sec clear of reigning six time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi.

Rossi, who will fight for his 100th grand prix victory on Saturday, made several appearances at the top of the timesheets throughout the hour for Fiat Yamaha before finishing the day just 0.030sec ahead of Ducati's Casey Stoner.

Jorge Lorenzo was fourth fastest on the second factory M1, just 0.219sec behind de Puniet. Rossi, Stoner and Lorenzo are equal on points and race wins after six rounds and another close contest looks in store in Saturday.

Andrea Dovizioso used the latest Honda chassis to set the fifth best time, just ahead of injured Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa, with Colin Edwards seventh for Monster Tech 3 Yamaha.

Edwards, who crashed while leading at the final turn of the 2006 race, was fastest throughout the middle stages of the session and only 0.363sec behind de Puniet by the end of the session.

Vermeulen was the top Suzuki rider in eighth, with James Toseland ninth for Tech 3 and Loris Capirossi tenth on the second GSV-R. The Italian was only 0.587sec from de Puniet.

Alex de Angelis began the weekend with eleventh for Gresini Honda with Nicky Hayden the second best Ducati rider in twelfth position. Rookie Mika Kallio was 13th on the Pramac Ducati, now running the carbon fibre swingarm, with Marco Melandri fit enough for 14th after his Catalunya test accident.

At the end of the timesheets, Yuki Takahashi suffered a heavy fall halfway through the session and limped away with a knee injury, while new Scot Honda team-mate Gabor Talmacsi was once again 19th and last, but only 2.3sec from de Puniet.

Qualifying takes place on Friday with the race on Saturday.

Thursday practice:

1. de Puniet
2. Rossi
3. Stoner
4. Lorenzo
5. Dovizioso
6. Pedrosa
7. Edwards
8. Vermeulen
9. Toseland
10. Capirossi
11. de Angelis
12. Hayden
13. Kallio
14. Melandri
15. Elias
16. Gibernau
17. Takahashi
18. Canepa
19. Talmacsi