Ducati's Casey Stoner destroyed any doubts about his speed, commitment or fitness - following a three round MotoGP absence to treat fatigue problems - by finishing a strong second in Sunday's Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril.
It was the Australian's best result since victory at round five in Mugello, the last race before he was struck down by a mystery illness, the physical effects of which haunted the 2007 world champion for five races before he took the decision to step out of the championship.
Despite a non-stop series of medical tests during his break, a single definitive cause of Stoner's exhaustion wasn't pinpointed - although low blood pressure levels and a lack of sodium were found - and it was therefore far from certain that the symptoms would not return in Sunday's race.
Fortunately, having already proven that his raw speed was a strong as ever with third in qualifying, the 23-year-old eradicated any doubts about his motivation or love of racing by forcing his way past Colin Edwards, world champion Valentino Rossi and then Dani Pedrosa within the first two laps.
That left just his physical strength in question and, although the 18 time MotoGP race winner couldn't keep pace with race leader Jorge Lorenzo, he said it was his decision to back off a little - and he was more than a match for the rest of the field.
Stoner crossed the finish line 6.3sec from victory, but 3.6sec ahead of Pedrosa's Honda and a huge 17 seconds in front of a struggling Rossi to claim his first podium since round seven at Assen.
“We couldn't be happier today,” declared Stoner. “Jorge rode a fantastic race. We weren't going to be able to chase him down easily. It would have been past the limit so my hat off to him. But for us to come back and do this in front of everyone, after what everyone had said, is a big relief for me and a nice feeling.”
The 23-year-old was beaming with delight as he celebrated with his Ducati team in parc ferme, having felt only 'normal' tiredness, due to a lack of training, during the 28 lap race.
“As you can see I can walk, I can talk and I feel pretty good!” smiled Stoner after the podium ceremony. “There were so many people sitting there saying it was all in my head, all a big show or whatever.