Having been forced to concede second best to Valentino Rossi during an occasionally erratic defence of his world championship crown, Casey Stoner headed into 2009 determined to reclaim his spot at the top of the MotoGP hierarchy.

The early signs were certainly encouraging for the Australian. A rapid end to the 2008 season was followed by a dominant performance in testing, while his obliteration of the competition at the Qatar season opener saw his title odds slashed significantly.

Slowly, however, things began to unravel for Stoner. His results remained good - he won again at Mugello -, but he was not the force that many had expected, particularly after his Qatar walkover.

His drop off wasn't a coincidence though, Stoner complaining of unusual fatigue at the end of races, a recurring ailment that saw him undergo doctors tests to pin point exactly what was wrong with him. A diagnosis of mild anaemia followed, but with Stoner visibly struggling by the mid-way stage in the season, the decision was taken for him to skip three events.

Up to that point, Stoner - the only title contending rider not to have retired in any race - was still riding high in the standings, but his sabbatical put an end to any hope he could wrestle his MotoGP crown off Rossi again.

While that 'mystery illness' will no doubt define Stoner's 2009 season, his spectacular return to competition - two wins and a second place finish in the final four rounds - was a timely reminder that he remains a big threat to the Rossi et al.

His embarrassing final round retirement aside, compared to the previous year, Stoner put few wheels wrong in 2009, but was ultimately let down by his own body.

Nonetheless, if he can carry that renewed form and fitness through to next season, Stoner promises to be another big threat in 2010...

Statistics:

Team: Ducati Marlboro Bike: Ducati Desmosedici GP9

Championship position: 4th Points: 220

Races: 14 Pole positions: 3 Victories: 4 Podiums: 8 Best results: 1st (Qatar, Mugello, Phillip Island, Sepang) Points finishes: 13

Top 10 MotoGP Rider of the Year 2008: 2nd

Top 10 MotoGP Rider of the Year 2009:

5 - Dani Pedrosa 6 - Marco Melandri 7 - Andrea Dovizioso 8 - Toni Elias 9 - Loris Capirossi 10 - Nicky Hayden