After dropping from fifth to eighth at Turn 1 of Sunday's Catalunya MotoGP, it took Valentino Rossi just seven laps to reach the race lead.

"The key was this morning, because we modify the bike for the last section and in the warm-up I was fast. After that, I knew I could fight," the Movistar Yamaha rider explained afterwards, referring to the stop-go F1 corners introduced after a fatal Friday accident for Luis Salom.

"My start was not so bad, but I was very close to Dovizioso in the first braking and I didn't brake deep enough. But I had a good pace and was able to recover."

Once he got to the front, Rossi intended to break away from the field.

"I tried to pull away. This strategy worked with all the other riders except with Marquez, who came with me," he said. "So I knew it would be very difficult. But I felt good. I was able to ride well. So I tried to stay in front."

Rossi came into the race 37 points behind team-mate and title leader Jorge Lorenzo, after an engine failure at Mugello. When Lorenzo was taken out by Andrea Iannone on lap 17 of 25, he briefly considered whether he should settle for second place.

"When I saw Lorenzo out, I think a little bit. But I have to recover more points and have two guys in front of me, including Marc, who is now in front of the championship. So I try to win."

In order to take that victory Rossi had to face Marquez in a thrilling wheel-to-wheel battle that saw the pair repeatedly exchange the lead in the closing stages.

"At the end the battle was great. I like a lot for sure. Because when I saw Marc overtake me I understand that also for him it was difficult with the tyres. From that moment I tried the maximum and was able to take a small gap for the last lap.

"I have to see it on TV, but I think it was the same level as the battle with Lorenzo [in 2009], because we overtake a lot of times and arrive at the end very close."

Rossi and Marquez shook hands for the first time since 2015 following the race.

"Since I've been in MotoGP, this is his strongest moment," Marquez said of the 37-year-old. "Last year he was strong, but I feel this year he is stronger. He has the pace. He has a really good level."

Rossi remains third in the world championship, but is now 22-points from Marquez and 12 from Lorenzo.

Meanwhile, on a difficult weekend for MotoGP, Rossi felt that an exciting race was a fitting tribute to Salom's memory.

"It was the best way to remember Salom, a small homage for him and his family. It is not very important, but all we could do as riders today," said the Italian, who like Marquez and third place Dani Pedrosa wore a special t-shirt on the podium.

A minute's silence in memory of Salom, attended by the entire paddock, was held before Sunday's races.

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