The 500cc Czech Grand Prix was shaping up to be another epic duel between Valentino Rossi
and Max Biaggi, before Biaggi crashed out of the lead at a little over half distance, leaving Rossi to cruise to the flag and take a big lead in the points standings - while the three way battle for second raged right to the finish.
Biaggi had dominated Friday qualifying with a new lap record that would ultimately not be beaten in second qualifying – handing him pole for today's race. However, Rossi, who had been struggling on Friday, regained his form on Saturday to move up to second on today's grid - just a fraction behind his championship rival.
The scene was therefore set with Biaggi on pole at a race track he has won six time previously, while Rossi looked to have regained his form and was eager to halt the Marlboro Yamaha riders charge.
Meanwhile, third on the grid was the third of the Italian trio, Loris Capirossi, the West Honda Pons pilot being yet to win a race this year and keen to make amends today in the Czech Republic. The front row was completed by the impressive Jurgen van den Goorbergh on the three cylinder Proton KR machine, which was responding much better to it's recent change to a “Big Bang” engine firing configuration.
Therefore, at 14.00 local time a tense 500cc front row took shape on the Brno grid, and soon after the lights disappeared sending the premier MotoGP class (minus the injured Shinja Nakano) charging into the first turn – where it was Roberts who stole the initial advantage, from sixth on the grid, ahead of Biaggi, Abe, Rossi, vd Goorbergh, Capirossi and Checa.
Within half a lap of the 22 lap race the normally slow starting Rossi had worked his way ahead of Abe and into third, while Criville had worked his way ahead of Checa, Capirossi and vd Goorbergh, who was suffering along the start finish start.
Back up front Biaggi attempted to pass the American – but ran wide – allowing the #1 machine back in front. However at the start of lap three the Roman made the move stick into turn one, with Rossi 1secs back in third.
Triggered by this, Rossi began to up his pace to try and catch the Suzuki and kept in touch with Biaggi, as the top four (Biaggi, Roberts, Rossi and Abe) began to break away from the chasing pack of Criville, Checa, McCoy, Capirossi, Ukawa and Gibernau.
Lap 5 and Rossi made his move on Roberts for second by out-braking the American into a tight left hander – and immediately pulling away as he set off in pursuit of Biaggi.