Valentino Rossi has won the 16th and final round of the 2004 MotoGP
season, the Valencia Grand Prix, after battling bar-to-bar with the likes of Troy Bayliss, Nicky Hayden, Makoto Tamada and finally Max Biaggi to take his ninth victory of the year - in front of 122,000 fanatical fans.
The recently crowned six-times world champion slipped to sixth at the start - behind Hayden, Gibernau, Bayliss, Biaggi and Tamada - but by the end of first lap the Italian had clawed his way up to fourth, having sliced past Hayden and Bayliss.
The Yamaha star then benefited from an increasing heated battle between Gibernau and Biaggi - the pair both running wide on lap two after swapping positions several times – handing Rossi second place... but Tamada had set off like a rocket and by then already held a 1.3secs lead.
But with a clear track ahead of him for the first time, Rossi quickly began reeling the Japanese in – and by lap four was locked on to the Camel Honda rider's rear Bridgestone. However, Hayden remained in touch, while the still battling Gibernau and Biaggi slipped further away.
Rossi outsmarted Tamada with a neat dive underneath the RCV rider in the short squirt between two right hand corner apexes shortly after – but Makoto couldn't be shaken and just two laps later outbraked the Italian into turn one to regain the lead.
Meanwhile, the second Camel machine of Biaggi was also making an impact – Max having finally broken clear of Gibernau and now closing fast on the leading trio ahead of him. The former 250cc world champion would catch the group on lap 8 of 30, and all four would remain nose-to-tail until Biaggi snatched third from Hayden at the halfway mark.
That proved the catalyst for Rossi's second attack on Tamada and - having been studying his opponent carefully ever since losing the lead - produced another neat pass through the twisty middle section of the lap, then crucially held off the Honda's rider's attack with a tight line down the home straight.
Rossi would ultimately never be headed, but the action was far from over with Bayliss - riding in his final race for Ducati - having passed Gibernau for fifth on lap 11 and within five laps had caught the lead group, with Hayden first in his sights.
But the American would be spared, for now, when second placed Tamada appeared to lose drive out of the final turn on lap 17 – allowing both Biaggi and Hayden ahead, and making the Japanese Troy's first victim among the lead quartet... The double GP winner would be passed by Bayliss within a lap.