The welcome which heralded Loris Capirossi's victory in the Italian 500cc Grand Prix would have been fitting for an emperor, as the Honda Pons rider became the first Italian to win the class at Mugello.
Capirossi made a break at the start, having despatched early leader Kenny Roberts
Jr, but was powerless to defend late in the race as his two-second advantage was quickly eroded by the Italian crowd's favoured runners, Valentino Rossi
and Max Biaggi. Rossi, desperate to make amends for losing pole position on Saturday had been at the front of the chasing pack from the word go, but was only joined by Biaggi after the Roman had fought his way through from seventh on lap one.
From half-distance the Italian trio pulled away from the rest of the field, sending the crowd into rapture as the long-awaited home winner looked more and more likely. Biaggi opted to play the waiting game, as Rossi challenged the leader on more and more with each lap. Even then, however, he needed an error from the leader, as Capirossi ran wide on the exit of the first corner, and the two continued to joust right through to the penultimate tour.
The lead changed hands three times before it was finally settled in Capirossi's favour, and it was a mistake from his young counterpart that removed him from contention. Having taken what seemed a decisive advantage on lap 22, youthful enthusiasm saw the front wheel slide away, pitching Rossi into the gravel in front of his fan club.
Biaggi now chose to make his move and, despite two hairy rides over the kerbs, the Yamaha man hit the front at the start of the final lap. Capirossi fought back, retaking the lead halfway around, and then it was Biaggi's turn to hit the dirt. Running hard at the top of the hill, he left his braking a fraction too late and clipped the back of the black-and-white Honda before sliding off. Now Capirossi really was home free. His rivals both recovered sufficiently to take points but ninth (Biaggi) and twelfth were poor reward for valiant efforts.
Almost forgotten in the shadow of the scrap for the lead, Carlos Checa was the grateful inheritor of second place. The second Marlboro Yamaha had run quickly in the early stages, before eventually dropping back to what seemed a safe fourth place. Title rival Roberts slumped to an eventual sixth having led the opening tour, leaving the unlikely duo of Jeremy McWilliams
and Nobuatsu Aoki to fill third and fourth places for Aprilia and Suzuki respectively. Norick Abe
was fifth for the d'Antin Yamaha squad.
Capirossi's pole winning team-mate Alex Barros
made a dreadful start, and crashed out before his fightback could return him to the front. Reigning world champion Alex Criville
suffered his third accident in two days as he slid out of ninth before half distance, while the other Repsol bikes of Tady Okada and Sete Gibernau
could do no better than eighth and tenth. Similarly, the Red Bull Yamahas failed to show for much of the race, Garry McCoy
finally popping up in sixth place only to fall out again shortly afterwards. Tetsuya Harada, on the pole in '99 for Aprilia, looked set to take home some points, but succumbed late in the race and was classified two laps down.
The 250cc class saw Chesterfield Tech 3 pair Shinya Nakano
and Olivier Jacque take an historic 1-2 finish for Yamaha, after they ran away at the front right from the opening stages.
Neither led away from the start, however, as Aprilia favourites Marcellino Lucchi and Ralf Waldmann
looked to take control but, with the German crashing out as early as the second lap, it was left to the Italian wild card rider to keep the silver machines at bay.