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Garry McCoy: MotoGP's new streak.

In his haste to then catch championship rival Roberts, Rossi's riding took on a ragged edge, and the Nastro Azzuro man was lucky to save what appeared to be a definite fall. Half off the Honda, Rossi somehow managed to keep the bike on its wheels, and regained his seat with some judicious use of his left knee, despite still attempting to corner in the American's wake. Dropping to sixth was a mere consequence that could still be overcome.

Checa was the biggest beneficiary of Rossi's moment, moving to fourth and looking as though he, too, may be able to challenge for a podium place. The partisan crowd - understood to number in excess of 11,000 - was to be disappointed, however, as the second Marlboro Yamaha disappeared up the escape road, dropping several positions and almost collecting Alex Barros in its haste to rejoin the track.

Back at the very front, McCoy was now some three seconds clear of the continuing battle between Roberts and Biaggi. Checa's mistake had allowed Rossi back into the fray and, again the Italian was closing in on his rivals. Past Biaggi with some ease at the start of the 27th lap, Rossi also made short work of Roberts before the trio made it back to the pit straight. Sadly for the Italian, however, he would not even make it that far, skating off at the final combination of turns as he attempted to press on in pursuit of the leader, and ending his run of consecutive podiums at four.

The incident left McCoy unchallenged to the flag, breaking a sequence of different winners at following events that stretched back to Catalunya 1999. The Australian's joy was evident as he crossed the line, matched only by the silent celebrations going on in the Telefonica Movistar Suzuki pit.

Further back, Nobuatsu Aoki completed the Yamaha-Suzuki formation, coming home fourth ahead of the squabbling trio of Barros, 1999 race winner Regis Laconi - who continued his run of points finishes - and Checa. Sete Gibernau was the first of the Repsol Hondas to cross the line in eighth, while Jurgen van der Goorbergh got the better of the returning David de Gea in the battle of the non-V4s to claim tenth. Wildcard David Tomas took points for 13th, two places ahead of Britain's Phil Giles, who broke his world championship duck in 15th.

Rossi's exit served mainly to strengthen Roberts' hold on the championship standings, the American moving into an almost unassailable 66-point lead as the series moves into its final three races. Roberts admitted that his focus was primarily on taking the crown, and it was clear to see that the pressure is slowly lifting from his shoulders.

''I couldn't ask for more,'' he smiled afterwards, ''and must thank the team for all they have done this weekend. I also thank Max, who was trying to keep it stable behind me, and not stick his wheel in at every corner. There was no way I could catch McCoy, but then I have a lot more on my mind at the moment.''

McCoy's win took him level with the American with three victories in 2000, but the Australian was quick to say that he hoped to take the mantle for himself as the season winds down.

''I'm really happy to have won,'' he said, ''and really hope to keep this going. Admittedly, Kenny and Valentino are fighting for the championship, and find it hard to battle with me because they don't want to risk anything, but this is great.''

Fourth now in the championship, McCoy is not a threat to Roberts in terms of this year's title but, given his recent record, and the fact that he will be with the same team and machinery in 2001, the American must be beginning to wonder if this is where the biggest challenge to his defence is going to come from next season.



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