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Rossi ends season with Valencia victory.

Lap 3 and Hayden, having been forced to defend against Gibernau while at the same time targeting Capirossi ahead of him, was sent sliding down the road at low speed when his rear tyre broke away at a tight left hander. The Kentuckian sprang to his feet to remount his stalled V5, and after a bump start from the marshals rejoined a distant last.

Meanwhile, in even greater trouble were Japanese riders Nakano and Ukawa, who collided one lap later at the same turn – ending their season, and possibly GP careers, prematurely.

Back up front and Gibernau raised the crowd volume by an octave as he neatly seized second from Capirossi on lap 5 of 30, and the pair would soon pull a 1sec gap over Loris, Checa and Biaggi – but the Roman would keep his own hopes alive by dislodging former team-mate Checa two laps later, as the Yamaha rider began to fade.

What had looked like developing into another Rossi/Gibernau battle was soon a four way affair as Capirossi and Biaggi joined the fight – Sete blasting ahead (or had Valentino let him by?) for the first time along the start-finish straight on lap 10. However, Gibernau certainly seemed to think Rossi was playing games, and let the Italian back ahead one lap later. This time Rossi really began to push, his Repsol machine shaking under the strain of harsh acceleration.

Rossi's attempt at breaking the Catalan would come to nothing as the Telefonica rider beat his best lap times to remain on The Doctor's rear wheel, although the pace was beginning to tell on Capirossi, who began to slip back as he focussed his attention from catching Gibernau, to defending third from Biaggi.

Further behind, the Valencia fans were being treated to a repeat of the 2002 World Superbike season as Edwards and Bayliss battled all-out for seventh (2.5secs behind Barros). The Texan - in his Aprilia farewell - would trouble the Aussie right to the flag, despite Troy outbraking him into turn one at the halfway stage.

But up front the race was now a clear Rossi/Gibernau battle, with barely a tenth separating their lap times as Rossi fought to end (?) his Honda career with a victory, while Gibernau was upholding Spain's hopes – and signalling his intentions to replace his rival as Honda's number one next season.

The pair were so close on track that they seemed at times to be toying with each other, Rossi at one point glancing back to check his advantage – and being waved at by Gibernau! Rossi then tried to surprise Sete by suddenly cranking out new lap records as he tried to break his opponent's rhythm, only for Gibernau to initially respond with fast laps of his own as he tried to stay in touch.

This time, however, Rossi's charge was relentless, and with six laps to go he had built his lead to over a second for the first time in the whole event. That would become 2.5secs by lap 27, then slip slightly to a still comfortable 1.9secs as the final lap began.

Eventually, Valentino would wheelie his way to victory by 0.681secs, then congratulate Sete before each went their separate ways for the post race celebrations: Gibernau would stop to greet his home fans and collect a Daijiro Kato flag, while Rossi was mobbed midway around by fans of his own – before doing what must surely have been the longest burn-out ever.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
The Valencia top three: Rossi (1st), Gibernau (2nd) and Capirossi (3rd).
Valentino Rossi smokes his rear Michelin after victory at Valencia.
Rossi leads Capirossi, Hayden, Gibernau et al in the early laps at Valencia 2003.
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