MotoGP » 16 May 2004
Sete back-to-back as Spain rules Le Mans.
Perhaps fired up by his earlier drama, Rossi put a firm move on Biaggi at the end of the first lap to give a leading order of Checa, from Gibernau, Rossi, Biaggi, Edwards, Hayden, Melandri, Capirossi and Bayliss as they crossed the line for the first time.
Not present were Neil Hodgson, John Hopkins and Norick Abe who were all eliminated after the latter apparently hit Hodgson and his D'Antin Ducati after the British Superbike champion fell in front of them. Both Abe and Hopkins were clearly furious, with Hopper throwing gravel in disgust at his ill fortune.
Meanwhile, Checa and Gibernau were soon breaking away up front and would circulate nose-to-tail until lap 12, when Carlos ran slightly wide on a long right hander. Gibernau then pounced for the space available and forced his way ahead.
At almost exactly the same time Rossi and Biaggi (two-seconds behind and having pulled a six-second lead over fifth placed fighters Melandri and Edwards) were in a near identical battle for third, Biaggi slipstreaming past Rossi for the first time on lap 12.
Max, with Rossi hanging on, then immediately set about closing the gap to Checa and by lap 16 was within 1.1secs of the Spaniard – and the Roman gained vital breathing room from Rossi when the five-times world champion ran wide, costing him a second.
Biaggi finally made firm contact with the top two with 10 laps to go, at which point Gibernau was beginning to put some real space between himself and Checa for the first time, the Catalan 'enjoying' a 0.8secs lead over the Yamaha rider who had now become something of a barrier protecting Gibernau from Biaggi...
...and Rossi; after his earlier mistake The Doctor had now clawed his way back to the Camel Honda's rear wheel – only adding to the pressure on Max to pass his former Marlboro Yamaha team-mate. Perhaps as a result, the Roman ran wide into turn one on lap 21 and had to shortcut the chicane, but maintained position. Nevertheless, Gibernau was now one-second clear.
Into the final five laps and Gibernau edged slightly further ahead of the nose-to-tail fight for second, with Checa more than holding firm in the face of the combined nine-times world championship winning pair behind him.
Checa was allowed vital breathing room two laps later when Rossi dived inside Biaggi, who held firm and forced the Gauloises rider to back off, but then made a mistake in the final turn and allowed Valentino a second chance - however, despite riding the kerb, he couldn't squeeze past the #3.
Onto the last lap and Gibernau was safe providing he made no major mistakes with the backmarkers, while Biaggi was waiting for his moment to attack Checa. Sete duly carved his way past the battling Xaus, Kurtis Roberts and Fabrizio, but Checa and Biaggi caught them at the final turn and a clever pass saw Carlos put the WCM rider between himself and Biaggi to make sure of his first podium in over a year.
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