Valentino Rossi has taken his third 2004 victory in a row after winning a nail biting lights to flag duel with Sete Gibernau, which was only decided after contact between them a few corners from the finish.

Yesterday, the black clouds which had loomed ever since MotoGP arrived earlier in the week gave way to summer sun - and allowed Rossi to shine: The world champion had struggled to find a wet set-up for his Yamaha but wasted no time as the track dried, clocking a new pole record of 1min 58.758secs to take top spot from team-mate Carlos Checa by 0.682secs.

Championship leader Gibernau, who held a slender five-point advantage over Rossi heading into the race, was third fastest and top Honda, while Marco Melandri continued his good form - despite undergoing an arm operation last week - to make it three Yamahas in the top four.

Shinya Nakano again showed devastating qualifying pace on the Kawasaki with fifth, a best ever grid position for the Ninja ZX-RR, while Honda rider Alex Barros crashed early in the session but recovered to qualify sixth for his 200th premier-class GP.

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Kenny Roberts continued his practice form, sealing seventh with a modified version of the Suzuki GSV-R engine, which features a revised firing order. Team-mate John Hopkins is still using the 'standard' motor but backed up a strong Assen record to qualify tenth, just behind Camel Honda's Makoto Tamada and the top Ducati of head-turning class rookie Ruben Xaus.

Tamada's team-mate Max Biaggi, who finished second to Gibernau last year, will have to make up positions from twelfth on the grid as he desperately tries to stay in the title chase, whilst last year's pole setter Loris Capirossi was two-seconds off his 2003 time and needs another good start from his factory Ducati to propel him from fifteenth.

The weather held overnight and a dry warm-up session saw front row qualifiers Rossi, Gibernau (+0.2secs) and Checa (+0.7secs) occupy the top three positions, as all teams worked frantically to find a dry set-up for this afternoon's race.

Those three pre-race favourites - along with Edwards, Hayden, Barros, Kenny Roberts, Hodgson, Capirossi and McWilliams - looked to have done just that this morning, but with so little dry running the 19 lap main event would be an even greater step into the unknown than usual.

When the red lights went out it was Checa that grabbed the initial advantage from Gibernau, Rossi, Barros, a fast starting Biaggi, Melandri, Xaus, Hopkins and Capirossi.

However, Checa was soon pushed aside by Gibernau and Rossi, who would dominate the top two positions until lap 10 of 19 when Barros - having disposed of Checa as early as lap two - caught the pair and promptly slipstreamed past a surprised Rossi along the home straight, to sit directly behind race leader Sete.

Sadly for the Brazilian, who was on target for a podium at the very worst, his Dutch TT would end just one lap later when he was violently thrown from his Repsol Honda after an apparent mechanical failure locked up his rear wheel on the entry to a high speed right-hander.

The Brazilian's exit, by stretcher on his 200th GP, would promote Marco Melandri to third, but the young Italian would soon face a strong fight for the final podium position from Max Biaggi, Nicky Hayden, Colin Edwards and Ruben Xaus.

But over seven-seconds ahead there was an even tenser battle developing for victory between Gibernau and Rossi: Gibernau would lead right to the last lap, but Rossi was always close behind him and - after being thwarted by a clever change of racing line from the Catalan along the back straight - the Yamaha star finally made his move by diving inside at the hairpin.

Sete tried to stick it out around the outside and the two would ride side-by-side to the next turn, where they made contact - Gibernau's front wheel hitting the rear of Rossi's M1 and breaking the #15's front fender. That unsettled the Spaniard, allowed Rossi vital breathing room and the five-times world champion was able to hang on to the flag by 0.456secs.

Both Rossi and Gibernau seemed to realise the significance of the victory, with Vale perhaps even more spectacular in his celebrations than normal, while Gibernau looked totally crestfallen.

Although Sete would (just) maintain his usual compose in parc ferme and the podium it was clear to all, not least Rossi ('Sete is a little angry'), that it had been the most bitter of disappointments to lose so close to the finish.

Gibernau has also lost the riders' championship lead (he and Rossi and now level), while Honda have now been overtaken by Yamaha at the head of the manufacturers standings.

Indeed, while Rossi tried to surpress his joy, the most outwardly happy of the top three was Melandri (+10secs from Rossi), the former 250cc world champion taking his second premier-class podium in as many races.

The Italian had actually been closing on Gibernau and Rossi at one stage, but ran wide through the final chicane and would spend the rest of the race defending his position from Biaggi.

The Camel Honda rider overtook Marco several times, but could never hold the position for long and was forced to settle for fourth at the flag. The battling Italians had allowed Hayden and Edwards to close rapidly at the end, both Americans having put in hard rides to climb up the order from 14th and 11th on the first lap.

Xaus was always the top Ducati and would battle with the second group for the entire race, losing out to Hayden and Edwards with a few laps to go, but crossing the line a credible seventh - 13secs from Rossi, but just 4secs from Melandri and a podium.

First of the factory Ducatis was Loris Capirossi, the Italian holding station at the end of the top ten for most of the race but came within 0.3secs of denying Xaus in his first race on the twin-pulse. Team-mate Bayliss retired.

Hopkins featured inside the top ten in the early stages for Suzuki, but slipped back to fourteenth at the flag - two places ahead of team-mate Kenny Roberts and one behind the sole finishing Kawasaki of Alex Hofmann.

Jeremy McWilliams took the final point for Aprilia on a day when team-mate Shane Byrne retired after 16-miinutes. Also not finishing were both Proton KRs and the WCM of Michel Fabrizio - the Roman teenager destroying his machine, but walking away unharmed, after an early high speed fall.

Full results to follow...

Dutch TT:

1. Rossi
2. Gibernau
3. Melandri
4. Biaggi
5. Hayden
6. Edwards
7. Xaus
8. Capirossi
9. Checa
10. Hodgson
11. Abe
12. Tamada
13. Hofmann
14. Hopkins
15. McWilliams
16. Kenny Roberts
17. Burns