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Rossi restrains Gibernau for Le Mans victory.

Valentino Rossi has won the French Grand Prix at Le Mans after successfully holding off arch rival Sete Gibernau by just 0.3secs after a tense finale in which the Catalan, having recovered from some poor opening laps, charged through the field to split the leading Gauloises Yamahas.

Dense mist and fog had delayed the morning warm-up, with the track containing substantial damp patches by the time the MotoGP riders began their belated 20-minute session - which went on to see a heavy accident for Max Biaggi, resulting in the Roman being stretchered off to the medical centre.

Fortunately, the sore Repsol Honda rider was able to take his eighth place on a dry - but very overcast - Le Mans starting grid several hours later; the 21-rider line-up led by a front row of Gauloises Yamaha team-mates Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards plus Movistar Honda's Marco Melandri while Sete Gibernau, Nicky Hayden and Shinya Nakano completed row two.

But several minutes before the green lights went out the race was declared 'wet' - meaning that, unlike at Estoril, no white flags would be needed before a bike swap could take place should rain, which had haunted the event all weekend and remained a very real possibility, return during the race.

When the green lights did disappear it was Hayden who shot to the front into the fast turn one, but Edwards outbraked his fellow American around the outside to slot into the lead as the field threaded its way through the right-left-right first chicane.

But one man not emerging from the other side of the chicane was Carlos Checa, who fell from his Desmosedici after clipping Biaggi and then collected D'Antin's Roberto Rolfo as the class rookie tried to avoid the fallen Spaniard - the Italian would rejoin.

Accompanying Checa on the DNF list before the end of the opening lap was Team Roberts rider Shane Byrne; the Brit being left in obvious pain by a heavy off and was carried away on a stretcher for further examination at the medical centre.

Suffering to a lesser degree was Byrne's good friend John Hopkins, who had been forced to pit even before the start with mechanical problems and returned in last place riding his spare Suzuki.

Meanwhile, Rossi and Gibernau were just sixth and seventh at the end of lap one - behind Edwards, Hayden, Capirossi, Melandri and Nakano - and while Rossi worked steadily up the order, Gibernau remained in seventh for the next four laps, then dropped to a low of eighth, before beginning his impressive comeback




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