Valentino Rossi earned his hardest victory of the season during today's incident packed Qatar Grand Prix, the Italian emerging on top after overcoming Movistar Honda team-mates Sete Gibernau and Marco Melandri - the latter losing out with just a few turns to go, while long time race leader Gibernau's curse continued with another costly mistake...

Qualifying had seen man-of-the-moment Loris Capirossi claim his third pole position in as many attempts, putting the Ducati-Bridgestone rider on course to complete an incredible hat-trick of three wins in three weeks this afternoon - but to do so he would have to overcome stiff opposition from fellow front row starters, Gibernau and Rossi, over 22 laps under the searing desert sun.

Morning warm-up then indicated that momentum had swing back towards the Michelin riders as Gibernau - looking to finally end his one-year win drought today - lapped 0.2secs ahead of Movistar Honda team-mate Melandri, with Rossi a fraction further behind in third.

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Meanwhile, Capirossi had been just seventh fastest, 0.8secs from Gibernau, with his team-mate Carlos Checa the top Bridgestone rider in fourth - and over 0.6secs from Sete - but would, as some teams suspected, the Bridgestone have better race endurance?

When the red lights went out for the start of 22 laps around the scorching - and surprisingly windy - Losail circuit, Capirossi converted his pole to a turn one lead while some close action behind ended with Gibernau pinching off Rossi for an early second with Hayden, Melandri, Edwards, Checa, Rolfo and Biaggi completed the top nine.

Even before the end of the first lap the top six were starting to edge away from Checa and fast starting rookie Rolfo, with Gibernau then taking the lead for the first time by outbraking Capirossi into turn one of lap 2. That innocuous move marked something of a turning point for the Ducati rider, who would drop a further two positions (to Rossi and Hayden) within a few corners - then lose fourth place to Edwards a lap later.

Nevertheless, Loris remained with the lead group - and could potentially have mounted a Bridgestone inspired comeback later on - but it simply wasn't to be: the warm-up form was correct and all the Bridgestone riders would struggle this afternoon, with Capirossi's chances of a three wins in a row eventually disappearing when he ran off track on lap 8, demoting him from sixth to twelfth.

Meanwhile, Gibernau had continued to confidently lead the now all-Michelin lead pack, extending his advantage over Rossi - who in turn now had a charging Melandri in his wheel tracks - to a peak of 0.9secs on lap six, before the #46 and #33 begin to make ground.

Nevertheless, by the halfway stage Gibernau was still 0.5secs clear of new second placed man Melandri - the young Italian, still riding with 36 stitches in his foot, having exploited a Rossi error to take second place a lap earlier - as he, Valentino and Hayden remained just a few bike lengths apart.

However, early frontrunner Edwards was fast dropping out of the podium equation - now sitting over a second behind the trio - but comfortably clear of Checa and Nakano, who in turn had gapped Elias, Barros and Roberts.

Gibernau then began to build his lead once again, helped by the ongoing Melandri/Rossi battle behind him - and even when Rossi, who appeared to have a significant horsepower advantage compared with the Hondas, blasted back past Melandri, the newly crowned seven-times world champion could do little to close the gap.

That would all change around lap 15 when Gibernau, perhaps due to tyre degradation, began to lose clear group to the chasing trio behind him - and, just a lap later, Rossi and the ever present Melandri would be within 0.3secs of the race leader.

But such speed was coming at a cost, with both Rossi and Melandri riding very much on the limit - but neither of the pair lost any serious ground until lap 17: It was then that third placed Melandri, now a solid one-second clear of Hayden, dived underneath Rossi for second.

The pass was clean, but Rossi immediately tried to fight back at the next apex, but was forced to quickly sit up and take evasive action to avoid hitting the back of Melandri's RCV for the second time in three races. The Gauloises Yamaha star missed Marco by millimetres, but nonetheless kept his M1 on-track, although he lost time in running wide and only just kept Hayden behind him - were his victory chances now over?

The answer was no - Melandri's pass would prove a blessing in disguise for Rossi since the younger Italian would quickly close onto Gibernau's rear wheel and, just one lap later, immediately made his move for the lead by outbraking his team-mate into the right hand hairpin.

It worked, but with over four laps to go was in no way decisive... until Gibernau made a fateful error. The Catalan, in a near repeat of Rossi's earlier retaliation mistake, tried to instantly regain the lead - his inside move would stick, but he ran wide on the dusty exit and, unlike Rossi, couldn't stop himself being sucked into the huge Qatar gravel traps.

Although the lead group all made mistakes today, Sete's seemed the most unnecessary - there was no desperate need to mount such an attack, given his previous race domination and with plenty of laps left: It was effectively a last lap move, made four laps too early, and would drop Gibernau back to a distant fifth, behind Edwards, which is where he would finish.

Gibernau thus failed to repeat his 2004 Qatar victory, the last time he stood on top of a MotoGP podium, and Rossi's "Gibernau will not win again" 'curse' - uttered after that race, and with its roots in the grid cleaning protests - continues...

Meanwhile, the chopping and changing between the Movistar riders had allowed Rossi - and to a lesser extent Hayden - to catch back up to new race leader Melandri, with the top two nose-top-tail as the last three laps began. Could Marco hold on for his first ever MotoGP victory?

The former 250cc world champion would lead until the penultimate lap when he again fell victim to superior M1 grunt; Rossi effortlessly riding around Marco along the huge home straight to be clearly ahead even before the turn one braking zone.

But Melandri had been making up his time through the twisty sections, and there would be no repeat of Rossi's usual penultimate lap disappearance, with Melandri still breathing the world champion's exhaust fumes as the last lap began.

A slipstream down the home straight kept Melandri in touch, but no more, and his attack would have to come somewhere around the infield. Melandri eventually opted for the already prosperous outbraking move into the right hand hairpin at the end of the fifth gear curved back 'straight'.

Rossi stuck to the racing line and couldn't prevent Melandri pulling alongside and then going deep on the brakes, but it would turn out to be too deep as he ran wide on the exit and was forced to stand his RCV upright as he reached the kerbing. Rossi cut cleaning back inside to reclaim the lead and become the first Yamaha rider to take ten premier-class grand prix victories in a single season.

The heroic Melandri was in turn able to retain second over Hayden to claim his own best result for the past seven races - and jump from fifth to third in the championship standings - and the two Italians were soon seen congratulating each other on a thrilling display of desert racing.

Hayden's podium marked his first top-three since the Sachsenring, while Edwards crossed the line 10seconds behind his countryman for disappointing fourth. With Gibernau fifth, Checa would be the top Bridgestone rider - but only just; the Spaniard finishing a second clear of Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano, although both were over 30secs from Rossi.

Fortuna Yamaha rookie Toni Elias kept veteran Alex Barros at bay for ninth, while Capirossi collected tenth - ahead of Kenny Roberts and Roberto Rolfo - after his off track excursion. Thirteenth position went to Camel Honda's Shane Byrne, in what could be his final RCV race, while Fortuna Yamaha's Ruben Xaus and WCM's James Ellison completed the point scorers.

Suzuki's John Hopkins was the last of the finishers in 17th, after being forced to pit for a tyre change, while the two non-finishers were Makoto Tamada and Max Biaggi. Biaggi had dropped rapidly down the order and was forced to retire with obvious engine problems just before the halfway stage and now sits just two-points clear of Melandri in the battle for second place.

Full results to follow...

Qatar GP:

1. Rossi
2. Melandri
3. Hayden
4. Edwards
5. Gibernau
6. Checa
7. Nakano
8. Elias
9. Barros
10. Capirossi
11. Roberts
12. Rolfo
13. Byrne
14. Xaus
15. Ellison
16. Battaini
17. Hopkins