Rookie Ryuichi Kiyonari has taken a stunning maiden World Superbike victory after coming out top in a thrilling exchange between himself and Troy Bayliss that went down to the very final corner.

The Ten Kate Honda rider was forced to battle back from a tardy start to catch long-time leader Bayliss and shadow him until the 21st lap when he made a move stick at Hawthorn Bend.

However, Bayliss stayed just as close in the final four tours, very nearly snatching the lead back from the double BSB champion on the penultimate corner. That in turn, though, nearly allowed Max Biaggi through into second, the Italian producing a superb performance to catch the leaders in the final laps.

A race that saw the pendulum of momentum swing between a variety of riders throughout the 25 laps, Bayliss got away best from the lights as those alongside him bogged down. Indeed, heading into Paddock Hill Bend, Bayliss had dragged through fifth place Troy Corser in second, while Tom Sykes popped his Suzuki into third briefly before going on to be swallowed up by the chasing pack.

Nonetheless, he remained in contention in fifth, just behind Noriyuki Haga and Max Biaggi, but ahead of Yukio Kagayama and Kiyonari, the front row sitter getting away badly to be seventh by the end of the first lap.

Up at the front, Bayliss and Corser made a brief breakaway from the pack, with Haga holding onto third having briefly lost the place to a charging Biaggi. However, after falling behind Sykes at Druids on lap two, the Italian was pushing just a bit too hard when he ran wide at Surtees, allowing Kagayama and Kiyonari through too.

Attention soon turned to Kiyonari, who was past Kagayama at Paddock Hill Bend and straight onto the rear of Sykes. The wild-card Brit posed a stiff challenge for his former British Superbike rival, holding sway until lap five when Kiyonari dipped beneath him at the same corner. Later on in the lap, Kiyonari was up to third when he passed a seemingly struggling Corser, the Australian having just lost second to Haga too.

However, just as it looked like Haga would be getting ready for another legendary fight with Bayliss, he quite suddenly low-sided mid-way through Surtees and came off the bike. Quickly jumping back on his Yamaha, Haga was nonetheless well out of contention now.

It left Bayliss exposed to a flying Kiyonari, the pair rapidly establishing a gap over now Sykes, who was the latest rider to dispose of Corser in his steady slip down the order.

With the bumper crowds cheering Sykes on, 'The Grinner' looked as though he could be on for a very famous podium. However, just as it looked like he was starting to catch the race leaders, Sykes began slowing on lap nine. Visibly frustrated as his rivals swept past, Sykes rode straight into the pit-lane to retire. Investigations have since shown that a hole in the radiator, caused at the start when another rider ran wide onto the dirt, was the reason for a devastating retirement.

Back in the race, it was becoming evident that the win was going to come the way of either Bayliss or Kiyonari, the Japanese rider now latched onto the back of the Ducati, particularly in the first sector of the lap.

Indeed, while Bayliss was inch perfect as he defended from Kiyonari, it took a dive down the inside at Graham Hill Bend for him to get his nose in front. However, a calm Bayliss simply counter-attacked into Surtees to steal the place back. Kiyonari would repeat an identical move on lap 18 with the same result.

Nonetheless, Kiyonari persisted and after getting close to passing at Paddock Hill Bend at the start of lap 21, he finally made his move stick with a fine pass at the high-speed Hawthorn Bend.

Initially pulling out a gap, Bayliss admits he was willing to settle for second, but was stunned into pushing again thanks to the superb late race pace from Biaggi.

Indeed, Biaggi had fought his way back into the podium reckoning mid-way through the race before setting a furious pace as he beat down the advantage of the two leaders. Catching them with only two laps remaining, all three riders rode nose-to-tail throughout the final lap, but not one was able to do anything more than a feigned look.

Biaggi's appearance actually allowed Kiyonari to get a little bit of breathing space as he swept over the line for a long-awaited first win around a circuit that has been very kind to him in the past.

"I am really happy to take my first win in World Superbikes," he said in the ensuing press conference. "There is a big satisfaction to win here. The Honda has a perfect set-up and I have been feeling good this weekend, so I hope I can win again in race two."

Just behind, Bayliss held off Biaggi by just five hundredths of a second as they crossed the line almost alongside each other.

Five seconds down the road, Suzuki showed an impressive race pace, compared to their speed in qualifying, as Kagayama claimed fourth having come out top in a battle with Alstare team-mate Fonsi Nieto.

Carlos Checa made it a good day for Ten Kate in sixth after a significant improvement over his qualifying performance, while Max Neukirchner dropped valuable points to Bayliss with a run to seventh place.

Corser was a disappointing eighth after fading quite dramatically from his initial strong start, while Jakub Smrz was ninth after never recovering from a poor getaway off the front row of the grid.

Roberto Rolfo equalled his best result of the season in tenth place, ahead of Lorenzo Lanzi, who had the fillip of finishing ahead of Michel Fabrizio on the works Xerox Ducati.

Kenan Sofuoglu made it three Ten Kate bikes in the points, while Gregorio Lavilla and Chris Walker gave Vent Axia VK a double points finish in 14th and 15th places.

Elsewhere, Regis Laconi was one of the riders to crash out contention whilst running in the points, while the third Brit Tristan Palmer was forced to retire. Ruben Xaus, meanwhile, did not race as he continues to struggle with illness this weekend.

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