Noriyuki Haga emerged triumphant from a classic World Superbike duel with Colin Edwards and Troy Bayliss to stake his intents for the final two rounds of the year.

With the track dry for virtually the first time this weekend, Noriyuki Haga wowed the packed Assen grandstands with a superlative performance in the final race of the day, just rewards for the thousands of supporters who braved the early morning rain.

Away from the start line, pole man Colin Edwards and Haga took the top two spots and proceeded to swap places at a frantic pace over the opening two laps. With the crowd on its feet, Troy Bayliss and Pier Francesco Chili joined in the fun and for several laps there was a four-bike train for the lead.

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However Edwards soon began to fall away with his dry weather set-up not as strong as his wet weather one while Chili was caught out by the kerbs on the final chicane and was sent tumbling to the tarmac for the second time in just five hours, not good for a man racing with nearly a dozen screws in his shoulder.

That left Bayliss and Haga out on their own and for lap after lap the two swapped places at almost every conceivable point of the 3.76-mile circuit. However as the two continued their battle Ducati team boss Davide Tardozzi was engaging in some animated discussions with the race stewards over the state of the circuit which had become very slippery after a series of riders, Ben Bostrom included, had spilled fluids on the tarmac.

With warning flags being pitifully under-used several riders found themselves getting caught out by the offending liquid and the field began to thin out drastically. The situation was especially dangerous at the difficult Osserbroeken corner, which claimed the Aprilia of Alessandro Antonello and the Bertocchi Kawasaki of Giovanni Bussei.

On lap eleven Bayliss was forced off line to avoid the clearly visible patch of oil at the corner and was powerless to prevent Haga from making a decisive move for the lead. A lap later it was all over for the Australian, who recorded his third retirement in the last four races when his radiator dumped its contents all over the rear wheel sending him to the grass.

With the battle for the lead resolved, attention turned to the fight for what had become second place between Juan Borja and Akira Yanagawa. Both riders had tagged on to the leading quartet in the early going and after passing the ailing Honda of Edwards they really went for it. Yanagawa made the crucial move with three laps to go as they entered Turn One although Borja made him fight every inch of the way, the Ducati rider fell just two seconds short.

Aaron Slight was another who kept within striking distance of the leaders in the early going and stayed on the pace to score his best result of the year with a fourth place, just four seconds behind Borja and twelve behind race winner Haga.

Colin Edwards followed his team-mate home after ruining his tyres in the opening half dozen laps but the American still had a smile on his face as Troy Corser had dropped away to seventh and was only just able to hold off a far more aggressive Katsuaki Fujiwara who, despite eighth place at the flag, was unable to prevent Slight moving ahead of him in the title chase.

Splitting Edwards and Corser in sixth place was the star of the race, Alessandro Gramigni on the elderly Valli Racing Yamaha R7. The Italian ex-125cc Grand Prix Champion had been the fastest privateer almost all weekend and despite falling 14th in race one, Gramigni was back on it for race two and simply rode past Corser, Fujiwara and Andy Meklau to record easily his best result of the year.

Meklau headed home his Gerin Ducati team-mate Robert Ulm to complete the top ten while Doriano Romboni put in another strong performance to finish eleventh ahead of another race one star, Jurgen Oelschlager.

Attrition was a major problem during the 16-lap event with only 17 of the 30 starters making it to the finish. Several were accounted for by the slippery surface and, as at the Nurburgring last year, the standard of marshalling left a lot to be desired. One man who didn't succumb to the gravel traps but still failed to make the finish was Gregorio Lavilla on the second factory Kawasaki. The Spaniard locked horns in the early going with his team-mate and was on course for a possible podium result when his motor let go just after half distance.

There is just a one week gap now until the series moves on to the new Oschersleben circuit in the former East-Germany and the gap at the top of the Championship is narrowing ever still. If Haga and his Yamaha team are successful with their appeal and the Japanese rider gets his 45 points gained in South Africa reinstated, he is on course to become the first ever Japanese World Superbike Champion. However if his appeal fails he could find himself banned from the final round of the series at Brands Hatch or, at the very least, looking at a small mountain to climb to get back on terms with Edwards.