Ruben Xaus racked up his second career World Superbike victory in typically spectacular style after a race long hair-raising duel with Ducati Infostrada teammate Troy Bayliss and the Aprilia of Regis Laconi around the sweeping Imola circuit.
With the rider's title already decided in favour of Troy Bayliss and the manufacturers crown nestling safely at the Ducati factory, all bets were off entering the final round of the 2001 World Superbike Championship at Imola this weekend and sure enough the opening 21 lap race around the 4.390km circuit on Sunday was an absolute cracker from start to finish with Ducati Infostrada's Ruben Xaus taking the victory spoils after race long nemesis' Troy Bayliss and Regis Laconi were eliminated in a penultimate lap accident.
The combination of fast, undulating corners and tight, technical chicanes made for fantastic racing right from the word go with third place starter Bayliss snatching the lead from fifth place starter Ben Bostrom and the fast rising Xaus who went from eighth to third before the first corner. Pole sitter Troy Corser was eighth by the end of lap one while second place starter Laconi was manfully upholding Aprilia honours in fourth, which became third when Xaus ran wide at the Variante Alta and dropped to fifth behind the Frenchman and Neil Hodgson.
Although he initially made a small break at the head of the field aboard his beautifully painted silver 996, Bayliss was soon under intense pressure from Bostrom, Laconi, the recovering Xaus and Colin Edwards who inherited fifth when Hodgson missed his braking point at the final chicane and dropped to 26th as he gathered himself together.
The leading group soon became eight as the inspired Alessandro Antonello on the third string Aprilia, the similarly motivated Tadayuki Okada and Corser joined the fun but all the attention was focused on the top three as both Laconi and Xaus worked their way past Bostrom in the run up the hill after Tosa and were soon harrying Bayliss. On lap four Laconi grabbed the lead with a late out-braking move at the Variante Alta with Xaus barging past his teammate on the run down to Rivazza. Unperturbed, Bayliss drove the nose of his bike to the inside of both and briefly held the lead before running wide and forcing Laconi off line in the process allowing Xaus to grab the lead which he held until lap 13 save for a brief moment on lap eleven when Laconi overdid things at the final chicane and swung across the Spaniard's bows.
The Frenchman finally made a move stick on lap 13, using the Aprilia's impressive top end power to good use entering the Piratella and despite a major bobble on the kerbs exiting the Aqua Minerale he managed to withstand the prolonged attacks by Xaus and Bayliss who had the sizeable Italian crowd on their feet at every corner in a ferocious dice for second. Bayliss had initially let the gap between him and the two leaders fluctuate back and fourth to the tune of around half a second during the race's middle stages as Bostrom, Edwards, Okada and Corser fell back slightly but by lap 17 he was firmly ensconced behind Xaus and over the next four laps the two Ducati riders swapped places at least half a dozen times in their efforts to depose Laconi.
On lap 20 of 21 Xaus finally built up enough momentum on the run down the hill into the Aqua Minerale to dive underneath Laconi and take the lead, forcing the Aprilia wide enough to allow Bayliss to sneak into second at the same time. Laconi however fought back instantly and took second back at the first Rivazza turn only to have Bayliss return the favour entering the second Rivazza. Bayliss however ran slightly wide and placed his rear wheel on the second layer of kerbing, which resulted in the bike high siding directly in front of Laconi who ploughed over the silver machine and was lucky not to become entangled with the tumbling RSV1000 as both riders were spat onto the tarmac.
Despite taking a nasty bump to his right arm, Bayliss seemed relatively unscathed with Laconi's injuries being restricted to nothing more than a broken heart following a superb ride that once again came to nought.
That left Xaus with a clear run to the chequered flag, which he took with 3.6 seconds to spare over Corser in the sole remaining Aprilia following Antonello's retirement with tyre problems on lap 15. Corser had sensibly saved his rubber during the early stages and moved onto the tail of the Bostrom, Edwards, Okada duel on lap ten, passing Okada when the Japanese Castrol Honda rider overshot the Tamburello chicane after making a move on Edwards and then working his way passed Edwards and Bostrom in the final five laps as their tyres began to fade.