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Max Biaggi has returned to the top of the World Superbike Championship standings after taking full advantage of an error from arch rival Marco Melandri at the Nurburgring.

The Italian came into the race 18.5 points adrift of Melandri, but has recovered that ground and moved 6.5 points clear after claiming his first victory since Motorland Aragon in the wake of the BMW rider's DNF.

A dramatic race that could have significant consequences for this year's title fight, it was Tom Sykes that led it out front early on as Biaggi's wide line into turn one did nothing but demote him behind the Kawasaki rider.

Melandri, meanwhile, found himself down to fifth, but was at least fortunate not to pick up a penalty after noticeably moving before the lights went out at the start. Stopping the bike again before it crossed the grid marker, officials deemed he had not gained an advantage to warrant a ride-through.

With Melandri quickly up to third place at the expense of Eugene Laverty and Carlos Checa as they dipped into the first turn on lap two, the bend would catch out Checa on the next revolution when he lost the front-end on the lean. He wasn't the only rider to succumb on lap three either with Jonathan Rea sliding out of the inherited fifth place just four bends later at Ford Kurve.

However, the bigger casualty was still to come as Melandri, in his attempts to get back on terms with Sykes and Biaggi out front, would run wide into the turn eight hairpin at Dunlop on lap six and drop the BMW into the gravel trap. Unhurt but visibly frustrated, it is Melandri's third DNF of the season after Donington Park and Misano.

Made aware that his biggest rival was out of contention, Biaggi settled in behind Sykes as they extended their advantage over the depleted chasing pack, which was now being headed by Laverty and Chaz Davies in the absence of Melandri, Checa, Rea and also Davide Giugliano, who had crashed on lap four.

However, with Sykes's pace beginning to wane as the race entered its second-half, Biaggi would take over at the front on lap twelve before proceeding to multiply his advantage over the remaining eight revolutions.

It was the last decisive moment of the race for the Italian as he cruised to the finish line, his first win since Spain halting a run of momentum that had seen Melandri reel him in over the last four rounds.

Having lost the lead to Biaggi, Sykes's lap times fell away alarmingly over the final third of the race, the Kawasaki rider being reeled in by the feuding Laverty and Davies.

With Sykes losing a second a lap, Laverty and Davies quickly swallowed him up to resume their battle, this time for second position. In the end Laverty got the better of the reigning World Supersport Champion, the result marking Aprilia's first ever 1-2-3 finish at WSBK level.

Despite dropping back in the closing stages, Sykes finished fourth, while Melandri's failure to finish means he has clawed back ground in his title quest, the margin to the front down to 34.5 points.

With several top riders already out, the German circuit claimed another high-profile victim late on when Loris Baz dramatically crashed out just three laps from home, the Frenchman throwing away a potential top five finish.

His misfortune duly promoted an inspired Leon Camier into the top five, the FIXI Crescent Suzuki rider putting in a charging performance from the back of the field after failing to make it out for his seventh place starting position before the warm-up lap.

Another rider to make big gains from a lowly starting position, Sylvain Guintoli finished the race in sixth place, ahead of Leon Haslam, who defied his painful shoulder to complete a solid result in seventh place.

Equalling his best finish of the season, Lorenzo Zanetti followed PATA Ducati team-mate Guintoli in eighth, heading off Ayrton Badovini and Hiroshi Aoyama in ninth and tenth positions.

Having failed to get any of its three riders into Superpole, Effenbert Liberty Ducati at least had the satisfaction of seeing the trio reaching the top 15 in the race, Maxime Berger going 11th, Lorenzo Lanzi 14th and Brett McCormick 15th, the latter scoring his first point in WSBK.

Between them, Checa recovered from his early tumble to finish in 12th - just 0.125secs off Berger -, while John Hopkins was 13th.