Repsol Honda riders Max Biaggi and Nicky Hayden finished the French Grand Prix in fifth and sixth places respectively at Le Mans on Sunday - but after very different performances.

Biaggi's was a story of overcoming mechanical and - more significantly - physical adversary, having lost the rear end of his RC211V on the fourth lap of the damp morning warm-up and was thrown heavily onto the ground.

The Roman was taken by stretcher to the medical centre where serious bruising was diagnosed to his lower back, left knee and the left ankle he broke last November.

He was passed fit to ride with the benefit of pain-killers administered by the Clinica Mobile and lined up the 28-lap race some two and a half hours after the incident.

"A very, very hard race. After the warm-up crash I didn't think I could race," said Max on Sunday evening. "The pain never left me. When I put on my leathers my back was in such a bad condition that I never thought I could make it to the chequered flag. Then, adrenaline and my big desire to do well gave me an incredible fuel."

Biaggi ended the first lap in ninth place and slipped to 10th by the third. Adrenaline then kicked in and, in one of the rides of his life, the Italian dispensed with first Alex Barros and then Shinya Nakano.

An epic battle then ensued with Marco Melandri - 11 years his junior - in which he had the upper hand until five laps from the finish. The 33-year-old ended the race being helped from his bike by Dr Claudio Costa in the Repsol Honda garage having crossed the line in fifth place earning 11 valuable championship points.

"At the end of the race I almost couldn't get off the bike," confirmed Max. "After this I can only be happy about this fifth place: these are 11 important points for me and my team. Our job starts again from tomorrow. There is a lot to do to come back competitive in time for the Italian Grand Prix."

"A big emotional weekend. Max has had difficulties in all practice sessions and then he falls this morning and looks in doubt for the race. He made an incredible effort and a great result. So strong and so determined," praised team manager Makoto Tanaka.

Meanwhile, Hayden's race went in the opposite direction, buoyed by his performance in the warm-up, which the 23-year-old finished third fastest, the American then held second place behind compatriot Colin Edwards for the opening eight laps.

But the decay began from lap 16 onwards when the #69 began suffering from chatter problems that made cornering painfully slow. Hayden dropped steadily down the order to sixth, one place but 14-seconds behind his team-mate.

"Just really, really disappointed," sighed Nicky. "I got a good start and it all felt great but about 10 laps from the end it started to feel like last week in the rain. I got a lot of chatter as the race went on. We don't really know why. We need to find out.

"It's a pretty lame excuse but the bottom line is I just went backwards. It's been a hard weekend but I felt we were in with a chance after all the great work the team put in. It felt good to be running up front but I want to do that all race. I'm not looking forward to a three-week break now. I just want Mugello to come next weekend," he added.

"We need to look closely at the data and over the next few days testing here see if we can resolve the problems because he is riding well enough to be on the podium regularly but not getting the results at the moment," commented Tanaka.

 

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