Motorcycle racing at the top level got just what it needed in France, with some fresh faces on the podium at either end of the spectrum. Daijiro Katoh, though, continues to be immovable!

Marlboro Yamaha bounced back in France with a brilliant 1-2, with Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa smoking everyone else into a pulp. It was a dominant display by Biaggi, who even had time to run off the track into the gravel for a few moments, losing the lead and slipping to third at the time, and then doing it again later on, but just running up onto a kerb. The Italian still had time to win by over three seconds - it could have been 8+ if it wasn't for those mistakes. Pretty impressive stuff, hey?

We really needed a non-Rossi win, and that is what we got to make it a 100 per cent record of Italians winning the four 500cc races so far this year - what a way to set up the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello over the first weekend in June! Get yourselves out there by booking a ticket or checking out http://www.mugellocircuit.it

A quick run down of the riders then...

Max Biaggi

Stealthily chipped away through one of the best qualifying sessions ever seen in recent memory to grab pole for the second time in as many years at the track. Had a big testing session at Mugello between Jerez and France, where MYT got through not only engine parts but chassis parts too - really clearing away any stuff which they where unsure of, including tyres. Many times Michelin will throw a new tyre at them in qualifying but then that moves the constant of another parameter doesn't it..?

Max even wanted to do more and more testing - although they didn't let him - such is his hunger for getting onto form at the moment! He also rode the M1 four-stroke too when there - pictures seen on Eurosport before the GP500 race at the weekend, by the way.

He was up there from the start and, even though he went off one and a half times, still won brilliantly. Suzuka and the dramas there seem a long time ago. Well done. I saw him after the race and he was genuinely pleased for the team and everyone involved. He was a credit to all of them.

Carlos Checa

Well - Carlos Checa leading the race and me thinking for a moment that he could carry it through to the end and get his first win on a Yamaha. Even the team admit that he doesn't have quite the speed of Max, but it did look for a moment that he could trounce the Italian. But, hey, second place hardly bad is it! What a result for a team that was nowhere in Jerez - especially for Checa, who didn't ride more than five laps in a row at the Mugello test, as he was so battered around after his Jerez Saturday afternoon crash. This has given the Catalan GP crowd another name to cheer, and good on them.

Valentino Rossi

Duff start as always, but soon came steaming through. This time he left too steep a hill to climb, though. No way was he going to beat Max in a straight fight. Max would have rather had it blow up rather than letting The Doctor win. Rossi was riding with a championship head, whilst Max was riding with a win-the-race head. There is a big difference - and it shows at the top of the championship table, with Rossi 34 points ahead of second-placed Abe. With 25 points for a win, Rossi will still be leading the championship come the start of the Catalan GP on 17 June... and that's a long way away.. By the way, the bar code numbers on the side of the bike where the Nastro Azzurro beer sponsorship was spelt out 200501 464646 which is the date and his number and the amount of wins so far this year. The originality of these ideas are brilliant and better than the usual question marks or Christian name.. Well done guys.

Norick Abe

How can anyone be second in the championship and yet no-one notice him getting there?! Top stuff Nozza - especially passing Criville on the last corner to get a couple more points and getting revenge on Alex for him beating you last year. The work that Simon Crafar is doing with Ohlins and Norick is really coming to fruition, although Simon is adamant it is just a culmination of circumstances.

Alex Criville

There and thereabouts over the weekend, but not as quick as Rossi's sister machine. Chipping away at the season and will be quick in Mugello and Catalunya. Didn't enjoy the weekend at all. Nearly fell numerous times in the race but stays on for testing at the track after the race.

Kenny Roberts

World champion on form in qualifying after being happy that he is doing his bit on the bike, therefore leaving it to Suzuki to get the power output up. They altered the power curve, but at the expense of fuel consumption. One litre is one kilogramme in weight and that hurts at the start of the race. The tank is brim full at the start. At least he won me the bet of who was going to lead at the end of lap one! He is very relaxed at the moment and is thinking ahead for further races or years.

Loris Capirossi

Hardly saw him all weekend after slipping onto the second row for the first time this year. He'll bounce back soon - and won't he do just that with a bang!

Alex Barros

Just getting in a tiz, according to a senior team member, trying to set the bike up. Worrying about too many things apparently rather than riding the bike. Easier said than done, of course, to just ride the bike, but he'll be there soon.

Sete Gibernau

Team-mate to Roberts reported that he thought the season would be a bit easier than it is turning out. Proves what a 100 per cent tryer Roberts is. The whole team, of course, is struggling with only having two bikes compared with the armadas of Hondas and Yamahas, but he will look forward to Mugello with fond memories, as it was there, two years ago, when he jumped on to the spare Mick Doohan V4 after Mick's accident at Jerez. The trouble with Mugello is it has a monstrously long front straight - a click long - and that is not what the Suzuki is looking for in a straight line.

Shinya Nakano

The guy is a hero, but the weight of getting the lone Gauloises bike to the finish may have shown. No McCoy, no Jacque and Haga lobbed it. There were a lot of Gauloises bods there... Poor chap. When Nakano fell at Jerez in a practice session, Herve Poncheral had kittens - who else is there to ride it?

Olivier Jacque

Did a handful of laps on Friday AM, but decided against it. Operated on his wrist the day after the race.

Garry McCoy

He was going to win it - even from Friday's first practice onwards. He was out of this world... and then he fell and broke his scaphoid in his wrist. It'll be a while. What a shame. What a crying shame for the championship.

Tohru Ukawa

His worst qualifying in six years to slip to the third row of the grid for the very first time. Pretty darn good stats, but he must have had too many presents on Friday for his 28th birthday, as the weekend slipped away to a fall.

Chris Walker

Getting to grips with the bike and settling into the swing of things and the swing of the garage. Just to confirm to some out there - he is on a 2000-spec bike like Barros and Capirossi. The Repsols and Rossi are the 2001-spec with the air intake central in the fairing, so Chris isn't quite on a level playing field to them, although from little acorns...

Didn't fall and got it to the finish. Brilliant to see Union Jacks and English flags cheering him on around the circuit, but sorry to see many already asking him to go back to Superbikes. Just let him at least do a year!

Nori Haga

Four races, one finish. Chris Walker five points. Nori Haga four points. So Chris is winning at the moment then!

Elsewhere, Marco Melandri is proving to be a total hero to be even on the grid never mind getting to the finish and then on the podium; Daijiro Katoh - is there no stopping him? For Tetsuya Harada, 0.2secs behind Katoh must feel like a century....

The 125 race made me well up at the end to see the Podge get his first win and set himself up for his 'home' GP in Italy. I know he is from San Marino, but he will have a few blue and white flags waving in the crowd. The guy is a top bloke and a gentleman to boot. He is a credit to the Giampero Sacchi-run Gilera squad, who'll have to have a big fat contract in order to hold on to him. Mugello 125s will be one of the races of the year.

So the question is who will win in Mugello?

Capirossi, the winner last year, rode them all out of town. Max fell after hitting the back of Loris, whilst Rossi just fell off. Rossi won't do that this time around. Max will have to concentrate to unlock the door to the season, whilst Capirossi will have to resurrect himself from a duff Le Mans. It'll be a blinder of a GP - indeed one of the big races any rider has to win in his career.

Join us all again on Eurosport to find out, and then catch up afterwards here on Crash.Net.

Best to you all - and enjoy the summer!

Toby

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