by Peter McLaren and Andy Stobart

World championship leader Valentino Rossi believes Sete Gibernau is his toughest rival for the 2004 world championship - but that Max Biaggi has a quicker bike.

Gibernau and Rossi were tied at the top of the points heading into last weekend's German Grand Prix, but Yamaha rider Rossi pulled 13-points clear of Gibernau after the Telefonica Honda pilot fell from his second race in succession (both he and Rossi having crashed out in Rio).

However, it wasn't all good news for Rossi as he 'only' finished the Sachsenring race fourth - behind the Hondas of Max Biaggi, Alex Barros and Nicky Hayden - a result which allowed Camel backed Biaggi to close to within 1-point of the #46 heading into this weekend's British Grand Prix.

Following yesterday's Leicester Square appearance, Rossi met with the British media, included, at the Hippodrome for a casual chat about one of the most closely contested MotoGP seasons in recent memory.

"For me, Sete is a better rider than Biaggi," began Vale, when asked about his championship rivals. "(But), from the track, the bike of Biaggi is faster than the bike of Sete.

"My feeling is that when I fight with Sete the difference between (our) engines is less and Sete rides a little bit well but, with Biaggi... Biaggi rides a little bit more slow, but the engine is a little bit faster - it's difficult (to chose between them).

"For sure, the physical condition of Biaggi is better than Sete, but anyway Sete is 13 points away. With Sete our relationship is better than with Biaggi, on the track we always have a great battle," he added.

Rossi also admitted that the recent rise of Barros and Hayden into race winning contention is a cause for concern.

"If I make a small mistake like in Sachsenring I don't arrive second, I arrive fourth, and this is bad for my points," said Rossi. "I've won four races, but am only one point in front of Biaggi who has won one race."

"The problem is that I am alone (as a front-running Yamaha)... It's Honda against Valentino Rossi!" he smiled.

First qualifying for the British Grand Prix takes place tomorrow.