Seven time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi achieved his first major milestone as a Ducati rider by taking a debut Desmosedici podium in Sunday's French Grand Prix at Le Mans.

Ninth on the grid and sixth at the end of the first lap, Rossi spent the first half of the race just behind a battle for fourth between Yamaha's world champion Jorge Lorenzo and Repsol Honda's Andrea Dovizioso.

Just as Rossi passed Dovizioso for fifth, an incident ahead of them between Dani Pedrosa and Marco Simoncelli meant the trio would soon be battling for the final two places on the podium.

Rossi rose to the occasion, overtaking Dovizioso and then former team-mate Lorenzo - the 2011 points leader - with four laps to go. But Dovizioso also got past the #1 and later wrestled second place away from Rossi by just 0.35sec.

"We're very pleased with this podium because we're on the right path, and especially because I had fun today," said Rossi. "I rode the Desmosedici well, I was fast in the technical parts of the track, I felt good from start to finish and I had good lap times.

"This morning we made a last change to the setting together with Jeremy and the guys from Ducati, and it helped cut another couple of tenths. I knew I could beat Lorenzo, so that was my goal. I also passed Dovi at one point, but I got a little confused and made a move on the penultimate lap instead of the last one.

"I lost my concentration momentarily, but in short, he got me again.

"Anyway, it's fine like this; I'm happy for myself, for my team, for Filippo (Preziosi), and for all the boys at Ducati. This result boosts our morale. We still have to keep working and improving though, because there's more to be done.

"I also have to improve and keep adapting my style to the Ducati, because I'm still not riding it as I should, but in the meanwhile, we'll enjoy today's nice race and podium."

Team-mate Nicky Hayden fought over sixth place with Lorenzo's team-mate Ben Spies, and although he had to concede the position to his compatriot in the end, he was pleased with the progress made over the course of the weekend.

"We didn't do ourselves any favours by starting 10th, but actually, we made a little step forward with the bike today," said Hayden. "I got a decent start but was just really tight and lost some time. As the race got going, I was able to move up a bit and slowly bring back Spies and Colin. Colin crashed, but once I got in front of Ben, I wasn't really able to get down in the 34s and get away like I needed to. Seventh isn't a great result for us, but I would say that overall, it's probably been our best weekend yet.

"When the track was cold, I was able to go quite fast - always in the top five in those conditions. I hoped for better in the race, but I'm looking forward to the next stretch; we're about to really get into the season."

On May 17, Rossi will be in action at Silverstone aboard a Ducati 1198, as the English track inaugurates its new paddock 'wing'.



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