It has been quite some time since Andrea Dovizioso could look down on each and every one of his peers from the top of the world championship, but another stirring performance at Assen was enough to convince the 31-year old that, at the very least, he and Ducati can fight for this year's MotoGP title.

Not since July, 2006 has Dovizioso led a championship and it was those laps after he narrowly avoided a stricken, sliding Maverick Vi?ales that gave the Italian most satisfaction. Around Assen, a circuit that hasn't always been a happy hunting ground for Ducati in past years, Dovizioso was the fastest man on track.

The rate at which he caught Marc Marquez and Johann Zarco, once of the leading group, was remarkable. As Dovizioso said, "I was able to recover more than four seconds... I'm so happy to do it in this track." This was confirmation that Ducati can be strong almost everywhere, something backed up by a glance at the championship table.

"It was a very nice race," said Dovizioso, who came home fifth, just a tenth of a second off Marc Marquez in third. "Really strange, unfortunately the mistake I made in qualifying affected the race, because I couldn't catch the first group at the beginning of the race, and that complicated my race.

"At the beginning, I wasn't smooth enough to be really fast, but I stayed calm, and I used all the positive things, and when I was behind Maverick, I tired to understand if there was some point where I could improve. And one lap was enough before his crash to understand some points on the track.

"After that, I was really focused to be consistent and fast, and after that crash, I was the fastest in the race. I'm so happy about that, this is so important for the future, for the championship, because this is the reality, we were really fast today, I was able to recover more than four seconds to the first group. So I'm so happy, and I'm so happy to do it in this track. For sure it's not the best track for me.

"So the fifth position today is a good point, but it's an important fifth position, with a lot of speed, a lot of confidence. I'm not happy with the fifth position, because I was able to minimum finish third, but the battle of Cal and Marc the last two laps was crazy, I couldn't try to overtake them, so I'm not happy about that.

"But I'm really happy about my speed, about how we worked in the weekend. Also when our position was quite bad, we stayed calm, we worked in the right way. We started in the race with a set-up we had never tried, but we believed in that setup and it worked in the race."

The enthralling Dutch encounter showed two sides to Dovizoso's increasingly dangerous weaponry; the first being the speed to catch the fight for third, and the second his ability to think on the bike, and consider the consequences the long-term risks of any possible moves.

"I had a good feeling with the bike," he said of the closing stages of the race. "Four laps to the end, it started to rain heavily, and at that time, I started thinking about the championship. It was impossible to understand if the corner was wet and which one was more wet, so the risk was too high.

"It's normal that Valentino and Danilo, they were able to take more risk because of the situation in the championship. I have to slow down, unfortunately I couldn't fight for the victory. But really happy about the race, about the speed, about how we worked, about everything."

As always, Dovizioso was fascinating when pressed on what made the difference in those laps that followed Vi?ales' surprise fall. Following the Yamaha man allowed the Italian to understand several racing lines that were more effective, he said.

"It's about the line. This track is not so easy for me, because it's in a completely different way than my riding style. So there are a lot of lines you can do in a lot of corners. When I saw Maverick in some corners, I was trying to do them in the same way, and it worked.

"That's why small things can make a big difference, and that's why I was four tenths more or less faster than before, and I was pushing really hard. Really happy about how I react about that during the race. This is not so easy, especially when you start and the speed is not there. Stay calm and fix it is a good thing. Small things, I can react in a better way for sure."

So, was this thinking of the implication in terms of points confirmation that Dovizioso can win the championship? "I said before this weekend, I always race thinking about the championship," came the response.

"Also when I am fighting for sixth position in the championship. I never did something crazy during the race and not thinking about the championship. I think the fast riders in the championship always race thinking about the championship.

"So I will not change that, and I don't have to change that. For sure, we confirmed what we did the last two races, we confirmed here we can fight. This is just a motivation and confidence to bring to the next races and the future of the championship. But like today, there were really tricky conditions and there was no reason to crash.

"This championship, like the championship of last year, it's so important to not make a DNF, a zero. Unfortunately, we already did a zero, which was not my fault, and this will affect the championship. I think sometimes like today, you have to not take all the risks you could take."

By Neil Morrison

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