The 500cc Czech Grand Prix was shaping up to be another epic duel between Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi, before Biaggi crashed out of the lead at a little over half distance, leaving Rossi to cruise to the flag and take a big lead in the points standings - while the three way battle for second raged right to the finish.

Biaggi had dominated Friday qualifying with a new lap record that would ultimately not be beaten in second qualifying - handing him pole for today's race. However, Rossi, who had been struggling on Friday, regained his form on Saturday to move up to second on today's grid - just a fraction behind his championship rival.

The scene was therefore set with Biaggi on pole at a race track he has won six time previously, while Rossi looked to have regained his form and was eager to halt the Marlboro Yamaha riders charge.

Meanwhile, third on the grid was the third of the Italian trio, Loris Capirossi, the West Honda Pons pilot being yet to win a race this year and keen to make amends today in the Czech Republic. The front row was completed by the impressive Jurgen van den Goorbergh on the three cylinder Proton KR machine, which was responding much better to it's recent change to a "Big Bang" engine firing configuration.

Therefore, at 14.00 local time a tense 500cc front row took shape on the Brno grid, and soon after the lights disappeared sending the premier MotoGP class (minus the injured Shinja Nakano) charging into the first turn - where it was Roberts who stole the initial advantage, from sixth on the grid, ahead of Biaggi, Abe, Rossi, vd Goorbergh, Capirossi and Checa.

Within half a lap of the 22 lap race the normally slow starting Rossi had worked his way ahead of Abe and into third, while Criville had worked his way ahead of Checa, Capirossi and vd Goorbergh, who was suffering along the start finish start.

Back up front Biaggi attempted to pass the American - but ran wide - allowing the #1 machine back in front. However at the start of lap three the Roman made the move stick into turn one, with Rossi 1secs back in third.

Triggered by this, Rossi began to up his pace to try and catch the Suzuki and kept in touch with Biaggi, as the top four (Biaggi, Roberts, Rossi and Abe) began to break away from the chasing pack of Criville, Checa, McCoy, Capirossi, Ukawa and Gibernau.

Lap 5 and Rossi made his move on Roberts for second by out-braking the American into a tight left hander - and immediately pulling away as he set off in pursuit of Biaggi.

Both the top two Italians were incredibly evenly matched, with their lap times almost identical as each tried to gain an advantage in the first third of the race.

However, over the next few laps it soon became apparent that Rossi had the upper hand in this part of the race and he began to slowly chip away at Biaggi's lead, as they both continued at a scorching pace.

By lap 8 the two were just about nose-to-tail around the 5.403km circuit, with Biaggi beginning to look nervously over his shoulder. Soon after Biaggi ran wide on one of the many high speed chicanes - allowing Rossi the chance to overtake - but Biaggi kept his momentum, and Rossi seemed content to sit back and watch at this stage.

Meanwhile,, as the top two disappeared into the distance vd Goorbergh disappeared into the Team KR pits after experiencing disappointing mechanical difficulties. Meanwhile, Abe overtook Roberts for the final podium place on lap 10, with the Antena 3 rider now nearly 5secs behind the top two.

The Cat-and-Mouse continued up front, with Rossi keeping in contact with Biaggi, but apparently playing a waiting game. Meanwhile, Criville was soon attacking Roberts for fourth, and succeeded in taking the position on lap 12 and set his sights on third placed man Abe - just 1.5secs ahead.

Lap 13 and Biaggi made a very, very rare mistake when he lost the front of his Marlboro Yamaha mid-way around a long left hander and slid down the road - handing Rossi the lead, while he frantically jumped back on his YZR, eventually rejoining in eleventh.

The result was that Rossi now held a commanding 7.768secs lead over Abe, but from the Japanese back to Criville was less than 1.5secs, with Capirossi only 1sec behind the Spaniard and closing.

Lap 16 and Roberts - who had faded ever since his strong start - pulled into the pits and retirement (with unknown problems), the disgruntled American walking away from his machine without looking back.

Meanwhile, with five laps to go Capirossi was crawling all over Criville for third with Abe being caught by the pair of them in the process. Just one lap later and Criville, on a hard rear tyre as opposed to Abe's soft, was within striking distance, while Capirossi began to fade slightly.

Two laps to go and Criville swept inside Abe for second into turn one with a tidy move, but Abe fought back along the next straight - Criville defended - and Capirossi went inside them both!

However, the Italian ran wide allowing Criville back into second but Abe was blocked out of following suit.

Into the last lap and Capirossi got a superb run along the same back straight to again move inside Criville - and again ran wide! Capirossi was able to hold onto third though and the three would remain in those positions in the race to the chequered flag, leaving Abe the most disappointed after missing out on a podium finish having sat in second for so long.

More disappointed than Abe was undoubtedly Biaggi who came home in just tenth place.

Full results to follow...

1. Rossi
2. Criville +3.374secs
3. Capirossi +3.767secs
4. Abe +4.057secs
5. Ukawa +6.574secs
6. McCoy +7.344secs
7. Checa +10.689secs
8. Gibernau +15.201secs



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