Marco Melandri's debut MotoGP season has ended as it started, with injury. The Italian has now been ruled out of next weekend's season finale at Valencia in order to have an operation on his shoulder, dislocated last Sunday at Phillip Island.

Melandri broke his leg on his premier-class debut at the Suzuka season opener, but recovered in record time to return at round three, Jerez. Since then, the tough Italian has produced a series of hard charging rides, many of which have ended with him in the gravel trap.

Nevertheless, no-one could accuse the Fortuna Yamaha rider of lacking speed or being intimidated by his rivals, a fact illustrated when he battled with the Hondas and Ducatis in the early laps at Phillip island - taking the lead briefly for the first time in his MotoGP career - before highsiding out of third place soon after.

It was that accident which caused the reigning 250cc world champion's latest shoulder dislocation, and - after having it 'pushed back in' - Melandri booked himself in for an examination in Italy with a specialist, which took place yesterday.

The news from that meeting was that surgery would be required to stop the shoulder popping out again, and Melandri has decided to have the operation as soon as possible to avoid interrupting his pre-season preparations for 2004. He should be fit to ride within three weeks.

The Italian's Fortuna Yamaha Team are yet to confirm Melandri's decision, or announce a possible replacement to ride alongside Carlos Checa at Valencia.



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