Valentino Rossi followed up the ecstasy of home glory at Mugello last week with a second consecutive victory in the backyard of MotoGP world championship leader Sete Gibernau, after an intense 25-lap battle with the Spanish rider in today's Catalan Grand Prix.

Gibernau, born and raised just down the road in Barcelona, did all he could in front of a record crowd of 102,301 but was powerless to prevent a late charge from the Italian, who made his final pass of an enthralling duel with two laps to go and squeezed out a slight advantage to take the flag by just 0.159 seconds.

"To win at Mugello and Catalunya is like a dream because we knew they would be two difficult tracks for us with the long straights and the extra top speed of the Honda," beamed Rossi, who dressed up as a Doctor to celebrate his win.

"Yamaha have done a great job and our bike is really good in the turns, which meant I could go with Sete today. The race probably wasn't as much fun as Mugello, it was definitely more intense, but the points are just as important," added Vale.

Meanwhile, Marco Melandri clinched his first premier-class podium in a lonely third place after shaking off the attentions of Camel Honda's Max Biaggi in the first half of the race and maintaining a comfortable advantage over the fellow Yamaha of Carlos Checa, who came through strongly in the second half of the race to make it three M1s in the top four.

Championship contender Biaggi gradually lost positions as he suffered tyre problems in the second half of the race and dropped a place on each of the final three laps to cross the line in a disappointing eighth. The Roman now lies 21 points adrift of Rossi in third place in the championship, with the world champion closing in to just five points from Gibernau at the top.

Gibernau's Telefonica Honda team-mate Colin Edwards was the first to pass Biaggi, and the Texas Tornado would go on to claim a credible fifth at the flag on a day when of his fellow Americans only Kenny Roberts would also finish.

Just behind Edwards was his former WSBK sparring partner Ruben Xaus, who clinched the best result of his rookie season so far by putting his d'Antin Ducati an impressive sixth in front of his home crowd.

Shinya Nakano rode bravely to take Kawasaki's best ever MotoGP finish in seventh, just seven days after a frightening 200mph accident at Mugello, while Biaggi, Norick Abe and Loris Capirossi completed the top ten.

Further back, there were points for class rookies Alex Hofmann, Neil Hodgson and Shane Byrne, while wild-card Andrew Pitt picked up two points for Moriwaki. Proton KR's Nobuatsu Aoki took a single digit for fifteenth.

Among those leaving Catalunya empty handed were Alex Barros, who crashed out of third place, and Repsol Honda team-mate Nick Hayden, who retired with mechanical problems.

Australian Troy Bayliss fell from seventh with just four laps remaining, while Camel Honda's Makoto Tamada retired with rear tyre problems.

Suzuki's Kenny Roberts came in the pits and made a tyre change on his way to seventeenth, but fast qualifying team-mate John Hopkins retired with engine woes. Wild-card Gregorio Lavilla also dropped out, with one lap remaining.



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