Valentino Rossi and Sete Gibernau sat side by side at the Sachsenring circuit today (pictured) and agreed that the distance between them could be equally slender when the German Grand Prix reaches its climax after 30 laps on Sunday.

One year ago the pair crossed the finish line separated by just 0.06secs and they could not be much closer at the top of the MotoGP world championship, where they are level on 126 points but with Rossi holding the advantage thanks to a greater win ratio.

Neither rider was able to add to their tally in the last round at Rio, when they both crashed, lending even more weight to the importance of this weekend, which marks the halfway point of the season.

"It is quite strange because now we are starting from zero and we have nine hard races to get the bike to the maximum level," commented Rossi, who lost to Gibernau in that epic battle twelve months ago.

"Last year I made a stupid mistake in the last corner and I was very angry to lose. In Rio we never found the right setting for the bike but hopefully we can do that here and challenge for the victory again," he added.

Gibernau is certain that Rossi will again be his main challenger, but revealed his admiration for some of his other rivals in the MotoGP class after getting the rare chance to watch from the sidelines in Brazil.

"It is a tight track and it will be a tight race, but it is not just about myself and Valentino this weekend," he claimed. "There are a lot of other riders out there who can win the race, like (Makoto) Tamada, Loris (Capirossi) and Troy (Bayliss). I'll just try to keep my head down and do my work as best as I can."

Tamada will be hoping Gibernau is right after his debut win in Rio two weeks ago. It was the first win of the Japanese rider's career and he admits he would like nothing better than to spring another surprise this weekend.

"It was fantastic to win my first race but this is not the time to relax," commented Tamada. "I want more and there is no reason why I can't do well at this circuit. Last year wasn't good for us but we have come a long way since then."

Capirossi was equally optimistic after making overdue progress with the Ducati in recent weeks, culminating with his best finish of the season in Brazil. The Italian took fourth place there, as he did here one year ago, and he is now looking to take the next important step and join the podium battle.

"I think we have made good progress, the new engine we have is very good and I think it should suit this circuit," commented Capirossi, who saw his team-mate Bayliss take third here one year ago.

A top three finish is a big ask of local hero Alex Hofmann but the rookie is looking forward to performing for a sell-out crowd and continuing towards his target of becoming only the second ever German to win a premier-class race behind Edmund Czihak at the N?rburgring in 1974.

"This is a learning experience for me but I feel I am progressing and my realistic aim is a top ten finish this Sunday," commented the 23-year-old. "The people are crazy for MotoGP, for Valentino, Sete and all the other riders and it should be a fantastic weekend."

Two other men hoping to return to the podium at the Sachsenring were escaping the paddock pressure today, Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa leading a rider line-up in a charity football match against a team of German athletes and celebrities, all in aid of Riders for Health.

Fellow MotoGP rider Jeremy McWilliams was also at the core of the team, with star performances by 250cc riders Manuel Poggiali and Randy De Puniet, who had trials to become a professional footballer as a youngster.

De Puniet is under no illusions about his destiny now and says he is ready to wrestle the 250cc World Championship lead back from Dani Pedrosa this weekend despite arriving at the Sachsenring without any luggage. The Frenchman's suitcase was left behind in transfer at Frankfurt airport but he is confident of better fortunes in Sunday's race.

"I have had bad luck a few times this season so I am used to it," smiled De Puniet, who lies 11 points behind Pedrosa at the top of the standings. "I had a mechanical breakdown at Mugello and a bad tyre in Rio but I fought for victory here last year and if everything goes well this weekend then I know I can win."

One man with worse luck than De Puniet this weekend is fellow 250 rider Hector Faubel, who misses out altogether through injuries sustained in a crash in Rio.

There are more injury concerns in the 125cc class, with Czech rider Vaclav Bittman set to replace injured home rider Dario Guisepetti and Jorge Lorenzo facing a late fitness check after an operation on his hand, which he also injured in Rio.

However, Czech female rider Marketa Janakova has recovered from concussion sustained in the same race and expects to ride, whilst Swiss youngster Thomas Luthi is set to return after missing three races.

Meanwhile, the 125cc race winner here from 2001, Simone Sanna, has been called up to replace Andrea Ballerini. Sanna's Italian compatriot Andrea Dovizioso still leads the series, with a 16-point advantage over Hector Barber?.