Sete Gibernau has halted title rivals Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi's recent MotoGP win domination by beating the two Italians in a tense race long battle at the Czech Republic Grand Prix - to claim his first victory since Le Mans in mid-May.

After two days of rain interrupted qualifying, dry weather - as had been predicted for race day - duly greeted the MotoGP competitors in this morning's warm-up session, which was led by Repsol Honda's Nicky Hayden and Team Suzuki's John Hopkins.

Despite the reduced dry track time this weekend, Hayden's best lap was a full 0.7secs under Valentino Rossi's 2003 lap record and the American, who would line-up on the third row after qualifying seventh, would thus start as a serious podium contender.

Meanwhile Hopkins - fastest in both dry free practice sessions, but just 21st after being left gripless by his Bridgestone tyres in the wet qualifying sessions - had underlined his claim of dry podium pace by closing to within 0.082secs of the factory Honda rider, but how far could he advance up the order in the race?

Pole sitter Sete Gibernau was third fastest in the warm-up, just 0.1secs clear of Suzuki's Kenny Roberts, while ever threatening championship leader Rossi (who would start alongside Gibernau and Barros on the outside of the front row) matched Roberts' time to be ahead of all but two of the RCVs.

Top Ducati was Loris Capirossi - always happier in the dry - who was eighth this morning, but it would be team-mate Troy Bayliss starting from fourth on today's grid. Max Biaggi (tied with Gibernau for second in the points, 22 behind Rossi) would line-up eighth at one of his favourite circuits, but looked to be facing a tough task to match Rossi and Gibernau after complaining of braking problems all weekend.

However, whilst the weather had improved, it was still unpredictable - and the previous 250cc race had seen the bizarre situation of some riders twice trying to stop the event, when light rain briefly began to fall, only for race control to overrule them on both occasions. Such 'chaos' cost Dani Pedrosa a possible victory and won't have been lost on the MotoGP riders; if rain did fall the smart riders would stay flat out until any red flags appeared.

But when the red lights went out it was under light blue skies - and with Gibernau battling Bayliss bar-to-bar for the holeshot. Gibernau would prevail, while Bayliss was quickly bumped down the order to eighth as he found himself out of line thorough the fast right-left first turn.

Barros held his second place, while Biaggi got the miracle start he needed to slot into third behind the Brazilian and ahead of Rossi, Edwards, Hayden, Capirossi, Bayliss and provisional pole sitter Carlos Checa.

By the end of lap two both Biaggi and Rossi had moved past Barros, but Gibernau had already pulled a one-second lead on the chasing pack and it would take until lap 7 of 22 for the four-man group (Rossi, Biaggi, Barros and Hayden) to claw their way back to the Catalan's rear wheel.

However, the five would remain nose-to-tail and in exactly the same order until Barros burst past Biaggi for third on lap 12 - then briefly squeezed past Rossi for second just a lap later, before the Italian regrouped and retook the position.

But Barros' charge would come to an end three laps later when the 33-year-old slid into retirement after the rear wheel of his orange RC211V washed out midway through one of the many high speed left/right flicks that characterise the Czech circuit.

Biaggi and Hayden were thus promoted to third and fourth respectively - with 1,4secs covering the top four - and with five laps to go the race really came alive as Rossi finally launched his long awaited attack on Gibernau.

The #46 pulled alongside Sete on the entry to a left hander, but was thwarted when the #15 held his nerve and let the inside line come to him at the following turn. Rossi wasn't to be beaten easily though and outbraked Gibernau down the inside at the end of the next straight, which leads to a double apex right hander...

In a move few predicted, Gibernau responded by cutting across behind Rossi's rear wheel as he entered the first part of the corner, then held an 'impossibly' tight line and gassed his RCV for all it was worth to beat the Italian to the second apex - leaving a long black line of burning rubber in his wake.

The brave move worked and, apparently inspired by Rossi's provocation, Gibernau then put several metres of Czech asphalt between himself and the five-times world champion.

The fight for the lead may have effectively ended, but more action was to follow as separate incidents at turn one of lap 19 saw the remaining podium positions decided.

First Biaggi tried a desperately late outbraking manoeuvre on Rossi, that initially worked but caused the Camel Honda rider to drift wide and hand the position back, then Hayden lost his front wheel on turn-in a few seconds later and bounced into the Brno gravel - completing a double Repsol Honda DNF.

And so the lead group was reduce to three, with 3 laps to go, and ultimately that was the order in which the race would finish: A clearly delighted Gibernau - who had turned down the chance to race with the new Honda exhaust in favour of his tried and tested 'standard' spec bike - extended his advantage steadily all the way to the chequered flag, Rossi crossing the line 3.5secs behind and Biaggi a further 0.8secs adrift.

As a result of Sete's third victory of the year, Rossi's title lead has now been reduced to 17-points over Gibernau, but Biaggi has now slipped to 26 behind the Yamaha star with six rounds to go.

Meanwhile, behind the battle for victory, several star performance were delivered: Camel Honda's Makoto Tamada charged all the way from 17th to 4th, after passing Capirossi with just two laps to go, while Neil Hodgson - injured in a controversial collision with Biaggi in Saturday practice - advanced from 16th at the end of lap one to 10th, just behind Kenny Roberts, while Norick Abe climbed from 14th on lap one to 8th.

Meanwhile, Hopkins lived up to his pre-race form by charging from 21st on the grid all the way up to 8th - behind Edwards - by the midway point of the race, before suffering the frustration of an engine failure on lap 13.

Not so impressive were the likes of Edwards, Bayliss and Xaus; Edwards ran fifth in the early stages but would drop off to 7th, behind Checa, by the finish. Bayliss never recovered from his first turn demotion and was just 12th when he retired on the penultimate lap... while Xaus also failed to make the finish after slipping back to 16th.

WCM's James Ellison, making his MotoGP debut, and Suzuki wild-card Gregorio Lavilla joined them on the sidelines.

Full results to follow...

1. Gibernau
2. Rossi
3. Biaggi
4. Tamada
5. Capirossi
6. Checa
7. Edwards
8. Abe
9. Melandri
10. Kenny Roberts
11. Hodgson
12. Nakano
13. Hofmann
14. McWilliams
15. Aoki
16. Pitt
17. Fabrizio



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