Max Biaggi ended a season of mixed fortunes with an impressive ride at Valencia on Sunday, the Roman Emperor slipping down the order from second after an increasingly tough fight with Sete Gibernau turned destructive - then battled his way up from fifth to within 0.4secs of race winner Valentino Rossi at the chequered flag.

"Second place isn't the perfect result to end the season but it's satisfying nonetheless," said Max, expected to be announced as a Repsol Honda rider in the near future. "The race was exciting, tough, and hard-fought especially on the first few laps. Straight away I found myself battling with Tamada, Hayden, Bayliss and Gibernau until a bit of a risky manoeuvre from the latter meant I nearly crashed.

"Luckily I saw him coming and I was able to brake and run a little wider," he explained. "The fight-back was difficult but I enjoyed it too. Thanks to Honda and my team. They always have worked as hard as they could to get me into the best shape possible."

But while Biaggi was mounting a recovery, his team-mate Makoto Tamada was stealing the show - the Japanese led the early laps from pole, lost the lead for two laps to Rossi but then retook it, before the Italian regained permanent control on lap 15 of 30. Thereafter, Tamada stuck with the lead group for four more laps before fading back to an eventual fifth - his Bridgestone tyres shot.

"I got a good start and it was a good first part of the race with a couple of duels with Rossi which I enjoyed immensely," grinned Tamada. "Then I lost grip on the rear end of the bike and the decrease in grip became very clear.

"I knew that today wasn't going to be easy and that the grip would worsen at some point, and that's why I tried to open up a gap at the beginning, when I was at the front. However then I wasn't able to be aggressive and I had to give up a few positions before finishing in fifth."

"Our bikes and our team were main protagonists in this special day which closed the 2004 season," enthused Camel Honda team principal Sito Pons. "In Valencia today, it was a real festival of sport and people. We would have liked to have won, and we were in with a shout until the very last lap.

"It ends an important season for us, and I want to thank both Honda and Camel for their constant support. Thanks also to the team and to all the partners who have shared this recently ended season with us. Together we have won three races, we got on the podium 12 times and we are third in the team championship. Thank you," concluded the former racer.