Valentino Rossi has won his ninth race from eleven 2005 starts after taking victory in the Czech Republic Grand Prix at Brno - the Italian superstar emerging on top after a thrilling battle with arch-rival Sete Gibernau, which came to a premature end with just a few corners to go when Gibernau's Movistar Honda ground to a halt.

Qualifying had seen Gibernau boost his hopes of a much needed first 2005 victory by taking a record breaking - and hard fought - pole position by just 0.047secs from fellow Honda rider Nicky Hayden, with Loris Capirossi marking a Ducati revival with third.

That reduced world champion Rossi to fourth and a second row start, where he would be joined by Marco Melandri and Carlos Checa while Alex Barros, John Hopkins, Colin Edwards and Max Biaggi completed a top ten covered by 0.8secs.

Morning warm-up had seen Gibernau confirm his man-to-beat form with the fastest time by 0.4secs, while Suzuki's Kenny Roberts - who sat out most of qualifying through illness - and Yamaha star Edwards claimed a surprise second and third, with Hayden sixth, Capirossi fourth and Rossi fifth.

All of which, combined with the fast and flowing nature of the superb Brno circuit, was expected to mean a thrilling and unpredictable 22 lap fight for round eleven of the world championship - with a cool overcast sky, which had already produced the odd light shower, adding to the pre-race tension.

When the red lights went out, Gibernau converted his pole into a turn one lead while Melandri, Rossi and Hayden went bar-to-bar for second - Rossi emerging at the head of the trio as they charged towards the first of Brno's many high-speed 'S' bends with Melandri, Hayden, Hopkins, Capirossi, Checa, Barros and Edwards in close pursuit.

Rossi then surprised many onlookers, and not least Gibernau, by forcing his way inside the Catalan with a tough move to take the lead less than half a lap later - Valentino squeezing inside through the opening part of the stadium section, but then making slight contact with the #15 as their paths crossed on the apex of the exit.

Gibernau would settle into second for the next two laps before mounting a brief counter attack on Rossi into the final turn - the #46 slipstreaming back into the lead into turn one. However, Gibernau again fought back and outbraked the Italian into the fast chicane that followed.

The top two would then remain locked together, in that order, up to the halfway mark - by which time Hayden and Barros had found a way past Melandri, with Capirossi the next man seeking to overcome a defensive Marco, while Edwards and Biaggi were an unthreatening seventh and eighth.

Indeed, the top six were now forming a two-by-two-by-two lead group - but there was still movement within that group with Capirossi - after a lap of trying - finally making a move stick on Marco, while Rossi would return to the head of the field when he burst past Gibernau on the brakes into the final chicane on lap 12... just missing Sete's knee in the process.

But Rossi was unable to escape and, with their lap times growing, it appeared that both were entering tactics territory - but while they may have succeeded in hiding their strengths from each other, they also allowed the following four to close up.

Barros, having deprived Hayden of third, was now their nearest rival and soon closed to under a second of the #46 - with Hayden now facing pressure from the charging Capirossi, while Biaggi had leapfrogged Edwards and was galloping up to Melandri's rear wheel.

The two Italians were now the fastest men on track - Capirossi benefiting from his Bridgestone tyres while no-one quite knew what Biaggi had found, but either way Loris would take fourth from Hayden on lap 17, with Biaggi squeezing past Melandri into turn one to claim sixth on the same circulation.

Back up front and the Rossi/Gibernau go-slow game ended when the Honda rider eased past Rossi through the last of the downhill turns and quickly built a six bike length lead. But it would count for nothing when he ran slightly wide at the penultimate uphill chicane, negating his advantage.

The pair were still circulating just a few tenths apart - as they had from lap one - as they charged towards the final turn for the penultimate time, and it would be here that Rossi made his race winning move.

Gibernau had warned after qualifying that the race could be decided at the final turn - and while Sete was referring to the final turn of the final lap he had at least got the location right, with Rossi springing a late dive on Gibernau through the fast left-right switch to lead onto the start of the last lap.

The Doctor then took his M1 to the edge through the fast turn one and the following left-right chicane to grab a crucial 0.5secs lead by the middle of the lap, before Gibernau seemed to close slightly through the stadium - but it was looking increasingly like a Rossi mistake would be needed.

Nevertheless, the #15 was still in touch as the pair tipped into the long right hander at the bottom of the hill, at which point Gibernau's RCV bobbled and shortly after the double MotoGP runner-up sat up and was forced to pull off from a certain second place with just two 'S' bends to go - his machine powerless after suffering some form of fuel supply problem.

It was a cruel end for Gibernau, who has suffered a disproportionate amount of bad luck this season - the loss of his safe second position also taking vital championship points and he has now slipped from third, and 1-point from second in the standings, to fifth and 14-points away.

Meanwhile, Rossi crossed the line with arms in the air as he celebrated what had been, until two turns to go, a frightening close battle. Vale now has a 132-point championship lead, with 150-points remaining, and can realistically wrap up his fifth consecutive premier-class crown next time out in Japan - a dream situation for Yamaha.

Meanwhile, with Gibernau forced to park his Honda on the sidelines, Capirossi claimed his and Ducati's best result of the season so far as he rode his Desmosedici into second place - having passed Barros with three laps to go.

But it wouldn't be the Brazilian completing the podium as the Camel Honda rider had lost yet another position, this time to Biaggi, with just two laps remaining. That became third with Gibernau's exit and the Roman - who had been back in eleventh on lap one - would cross the line a mere 3.4secs from Rossi to complete an amazing fightback with his third podium of the season.

Significantly, the #3 has now also risen to second in the championship - three-points clear of Melandri and six up from Edwards - a surprisingly high position considering the troubles he's had this year.

Of note was that Biaggi's best race lap was only ninth fastest today, but he was more consistent than those around him. If the 'new' RCV Biaggi will test tomorrow proves a success, the four-times 250cc world champion might just produce the turnaround of the season...

Despite his late race demotions, Barros crossed the line a close fourth - and with Hayden breathing down his neck - but Melandri had faded seven-seconds from the #69 by the time he crossed the line in sixth.

Edwards, meanwhile, claimed a lonely seventh on a day when he simply wasn't in contention, while Checa, Bayliss and Tamada rounded out the top ten.

Hopkins faded back from his strong start to 13th, behind eleventh placed team-mate Roberts and the top Kawasaki of Shinya Nakano, while Toni Elias and Alex Hofmann took the final world championship points.

The only rider other than Gibernau not to finish was Jeremy McWilliams, whose 2004 spec Proton KR, unsurprisingly, cried enough after 7 laps - but the Ulsterman and Team Roberts could take comfort from the speed shown by the V5, which the 41-year-old had placed 16th in morning warm-up.

Full results to follow...

Czech Republic Grand Prix:

1. Rossi
2. Capirossi
3. Biaggi
4. Barros
5. Hayden
6. Melandri
7. Edwards
8. Checa
9. Bayliss
10. Tamada
11. Roberts
12. Nakano
13. Hopkins
14. Elias
15. Hofmann
16. Aoki
17. Rolfo
18. Xaus
19. Ellison
20. Battaini



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