MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi has taken one of his greatest victories after beating a trio of charging Hondas by 0.3secs following 30 laps of non-stop Sachsenring action.

Rossi came into the race having qualified just eleventh on the grid after suffering handling problems with his Camel Yamaha, but a fast start and aggressive first lap saw him climb to sixth - by which time world championship leader Nicky Hayden was leading the field, having passed both Kenny Roberts Jr and pole sitter Dani Pedrosa in a brave move at the bottom of the hill.

Hayden continued to hold a narrow lead during the early stages, while Rossi's advance faltered and he had gained only one further position - passing Roberts Jr for fifth - by lap eight. But Roberts was part of a more significant incident three laps later when the American made an ill-judged lunge inside Makoto Tamada at the final turn.

Tamada had been enjoying by far his most competitive race of the season, shooting from tenth to fourth on the first lap and then holding his own as he rose to a high of third among the tight seven-man lead group, also consisting of Hayden, Pedrosa, Marco Melandri, Rossi, Roberts and top Bridgestone rider Loris Capirossi.

Having recently been overtaken by Rossi, the Konica Minolta Honda rider was still holding a close fifth on lap 11 when Roberts dived inside. However, the 2000 500cc World Champion couldn't stop in time and lost the front as he thundered towards the apex, his riderless bike then slamming into the side of Tamada and sending them both tumbling through the gravel.

An apologetic KR Jr immediately rushed to Tamada's aid - the Japanese appearing to have injured his knee during the impact - and the American continued to check on the double MotoGP race winner as he was taken to the medical centre in an ambulance.

That incident not only ruled out two potential winners, but also held up the following Capirossi for a few vital seconds and marked the start of his own decline: From now on the fight for German Grand Prix victory was a straight nerve-wracking battle between Rossi and the Hondas of Hayden, Pedrosa and Melandri - with all four having already tasted victory at least once this year.

Melandri had taken the lead from Hayden at the start of lap 11 - with Pedrosa forcing his way past for second in the tight twists that followed - but Rossi was also on the attack and quickly despatched Hayden, Pedrosa and finally Melandri to take the lead for the first time on lap 13, the #46 picking the left hander at the bottom of the hill as his passing point on all three occasions.

Rossi then appeared to try and break the RCVs, pushing hard for the next ten laps - but the Honda trio stuck with The Doctor, despite being locked in their own battles, and with five laps to go the top four of Rossi, Melandri, Pedrosa and Hayden were nose-to-tail again.

By now Pedrosa was pushing hard to find a way past Melandri, but the 20-year-old rookie was unable to try a bottom of the hill outbraking move - used to great effect by his rivals - almost certainly because he had fallen at that exact point on Saturday morning. Instead, the double 2006 race winner used a tight line through the twists that start the lap to get ahead of Marco on lap 26... only to be repassed at the bottom of the hill.

Worse still for Pedrosa, Melandri had forced him wide - allowing Hayden to also move ahead - and Marco wasn't hanging around; out-braking Rossi into turn one to topple the M1 rider from the lead for the first time in 15 laps.

But while Rossi still had two laps to respond, time was running out for fourth placed Pedrosa - now desperate to pass Hayden. Dani again tried to take a tight inside line through the twists that start the lap, but Hayden held firm - despite Pedrosa's front wheel rubbing on his leathers - and the Spaniard was forced to lift.

At the end of that penultimate lap, Rossi retook the lead from Melandri at the bottom of the hill - then pulled tight to the inside all the way along the start-finish start to defend his position as the quartet charged into the first turn for the final time.

It worked, but it was still anyone's race as they stuck wheel-to-wheel around the rest of the final lap and then accelerated downhill towards the first of the two left handers that end the lap. The Hondas were climbing either side of Rossi through those turns, Melandri trying the outside and third placed Hayden the inside - but The Doctor didn't crack and won his fourth race of the season by just 0.145secs from Melandri, with Hayden 0.266secs from victory and fourth placed Pedrosa 0.307secs behind the #46.

It was surely one of Rossi's greatest rides - the next best Yamaha was that of Tech 3 rider Carlos Checa in ninth - and was crucial for his 2006 title hopes. As Rossi climbed the podium with an Italian football shirt over his leathers - a reference to the national team's World Cup triumph - he celebrated not only his 56th MotoGP victory, but also reducing Hayden's championship advantage from 35 to 26 heading to the Kentuckian's home race at Laguna Seca next weekend.

But matching Rossi in the post-race smile stakes was Melandri who, broken collarbone of not, took his second podium in a row and is now 35 points from Nicky. Between Rossi and Melandri in the championship standings is Pedrosa, now three points behind Rossi. Pedrosa set the fastest lap of the race, but probably lost out on victory due to a lack of experience - and appeared to be particularly punished for his (understandable) lack of confidence into the downhill left hander.

Best of the rest was Capirossi, who crossed the finish line 8.4secs from Pedrosa's Repsol Honda. The result means that Capirossi - tied with Hayden before his Catalan accident four rounds ago - is now a massive 51 points from the American.

Kawasaki's Shinya Nakano pushed his fellow Bridgestone rider hard in the closing stages, but crossed the line less than half a second down at his team's home race, while Chris Vermeulen was the top Suzuki rider in seventh.

Sete Gibernau claimed a brave eighth, a fraction behind the Australian rookie, on his return from collarbone surgery, while Checa's ninth marked an impressive performance for the Tech 3 team and their Dunlop tyres.

John Hopkins completed the top ten while Colin Edwards was unable to find the same overnight speed as his race winning team-mate and finished a distant twelfth - having lost, on average, nearly one second a lap to the #46.

James Ellison and Jose Luis Cardoso completed the fourteen race finishers, all of whom scored points, while 20-year-old Australian rookie Casey Stoner - who had qualified eighth - didn't start after hitting his head during a fast morning warm-up fall.

German Grand Prix:

1. Rossi
2. Melandri
3. Hayden
4. Pedrosa
5. Capirossi
6. Nakano
7. Vermeulen
8. Gibernau
9. Checa
10. Hopkins
11. Elias
12. Edwards
13. Ellison
14. Cardoso



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