This is the first lap Assen accident that has cost Valentino Rossi the MotoGP World Championship lead to Dani Pedrosa - and propelled Casey Stoner firmly back into title contention.

Rossi, starting from third on the Dutch TT grid behind Pedrosa and pole sitter Stoner, came into round nine of 18 holding an eleven point lead over Repsol Honda rider Pedrosa and a substantial 45 point advantage over Ducati Marlboro star Stoner.

But reigning world champion Stoner has been almost untouchable since a recent engine management breakthrough - winning with ease last Sunday at Donington Park - and both Pedrosa and Rossi knew they needed to try and stop the #1 breaking away early in the 26 lap race.

Pedrosa played his part by stealing the lead into turn one, but Rossi slipped backwards and in his haste to recover pushed a little too hard heading into the tight left hand hairpin early in the lap. The rear of Rossi's Fiat Yamaha came around, spinning the Italian off and hitting Randy de Puniet.

"After seven podiums in a row I made a mistake today - this is racing!" shrugged Rossi. "I am very disappointed because we made a change to the set-up of the front and it worked very well, and I could tell from the warm-up lap that my bike was very good today.

"Unfortunately I made a mistake at the first left; I arrived too fast when the tyres were still cold, I was too hard on the brakes and I lost the rear. I am sincerely sorry to Randy de Puniet and all of his team."

de Puniet sustained a leg injury and was out on the spot, but Rossi was able to rejoin - albeit a distant 14th and last, with a broken gear lever and bent handlebars.

Whilst Stoner passed Pedrosa and cruised to his third victory of the season by over eleven seconds, Rossi advanced to eleventh by the chequered flag and - despite his damaged bike - set the third fastest lap of the race, quicker than Pedrosa's best and slower than only Stoner and Colin Edwards (third).

"After the crash I had a bent handlebar and no gear shifter, but despite this I was able to do the third fastest lap time, 37.1. I know I could have been faster than Pedrosa today and, although it's easy to say now, I think I could have fought with Stoner for the win," Valentino claimed.

Pedrosa now holds a four point lead over Rossi in the championship standings, with Stoner advancing to within 25 points - one race win - of the Italian heading into the German Grand Prix, at Sachsenring, on July 13.

"I am glad for these five points [for eleventh] and although we have lost the lead we are not far behind Pedrosa. I am looking forward now to some more technical improvements for my bike and being fast, together with Bridgestone, at every track," concluded Rossi.

Team manager Davide Brivio repeated Rossi's apology to the unfortunate de Puniet and also reiterated just how important his Assen eleventh may turn out to be.

"This was a good race for Valentino, except for the first lap!" began the Italian. "The crash was unfortunate and we're very sorry to Randy de Puniet and the LCR team; we apologise to them all and we hope that Randy is okay.

"Once Valentino remounted what he did was simply amazing, especially without a gear-shift and with a bent handlebar! For several laps he was the fastest rider on the track, which shows once again his spirit and determination, although it's also disappointing because it's clear that we could have done a good race today.

"These five points today are incredibly important because they have kept the gap to Pedrosa to just four points, with half of the season still remaining. Now we will just have to start again in Sachsenring and hope for a better weekend."

CLICK HERE to see further pictures of the incident..