Valentino Rossi absorbed race long pressure from Loris Capirossi to take a sensational seventh win of the year at the Portuguese Grand Prix today, with the World Championship leader's title hopes boosted by Max Biaggi's second crash in two races.

Biaggi had been superb in yesterday's second qualifying session to firstly catch - and then beat - Rossi's Friday pole time that had seen the Honda star over 0.5secs in front of the field.

However, West Honda Pons pilot Loris Capirossi had also upped his pace in yesterday's final qualifier and the tenacious former 125 and 250cc World Champion started today's race between the two championship contenders.

Following Biaggi crash while leading in Brno, Rossi took a 29 point advantage into Estoril - meaning that even should he DNF today he would still be leading the World Championship, putting the pressure firmly on the Marlboro Yamaha man to get a strong result and above all finish in front of Rossi, while Vale himself had admitted he would be prepared to ride tactically for points as the end of the season approaches.

So, the front row of Biaggi, Capirossi, Rossi and Ukawa (the Repsol Honda man producing one of the best qualifying efforts of his short 500cc career) spread across the Estoril grid and looked intently at the five red lights ahead.

When they disappeared it was Biaggi who seized the initial advantage into turn one after holding off a strong challenge from Capirossi, while behind them chaos reigned when Abe crashed - collecting Criville, Barros and Gibernau (while Ukawa went off all on his own), with Abe's machine then catching fire, although fortunately all the riders concerned were unhurt.

When the dust settled Jurgen van den Goorbergh was now into second, ahead of Capirossi, with Rossi fourth and soon on the move. By lap three Rossi had passed both Capirossi and vd Goorbergh before unusually (at this early stage) overtaking Biaggi for the lead - with Capirossi now looking to follow suit.

So, by lap 4 of 28 and the order was: Rossi, Capirossi, Biaggi, McCoy, vd Goorbergh, Checa, Haga, Jacque, Roberts and Cardoso.

Back up front and the three Italians were still nose to tail, while the two Red Bull Yamaha's were now making good progress with last year's winner McCoy catching Biaggi, while teammate Haga was now just one place behind, by lap 6.

Lap 7 and Capirossi was beginning to look for a way round the bright yellow Honda at the chicane, but wisely backed off when it became apparent that it wouldn't work - allowing Biaggi to close, and Rossi to get some breathing room.

Behind the trio Garry McCoy was now notching up laps faster than his best in qualifying as he attempted to catch up to the Marlboro Yamaha, now 3.5secs in front of him.

The 'concertina' effect kept the gap between the three Italians constantly undulating, but neither was able to break away significantly - or catch the rider in front as they set lap time all within 0.1secs of each other.

Also in the midst of a frantic battle was the fifth placed fight between Haga, Checa, vd Goorbergh and Roberts, with all four riders running nose-to-tail all around the 4.182km, with Checa forcing his way past Haga on lap 12 - while Jacque began to tag onto the tail of the fight.

16 to go and Capirossi refused to let Rossi run away, as the #65 pilot in turn started to put some Estoril 'real estate' between himself and the Roman Emperor (who was the only one of the top three on a 'soft' rear tyre) - but there was still a long way to go.

As lap 20 approached Capirossi was still doing a commendable job of hanging on to Rossi, with the gap around the 1sec mark, while Biaggi was now looking out of touch with the top two, being 3secs back from the black and white Honda Pons NSR - and now needing to think about McCoy, 4secs behind.

In the wars once again on, with 8 laps to go, was Leon Haslam who fell heavily from his Shell Advance Honda on the entry to a right hander, sending man and machine into the gravel trap. Meanwhile teammate Brendan Clarke was still on two wheels - but Capirossi probably wished he wasn't as the Australian badly baulked the Italian while being lapped.

Suddenly, while braking into the bumpy turn one, Max Biaggi made his second mistake in two races as he lost the front of his YZR and slid across the track while the Roman hung on and tried desperately to lift the front wheel with his right elbow.

Biaggi jumped back on board and rejoined in sixth place, behind Haga, having lost seventeen seconds, a podium place (to McCoy) and further points in the championship after his error.

Lap 24 and Biaggi out-braked Haga into the very turn where he fell, only for the Japanese to cut back inside on the exit, as Biaggi was perhaps a little more careful following his crash.

Biaggi had another attempt later in the lap, but the ex-WSBK ace was having none of it and used every bit of his race-craft to hold off the Marlboro Yamaha.

Two to go and Haga dropped his Red Bull Yamaha into a tight right hander when he lost the front, despite a brave effort to lift the bike back up, he toppled over - then lost his helmet visor just to make things worse after a strong race.

Biaggi therefore inherited fifth from the Japanese, with teammate Carlos Checa one place (and five seconds) ahead in fourth.

Into the final lap and Rossi used his 2secs advantage over Capirossi to cruise the final few corners to the finish for his seventh win of the year, with McCoy making a welcome return to the podium (his first top three finish since Suzuka) ahead of Checa and Biaggi.

Having been disappointed to lose out on pole yesterday Rossi was obviously delighted to have 'set the record straight' today as he went through his usual spectacular post-race celebrations, to the delight of the Portuguese fans.

Full results to follow...

1. Rossi
2. Capirossi +1.756secs
3. McCoy +14.030secs
4. Checa +24.337secs
5. Biaggi +31.348secs
6. Roberts +31.925secs
7. vd Goorbergh +37.140secs
8. Jacque +41.043secs


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