Manuel Poggiali produced just what he needed today at Phillip Island as the reigning world champion won the 125cc Australian Grand Prix, and so cut Arnaud Vincent's 20 point lead to just 8 in a battle that will now go to the final round in Valencia.

Yesterday, Poggiali had kept the pressure on Vincent by taking his sixth pole position of the year, but unfortunately for the San Marinese, an ill Vincent recovered to take second on the grid.

Poggiali could nevertheless draw hope from the fact that Vincent has not managed to score a single point in his four previous visits to the Phillip Island circuit; crashing out in 1998, retiring with mechanical problems in both 1999 and 2000, and finishing outside the points in 21st position last year. However, the Frenchman could well clinch the 125cc World Crown this afternoon.

Alongside them on today's grid was Alex de Angelis, making his seventh front row start, and Friday pace setter Steve Jenkner, who's still looking to better a third place GP finish.

A notable absentee from the first two rows was Daniel Pedrosa, who starts from his lowest grid position (tenth) since he qualified in eleventh place for the Australian GP last year.

When the red lights went out it was Vincent who got exactly the start he needed to lead the 36 rider field into the fast right hand Doohan's corner, with Pedrosa making a tremendous start to climb from tenth to second, ahead of Poggiali, Sanna and Ui.

Vincent then ran wide allowing Pedrosa through to the lead by the end of a fantastic first lap for the Spaniard, but as would be the trend in an ultra close Island thriller, his reign at the front wasn't to last long as Sanna outbraked him into the Honda hairpin on lap two.

Over the next 10 laps (of the 23 lap race) Vincent, Poggiali, Cecchinello, Pedrosa and de Angelis all took turns to lead the field, but none could brake away from the seven rider group - that was often four abreast lap after lap along the main straight.

However, impressive youngster de Angelis' charge came to an end on lap 16 when he sat up abruptly, from third, at the apex of MG corner when the engine on his Aprilia gave up on him, giving cause for concern for the LCR team who's other rider - and team owner- Lucio Cecchinello - was now leading.

Into the last five laps and Nieto was the man on the move, rising to third behind Poggiali and looking very confident on his Aspar Aprilia as he left Vincent behind in fourth.

Onto the penultimate lap and Cecchinello was still leading the way from Poggiali, Nieti and Vincent, but the Frenchman was now rapidly closing the 0.8secs gap to Nieto and by Lukey heights was all over the #22 rider's rear.

Poggiali continued to stalk the Cecchinello's machine as the final lap began - before making his move with a decisive outbraking effort at the Honda hairpin, while Vincent found himself boxed out at the same turn as he tried to force himself up the order.

Poggiali held the lead and was thrown a lifeline when Cecchinello stuttered coming out of the MG hairpin, his Aprilia wobbling nervously on the exit and allowing Poggiali just the room he needed to escape to the flag.

Behind the top two, Vincent was unable to frighten Nieto out of third despite all his efforts, and took fourth at the chequered flag just ahead of Pedrosa.

"Today my bike is competitive and I'm very happy," beamed Poggiali in the press conference after his crucial victory. "This result is very important to me, the team and the championship which is very, very close now."

"I lost control of my bike at the (MG) hairpin," confirmed Cecchinello. "So I lost touch with Manuel and couldn't win, but I'm very happy as a podium is always welcome."

Third placed Spaniard Nieto (sixth on the grid) added: "It was a very, very hard race. The important thing is that I'm on the podium which is great going in to Valencia."

Full results to follow...

1. Pedrosa
2. Cecchinello
3. Nieto
4. Vincent
5. Pedrosa
6. Sanna
7. Jenkner
8. Azuma


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