Valentino Rossi has won the season-opening Spanish Grand Prix after a controversial collision with title rival Sete Gibernau on the final corner of the final lap, which sent the then race leader into the gravel trap.

The race was always expected to be a Rossi/Gibernau battle - after the pair dominated the build-up sessions - with Honda youngsters Marco Melandri and Nicky Hayden leading a close fight for the final podium position, while Colin Edwards and Max Biaggi would be out to resurrect their weekend after a disastrous qualifying session - but what would really happen? And would anyone run out of fuel?

When the green lights went out for the first time in 2005 pole sitter Rossi - who effectively lost the entire warm-up after falling from his factory M1, under braking, on only his third morning lap - showed no signs of a lack of confidence as he and Gibernau swapped the lead through the opening sequence of turns.

Gibernau, the fastest man in every session bar qualifying, would eventually claim the early lead and head the field across the start/finish line for the first of 27 laps with Rossi, Hayden, Melandri, Nakano, Bayliss, Capirossi, Checa, Hofmann, Elias, Tamada and Barros in tow.

The top four would soon begin to edge away from Nakano, while Rossi would be demoted to third by Hayden - and then drop briefly to fourth after running wide and allowing Melandri ahead. However, Rossi would quickly recover and by lap 5 was back up to second position, a mere fraction of a second behind Sete.

As the first third of the race came to a conclusion, the scorching pace set by the top two was starting to tell on Hayden, who was fading slightly further back with each lap, but was more than able to maintain a safe third, around two-seconds ahead of Melandri.

But the fight for victory was confirmed as exclusively two-way when Hayden, already 1.5secs from the leaders, lost the front of his factory RCV as he tipped in to final corner with eight laps left. Just the sort of mistake he wanted, and needed, to avoid this season.

The American and his Repsol Honda were sent sliding into the gravel trap as a result, and while Nicky would run to his stricken machine and briefly rejoin with the aid of the marshals, his race was effectively over there and then.

All of which handed Melandri third, the Movistar rider was 9secs from the leaders and 14secs clear of the tense five-way fight for fourth - but for all 127,000 trackside spectators there was only one battle and that was up front for victory, and they were firmly behind home hero Gibernau.

With 4 laps to go, Gibernau and Rossi were still nose-to-tail and literally in a different class as they pushed each other, and their machinery, to the very limits. If either was to break away, it would have been before then and as such it was clear that the heart-stopping battle would only be settled on the last lap, or perhaps the last corner of the last lap...

The much awaited first strike came when Rossi sliced his way ahead at the final turn with 2 laps to go - and then set off at 110%. But Gibernau stepped up and met the Doctor's challenge - holding position just a tenth of a second behind the Yamaha star as the last lap began.

Gibernau was rewarded for his response when Rossi briefly lost the front, allowing Sete to take the lead after a brief bar-to-bar battle with the Italian.

Rossi then dived back inside the #15 through the stadium section, but almost lost the front again - allowing Gibernau to cut back into lead heading for the final turn - whereupon Rossi charged up the inside. The two then locked together, sending Sete into the gravel - but he remained on two-wheels.

Rossi himself only just made the turn, but then went on to wheelie his way to victory, while Sete made his outrage clear with some 'interesting' hand signals as he took second - by which time Rossi was beginning a slow down lap he'll want to forget, as he faced the wrath of the home fans.

In case Rossi had misinterpreted the boos and jeers, the podium ceremony will have left him in no doubt as to how the crowd 'called' the collision, while Gibernau bit his tongue to shake the Italian's hand with a face of thunder.

Being the bad guy - or being perceived as the bad guy - isn't in Rossi's script and he seemed, perhaps naturally, a little uncomfortable at his new found role; the 26-year-old posturing almost defiantly in the face of the obvious displeasure from the Jerez fans. A stance that only encouraged them further.

But Rossi's last turn move, while clumsy, wasn't illegal and has probably only served to change the sporting points of reference between himself and Gibernau for the rest of the season. A new era of on-track aggression may just have begun...

Meanwhile, Melandri was by far the happiest of the top three at Jerez, the former 250cc world champion claiming a 'dream' (and 'clean'!) RCV debut podium after finishing a lonely 18secs behind Rossi and 8secs in front of Camel Honda's Alex Barros.

Barros had been as low as twelfth on the first lap but fought his way up the field to finish a fraction ahead of Kawasaki's ever performing Shinya Nakano, who in turn held off the second yellow machine of Troy Bayliss.

After a slow start, in which he slipped to just 17th, Hayden's Repsol Honda team-mate Max Biaggi produced a solid charge from mid-race onwards and was eventually rewarded with seventh position, just over one-second behind Bayliss and six-seconds in front of former team-mate Makoto Tamada.

In contrast to Biaggi, Colin Edwards began well from his 15th on the grid, but his progress stalled in the latter stages and the American ended his Yamaha GP debut in ninth position, two-seconds ahead of the man whose M1 seat he took, Carlos Checa.

Kawasaki's Alex Hofmann, Fortuna Yamaha's Toni Elias, Ducati Marlboro's Loris Capirossi, Suzuki's John Hopkins and D'Antin Ducati's Roberto Rolfo completed the point scorers on a day when Suzuki's Kenny Roberts and Team Roberts rider Shane Byrne joined Hayden on the DNF list. Ruben Xaus did finish, but ran wide in the opening laps, required a pit stop and finished three laps down.

Despite the pre-race rumours, no rider is thought to have suffered from a lack of fuel today.

Full results to follow...

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



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