The opening WSBK race at Assen went according to plan for Fila Ducati's Neil Hodgson, whose second place netted him the 2003 title, but HM Plant Ducati's James Toseland rode superbly to finish in fourth place behind the championship battle.

Team-mate Chris Walker, whose participation in the day's two races was in doubt due to a heavy crash in Saturday's practice session, finished a creditable fifth place.

Despite a flying start from the second row of the grid straight up to second place behind Hodgson, Walker soon dropped back as Gregorio Lavilla, Ruben Xaus and Frankie Chili forced their way through. However, the British rider soon composed himself and tagged behind the leading pack of riders while team-mate Toseland was closing fast behind, lapping consistently faster than the leading riders.

As the fitter of the two riders due to Walker's injury, Toseland found a way past his team-mate just before half-distance and began to hunt down Chili and move into the top three. He did this with just three laps to go and managed to run with the pace of the two factory Ducati riders in front of him until the very last lap, when Chili forced his way through and secured the remaining podium slot.

"I made a terrible start to the race," Toseland admitted, "but managed to ride well once I got going. My race set-up was perfect and I was able to run consistently fast laps.

"I was riding tactically for third place and, when Frankie got past me fair and square, I still thought I had a lap to go. But it wasn't the case and I had to settle for fourth place. I'm looking forward to the next race though - all I need to do is get a good start and I should be on for a podium finish."

Walker's fifth place finish was all the more impressive considering the beating he took during his practice crash.

"I made an absolutely brilliant start to slot in right behind Neil, and the adrenaline kept me going during the early laps," he revealed, "However, when the pace was upped, I just couldn't go with it. I saw Lavilla and Laconi go out and knew that I had to think about improving my championship position, so I didn't take any unnecessary risks. I'll have a good rest before race two and then try the best I can. I've got the HM Plant Ducati working well - the rest is up to me."



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