Troy Bayliss started his swansong weekend perfectly as he swept to a dominant victory in an eventful first World Superbike race of the day in Portugal.

The new champion led from lights-to-flag aboard the Ducati Xerox but it was all-action further back as a myriad of riders gave an entertaining performance behind him.

With the rain that has blighted the event so far clearing up before the start of the race, sunny conditions greeted the riders for only the second time this weekend. It meant the teams headed into the race with minimal dry data, a factor that would make its presence felt in the latter stages of the race.

The start was a relatively even affair, with debutant front row sitters Cal Crutchlow and Jonathan Rea refusing to let the pressure get to them as they got away well. In fact, Crutchlow looked to have the better of pole sitter Bayliss as they braked downhill for the first turn, although the Aussie rider was more daring on the brakes and would emerge in front.

Baulked by his failed attempt at the lead, Rea, Ruben Xaus and Troy Corser squeezed through, with the latter eventually hauling the Yamaha up to second place from seventh on the grid.

Further back, Max Biaggi and Michel Fabrizio came to blows for not the first time in their careers after the factory Ducati rider appeared to mis-judge a move on his countryman, taking both riders down and leaving Biaggi visibly furious with the youngster.

The accident, however, had caused a chasm between the leaders and the followers, with the top five field of Bayliss, Corser, Rea, Crutchlow and Xaus already a few seconds up on the chasing pack of Leon Haslam, Carlos Checa and Noriyuki Haga as they ended the first lap.

Bayliss himself was making headway though as he worked to establish a gap, although his cause was certainly being aided by the frantic tussle going on behind him.

Rea was looking particularly aggressive as he forced his Ten Kate Honda up against his more experienced rivals, while Crutchlow was looking remarkably quick down the home straight as he got better drive out of the final corner.

It meant all four riders took it in turn to lead the chase to Bayliss, but it was Crutchlow who eventually secured the spot for longer than a lap on the fourth revolution, followed by Xaus, Rea and Corser.

Their squabbling had two effects though; it had allowed Bayliss to establish a solid lead after only a few laps, while Haslam, Haga and Checa had now expanded the fight for second to seven bikes.

A sight to behold as they rounded the various crests of a circuit that is already being labelled as a classic, their close company was always likely to end in a mistake and Rea was the first victim, the Northern Irishman making an error on lap five to lose three places before running off the track at turn one soon afterwards and falling off the pack in eighth.

Indeed, turn one was proving to be the scene for much of the action as riders attempted to capitalise on the slipstream from the long home straight. However, while the success rate was often limited, some riders were able to make their moves stick, including Haslam, who was charging up the order as he overtook Xaus for third place on lap nine.

Third swiftly became second when Haslam dived up the inside of his HM Plant team-mate on the same lap, a move that unsettled Crutchlow enough to see him suddenly tumble down the order. Finishing the lap in sixth place, the Brit would fall further away before succumbing to what appeared to be tyre woes close to the finish.

In fact, tyres were proving to be a key factor as the race entered the second-half. With the abrasive track surface raising concerns about how long the Pirelli tyres would last and little chance to test in the dry, it was soon clear that those who pushed hard at the start were beginning to pay the price.

While Crutchlow was the biggest loser, Xaus' feisty performance in the early stages were seeing him lose touch, while Rea had reached a plateau in his lap times as he kept a watching brief.

It meant Haslam was now running a comfortable second, with Haga up to third, Checa fourth, Corser fifth, Xaus sixth and Rea seventh, while Jakub Smrz and Gregorio Lavilla were suddenly coming into play as the quickest riders on the circuit. Smrz would eventually crash out.

Up at the front, Haslam suddenly had the close attentions of Haga, whose mid-race assault would see him overtake the Brit on lap 13 in a manoeuvre that would nerve Haslam wide and off the circuit. Dropping him behind Corser and Checa in the process, Haslam too wouldn't feature in the podium fight again.

It was Haga's turn to hit problems though as he was swallowed up by Corser, who had preserved his tyres well, and Checa, who was comfortably the fastest rider on the circuit in the latter stages of the race.

Haga resisted for a while but it would prove to be a futile effort as he was forced to retire four laps from home with a technical problem. It all but ends his hopes of maintaining second place in the standings with one race remaining.

Despite having it easy compared to his rivals, Bayliss was still finding the going tough at the front of the field and as the race entered its final laps, Checa was beginning to make inroads on what was an eight second advantage.

Nonetheless, his lead was more then enough as he rounded the long right-hander to cross the line a two second winner over Checa. A 51st career win, it guarantees that Bayliss will end his tenure with a victory on his final World Superbike weekend.

Having started 11th, second place marks Checa's first podium since he won at Miller back in July, while Corser was also able to wrack up another rostrum finish as he assumes the provisional runners-up spot in the standings.

Behind the top three, the battle for the remainder of the positions was equally as fraught. For a time it looked like Lavilla would be on course for one of his best ever World Superbike results aboard the Vent-Axia VK Honda, a mighty feat given his 17th place starting position.

However, he faded back to sixth on the final lap - which included a wide moment on the last corner -, allowing Rea to claim back the place and complete an eventful, but ultimately rewarding, fourth place finish.

Like Lavilla, Fonsi Nieto left it until late to make an impression but he was flying in the closing stages as he nursed the Suzuki to a fine fifth place finish, while Lavilla recovered just in time to pip Haslam for sixth.

After an anonymous time in qualifying, Ryuichi Kiyonari looked more like a three-time winner in the race as he surged up from 19th on the grid to finish eighth and ensure all Ten Kate riders would finish inside the top ten.

Xaus held on for ninth, marginally ahead of Regis Laconi, who fell back in the early stages but was able to clamber his way back for a top ten finish. Ayrton Badovini was another to move into contention late on as he completed one his best results of the year, while Roberto Rolfo, Shinichi Nakatomi, Karl Muggeridge and Yukio Kagayama completed the top 15.



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