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World's elite converges on Jerez as MotoGP prepares to lift the curtain

World's elite converges on Jerez as MotoGP prepares to lift the curtain

World's elite converges on Jerez as MotoGP prepares to lift the curtain

The fastest motorcycle racers on the planet were reunited on an afternoon of anticipation and expectation at the Spanish circuit of Jerez today, the eve of the 2005 MotoGP World Championship. The opening round of the season gets underway on Friday morning, with the first free practice session for Sunday's Gran Premio Marlboro de España signalling an eagerly-awaited return to competitive action for the teams and riders after a long winter of testing and development.

Twenty MotoGP riders lined up for the traditional preseason photograph in bright sunshine and strong winds with one objective in mind: dethroning the man in the middle of the picture, reigning World Champion Valentino Rossi. The Yamaha rider has now won the premier-class title for the past four years and has taken victory at Jerez on no fewer than five occasions in all categories, a record he is keen to defend in what he expects to be his most difficult season yet.

"Last year we caused a surprise but this year it will be harder because everybody knows what to expect," admitted Rossi, who became the first man since Eddie Lawson in 1989 to win consecutive titles for different manufacturers after switching from Honda to Yamaha last year. "Honda have worked very hard in the winter and they have a lot of strong riders but this sport is not about one factory against another – every rider is alone. The winner at the end will be the person who stays consistent and arrives on the podium the most."

After months of preseason testing the fun-loving Italian added that he is looking forward to getting back to doing what he does best and promised plenty of entertainment for the season to come. "It's been a long winter and sometimes it's hard to stay motivated but in the race I will be giving 100%. Everybody is ready – the riders are in good shape and the bikes are set up. This year will be another great show."

Despite Rossi's ebullience there is no shortage of confidence throughout the remainder of the grid that this could be the year his dominance comes to an end. Sete Gibernau has run the World Champion closer than any other rider over the past two seasons and says he is better prepared than ever to challenge for the title.

"My only aim is to raise my level of riding to a point where I don't have to depend on anybody else, and I think my level is higher now than it has ever been," said Gibernau, who took victory in a wet race at this circuit last season. "Valentino is obviously the man to beat because he has won the championship for the past few seasons by being the best. It's up to us now to raise our level, stay focused and do the best job we can at every race."

Unlike past seasons the whole grid arrived at the opening Grand Prix reporting a clean bill of health, with Alex Barros claiming full strength after two years of injury troubles, John Hopkins recovering swiftly from operations to remove metal plates from his legs and Max Biaggi having made miraculous progress from a broken ankle he sustained in November. Even Carlos Checa, who missed the final official test of the preseason here at Jerez just over a week ago with a shoulder problem, remarked that he "should be 100 per cent fit for the race."


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