Stage set for Dutch MotoGP

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> The MotoGP World Championship paddock has filtered into the Assen circuit on the crest of a Dutch heat wave this week.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:52 IST
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The MotoGP World Championship paddock has filtered into the Assen circuit on the crest of a Dutch heat wave this week as summer arrived uncharacteristically early to Northern Europe. More accustomed to swiftly bolting their hospitality awnings and tents to the ground in wet and windy conditions at the historic TT Circuit, the MotoGP circus has seemingly brought the Mediterranean weather with them from the last two rounds in Italy and Spain as temperatures touched 30:C. While the mechanics and technicians prepared the bikes, a handful of riders - Nicky Hayden, Marco Melandri and Alex Hofmann - toured the canals of Amsterdam. For Melandri in particular the 75th anniversary Gauloises TT Assen holds a special significance as he looks to improve on his impressive start to the season and targets a first MotoGP victory at the scene of his maiden 125cc triumph back in 1998. Melandri has impressed this year, with three podium finishes and three fourth places from the opening six rounds. Sensational run The Italian's biggest challenge will be overturning a sensational run of form for the series leader Valentino Rossi, himself a regular visitor to the top step of the podium at Assen. The World Champion made his first visit there in the arms of his father Graziano, who won the 500cc race in 1979, and has since taken victory himself in the 125cc, 250cc and MotoGP categories. So far this season he has taken five victories and one second place and has a comfortable 58 points cushion atop the standings. He says the old circuit - built in 1949 - is testing for riders used to the modern tracks and still poses challenges for even the best riders. One rider who won't be experiencing that is Yamaha rookie Toni Elmas, who has been forced to stay in Barcelona to continue his recovery from wrist and leg fractures. Fellow Spaniard David Checa will again deputise for Elmas, who took his first Grand Prix victory in the 125cc race here in 2001. Like Melandri and Elmas, Dani Pedrosa also took his first victory at this circuit and the 250cc World Champion is hoping for a timely repeat this Saturday. The Spaniard leads the series by 27 points from Casey Stoner and is counting on vast travelling support to help extend his winning run to four races. (AP)

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