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Biaggi takes pole, Rossi to start third

ESTORIL, Portugal -- Max Biaggi has received a boost in his bid to catch championship leader and fellow Italian Valentino Rossi by taking pole position for Sunday's 500cc Portuguese Grand Prix.

Yamaha rider Biaggi recovered from a disappointing session the previous day to set a lap record of one minute 40.076 seconds on the windy, twisting 4.182-km Estoril circuit with just four minutes of the day's practice remaining.

Biaggi is second in the 500cc world championship standings with 166 points and trails Rossi by 39 with six races left and 150 points still up for grabs. He crashed while leading the Czech Grand prix two weeks ago.

Riders said after the practice that they struggled to find suspension settings that could make their mounts stable on the bumpy track without losing speed.

"We started off with a few problems yesterday, the bike wasn't steering so well, and turning is so important here, so we've made a few improvements since then," Biaggi said.

"I think my best lap was near-perfect, but we need to work some more on race-distance set-up. It's going to be a tough race," he added.

Honda-mounted Rossi took an early lead in Saturday's session, but will take third place on the start grid behind another Italian, Loris Capirossi, who is third in the standings.

Rossi said he fell behind after testing small changes to his motorcycle's fork settings.

"The important thing, of course, is to be on the front row. like so many other races this year, I think it will be a contest between myself and the other two Italians," he said. "In this heat, it will be difficult for us, for the bikes and the tyres. I expect a close race."

Last year's winner at Estoril, Australian Garry McCoy, lagged behind with the ninth fastest time, while world champion Kenny Roberts could manage only a disappointing 11th.

Roberts, 11th in the standings, hinted at tension within his Telefonica-Movistar-Suzuki team following his withdrawal from the Czech Grand Prix at Brno, which he blamed on mechanical problems.

"Brno was the peak of frustration that has been building up all season. My actions were a cry for help," he said. "Since then I have received a letter from senior management at Suzuki, asking me to be patient."

Japan's Norick Abe resumed practice after a painful high-speed spill on Friday when he broke a finger and was badly bruised, but slipped to 10th from second.