There were encouraging signs out of Nicky Hayden’s half of the Ducati Marlboro garage. He had a lightning fast start, he was able to run as high as seventh, he didn’t fade as the race wore on, and he finished eighth, his best since joining the team for the 2009 season.But he was still 40 seconds from the winner, Valentino Rossi, whose victory in the Dutch TT on the historic Circuit van Drenthe was the 100th of his career. It was here that Hayden won his only race other than at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, back in 2006, and it’s a track that he likes. So when he was able to run strong in the early going he was encouraged.Hayden was leading a tight six-pack or riders in pursuit of Rizla Suzuki’s Chris Vermeulen before he was passed. With Hayden in the front, the lap times were the best. “I mean I was doing the same lap times at the end that I was doing at the beginning,” he said. “When I was behind the guys, I felt faster. This track’s a bit like that because it has the draft and stuff. But yeah, we were a little faster when I was leading.”But just when it looked like he was rounding into form his left handlebar came loose.
As he explained it, it wasn’t moving up and down or sideways, but because of how it screws in, it was rotating too freely.”(James) Toseland had passed me, but when I lost about three spots in two laps, at first it was just, I didn’t know what it was,” he said. He thought it was the grip and “then I started to really feel my hand rocking, so I lost a little bit of concentration thinking, ‘Well is this going to break?’ because I had a handlebar break on me once at Jerez on the Honda. So you can imagine riding around here, as fast as this place is and handlebar coming loose and leaving the door open.”The battle for sixth was the most boisterous of the season. The entire pack was crossing the line within a second of each other and chopping and changing every lap. San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Toni Elias was docked 20 seconds for an incident with Rizla Suzuki’s Loris Capirossi, but Hayden thought it was “silly,” given other incidents this season and the stridency of his fight.”I mean that battle I was in, there was plenty of things you could’ve docked people time for,” he said. “I know we weren’t going the fastest or the prettiest, but that group, I’m pretty sure, everybody was riding as hard as we could. There was Elias, Capirossi, Toseland. If there was a door open they was getting it. And everybody I seen, hard moves, but all fair on the cooldown lap. Everybody shook hands. Was just a good race, I thought. Too bad it was for sixth and not higher up.”Seven races into the season Hayden didn’t sugarcoat his season. What he thinks doesn’t matter. He finished eighth. “That’s where I’m at. Sure, at times you feel like, oh, I should be faster. It don’t matter what you think. What counts is what the results say.”You know, getting closer to that second group. Even this weekend, this morning wasn’t just one quick lap. Consistent. I’d say overall my best weekend for sure. I don’t want to always just have false hopes. I got to be honest and know it’s not good enough and I still need to improve a lot, we do, the team. But it is nice at least to see a little bit of light there at the end and just keep trying to push on.”