Max Biaggi tightened his grip on the 2012 Superbike World Championship after winning a race-long battle for victory with Marco Melandri in the opening race at Assen. The two Italians were comfortably clear of the rest of the field and their battle would go right down to the wire.
Biaggi's title chances were given an unexpected boost right at the start as Jonathan Rea, the man immediately behind him in the standings, made a mess of the start and fell back into the midfield. The Honda rider was desperate to reclaim lost ground at turn one but only succeeded in colliding with Jakub Smrz, putting them both on the floor.
Polesitter Tom Sykes maintained his lead up ahead but the factory Aprilias of Eugene Laverty and Biaggi were looking threatening behind. Laverty was the quicker of the two early on and moved into the lead at the start of lap two but Biaggi overhauled his teammate two laps later before slowly easing away.
Melandri had also passed the Kawasaki of Sykes and made quick work of Laverty, diving past the Aprilia at turn twelve. Biaggi was a second clear by the time Melandri had passed his teammate and it was clear that he wasn't going to have it all his own way as the BMW relentlessly closed the gap.
Battle was joined and Biaggi was the first to blink on lap twelve with a slight error at the turn twelve left hander. Melandri took full advantage and ducked underneath the Aprilia as they entered the 1km back-straight. The BMW appeared to be harder on its rear tyre and Melandri outbraked himself into turn 16 on the next lap, relinquishing the lead but Marco got his braking spot-on on lap sixteen, regaining the advantage.
Melandri continued to wrestle his S1000RR around the Aragon circuit in an attempt to keep Biaggi at bay but the championship leader would finally make his move on the penultimate lap, breezing past on the back straight. Despite a slight mistake at the hairpin on the final tour, Max held on to win by a quarter of a second.
Unlike his teammate, Eugene Laverty lost pace as the race unfolded and slipped to seventh as Sykes came under pressure from Ayrton Badovini for the final podium position. With half a lap to go, the BMW Italia rider dived up the inside of turn ten but move proved rather too optimistic, wiping the pair of them out. Carlos Checa and Chaz Davies, who had been fighting over fifth, were the main beneficiaries with the Spaniard inheriting a podium and Davies matching his career-best result.
Michel Fabrizio moved up to fifth after his teammate's misjudgement while Leon Haslam ended up a lacklustre seventh. Davide Giugliano was eighth on the second Althea Ducati with Leon Camier edging out Maxime Berger for ninth.