Aprilia's Max Biaggi did exactly what Tom Sykes needed him to do in the first World Superbike race at a wet Magny-Cours, losing the front on the brakes in the opening laps and allowing the Kawasaki man to narrow the championship points gap to 14.5 with 25 remaining on the table.
Sykes finished the race in third place behind hometown hero Sylvain Guintoli and BMW's Marco Melandri to score 16 points. The Huddersfield man had been top of the pile at half-distance when Jonathan Rea binned his Honda Fireblade out of a four-second lead but Sykes ran out of grip and had to settle for a podium. Rea re-joined but had to pit in as the damage to his Honda was too severe to continue.
Guintoli, who loves the wet, put in a riding display to snatch the lead as he and Melandri closed in on Sykes. The Kawasaki man ran wide on lap 11 and the pair dived through with Frenchman Guintoli, on the Pata Ducati, seizing the advantage and clearing off into the distance to win by six seconds for this third victory of the year with Sykes a further 11 behind Melandri. The BMW man is only four points behind Sykes and race two will be a thriller.
"You have to finish the race and that's what counts. It was shame that Biaggi made a mistake and I wasn't able to fully capitalise but we finished on the podum and we have one more race to do something about it. There's still a chance and hopefully we can make it happen in race two," said Sykes.
Fellow Frenchman Maxime Berger used his home advantage as Nico Canepa's stand-in to take fourth place while Leon Haslam, who is riding with an injured right hand, took fifth place despite running off and having to re-join at the wrong end of the top ten. Ayrton Badovini edged out Eugene Laverty for sixth late on while Davide Guigliano also came back from an off-track excursion for eighth.
Moto2 exile Claudio Corti bagged ninth on his World Superbike debut while Loris Baz, another rider who went into the gravel, rounded out the top ten. Chaz Davies crashed out after one lap and he was followed into the gravel by Carlos Checa at half-distance.
Leon Camier had an egg-beater of a highside which saw him launched into the kitty litter and ripped off his visor. He had to be helped to the side of the track by marshals but looked to have escaped serious injury.