However, if the Le Mans fans had felt assured of two of their men on the podium, they would have grown increasingly concerned at the pace of Rolfo, who was fast closing on Guintoil's Aprilia, with Nieto and Matsudo in tow.
Into the closing stages and Elias had broke de Puniet's hopes with a solid 5secs advantage over the fading Frenchman, leaving all eyes on third placed Guintoli (9secs back), riding the race of his life as he held off Nieto, Rolfo and Matsudo to keep his hopes of a first podium finish alive.
Onto the penultimate lap and the first two places were decided, but the fight for third was going right to the flag with Guintoli, Nieto, Rolfo and Yamaha mounted Matsudo covered by next to nothing.
With the crowd screaming their support for Guintoli, Nieto stuck a surprise move on him into the final corner – pushing the unfortunate Guintoli to the tail of the group in the process as the last lap began.
Nieto's advantage wasn't to last long however as Rolfo wrung every ounce of speed from his Fortuna Honda to ultimately take the final podium position, behind Elias and de Puniet, with Nieto instead forced to defend against Matsudo for fourth.
Despite missing out on his first victory once again, de Puniet looked pleased enough on the slow down lap as he thanked he many fans with a series of burn-outs, while Elias found a Spanish flag to wave - but only after the fan who brought it to him had been wrestled to the ground by some over eager marshals who reacted as if he was armed.
Full results to follow...
2. de Puniet