1 October 2009
Preview - Magny-Cours
This time twelve months ago, it was very nearly all over.
Troy Bayliss had stretched his margin out to an almost insurmountable figure with two rounds remaining, ensuring that he needed just a couple of solid results at Magny-Cours to make certain that he will retire at the peak of his career.
Roll on to 2009 and the situation in France could not be more different as two riders head to the circuit where many dreams and have been made - and dashed - in the past, desperate to gain the upper hand into the Portimao finale.
Just three points now separate Noriyuki Haga and Ben Spies, the smallest post-weekend margin it has been since the beginning of the year.
In theory, Haga can mathematically wrap up the title at Magny-Cours, albeit provided he wins both races and Spies fails to see the chequered flag on either occasion. Unlikely as that mighty seem, Haga could be considered a favourite to keep his end of the bargain, Magny-Cours having become a happy hunting ground over the years.
Indeed, while Bayliss may have courted the headlines by being crowned champion at the Nevers circuit last season, Haga was still the man to beat on the day having romped to a win and a second place finish.
Furthermore, his confidence will be topped up again following his victory return at Imola, Haga producing his most confident display of riding since his double victory at Kyalami, which had become something of a distant memory before the weekend following Spies' recent victory run.
Spies' challenge is now to put a distinctly lacklustre outing at Imola behind him, the American's race day performances not quite living up to the promise of his starting position. While fourth and fifth places won't be considered a disaster for Spies in a season that has repeatedly thrown curve balls for both title protagonists, the emphasis is arguably back to Haga as the 'hunted'.
Magny-Cours is another new venue for Spies too. While that fact hasn't exactly stopped his progress this year, the growing proximity of a title decider has the potential to creep into the equation. Haga is experienced at going down to the wire on the world stage, but this is still new territory for the nonetheless confident Spies.
If you do the sums, three riders remain in title contention heading to Magny-Cours, although Michel Fabrizio looks destined to keep a watching brief in third place now in readiness for possibly playing a pivotal role for his team-mate. A second career win at Imola puts him 61 points adrift of Haga overall, a steep hill to climb if the Italian wants anything more than the second runners-up spot, but certainly not completely out of contention if Magny-Cours throws up its occasional dose of unpredictability.
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