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.

He's got some air between himself and the battle for fourth position too, which in turn looks set to go down to the wire as Jonathan Rea and Max Biaggi continue to battle away.

Having watched Rea pull away with his Nurburgring triumph, Biaggi reined him back in at Imola with a superb race day display that almost saw him give Aprilia its second win of the year. While post-race discussion was more about his potential grievances with Marco Simoncelli (Biaggi later shook the incident off), the Italian continues to close on an overall position above and beyond what he and the team had targeted pre-season.

With Biaggi's performance this year, coupled to Simoncelli's podium-winning turn at Imola, already establishing Aprilia as potential title contenders in 2010, the clamour for an RSV-4 begins in earnest at Magny-Cours following the confirmation that freshly crowned British Superbike Champion Leon Camier will ride one in France.

Having apparently been courted by Honda and Suzuki over the year, not to mention Yamaha as they consider its available positions for next year, Camier's early arrival at Aprilia can be considered a coup for both parties as they consider their future options.

The move does represent a small risk for Camier though as he arrives in France having not ridden the bike or the circuit, while Simoncelli's headline-grabbing performance in Italy is still buzzing around the WSBK paddock. Even so, with the likes of Chris Vermeulen and Colin Edwards considering an Aprilia switch earlier in the year, Camier has an ideal opportunity now to prove he deserves a race-winning bike in 2010.

His first target may be the remaining British contingent - and former BSB rivals -, which continue to fill the gap between the leaders and the mid-fielders. Leon Haslam leads the way in the overall standings after posting a pair of good top ten results in Imola on the sole Stiggy Honda, while Shane Byrne continues to improve his stock with an eye-catching outing on Sterilgarda Ducati's home ground too. Tom Sykes, however, is running out of time to make the impact he needs in order to ensure a ride in 2010 after a troubled day in Italy - consistency is one thing, but a single stand out performance continues to go wanting.

Elsewhere, Suzuki will persevere with Karl Muggeridge alongside Yukio Kagayama, despite whispers that Max Neukirchner would be back on the bike for Magny-Cours, while Kawasaki will welcome back Sheridan Morais in the place of Makoto Tamada, who continues to recover from his horrific accident at Imola less than a week ago.

So, while Magny-Cours wending, country setting may not be the scene for another title decider on this occasion, it will certainly provide a vital clue in deciding whom to put your money on when the year's action finally concludes in Portugal...