MotoGP rookie Pol Espargaro finished less than one-second from a podium in Sunday's French MotoGP.

The springboard for the performance was a brilliant second in qualifying for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team's home event, but Espargaro had openly doubted his race pace.

Instead the reigning Moto2 champion looked like a seasoned MotoGP campaigner as he worked his way from fourth back up to second place in the early stages of the 28-lap grand prix.

Eventual winner and former 125 and Moto2 title rival Marc Marquez moved ahead just before the halfway stage, with Alvaro Bautista taking a rostrum place away from Espargaro with ten laps to go.

But Espargaro kept pace with the Gresini Honda rider, finishing a fraction behind while in turn narrowly holding off Repsol Honda star Dani Pedrosa.

"I feel really happy because finally we did, not just a good race, but a good weekend," said Espargaro. "To be near the top the whole weekend makes you feel different. Yesterday I was so happy to qualify second and the race was completely different starting from the front. Everything is much easier. You feel free, more relaxed.

"I was a little bit surprised to stay up front. Halfway through the race I was thinking, 'Hey man, you're in third!' I started to be more confident about a top five finish and when I heard the noise of Dani's engine as he was catching up during the last laps, I just kept my head down aiming to take fourth position over the line.

"Overall I think this race is like a trophy for our work and our passion for the bike. The team has worked so hard and they need this result to take some energy and power. It's so good for us."

Team boss Herve Poncharal added: "After the Jerez test, both riders, especially rookie Pol, now understand a lot more. During the week he called me and said I can't wait for Le Mans because he knew it would be better than the previous races. The test was very important to him and the knowledge he has gained has helped him to qualify really well and ahead of everyone but Marquez, which is a huge achievement.

"We were a bit unsure about how the race would go but Pol got a beautiful start and unfortunately couldn't catch Bautista at the end but second in qualifying and fourth in the race is very good and ahead of both Lorenzo and Pedrosa. It's was a tough race, but we can be really proud of the how Pol did and all the team's work."

Team-mate Bradley Smith finished in tenth place.



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