Randy de Puniet may have faced increasing competition for 250cc Valencia pole position today, but that didn't stop the flying Frenchman upping his own pace to keep the top spot - while the impending title showdown edged further towards Manuel Poggiali.

Yesterday saw de Puniet put in a late burst to claim national pride after a battle for provisional pole position with fellow Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli. The LCR rider eventually clocked a lap of 1min 36.957secs to convincingly dislodge Guintoli, who had comfortably led for the majority of the session, by a non-negotiable 0.833 seconds.

Franco Battaini and Poggiali completed the overnight front row whilst Roberto Rolfo, who is the only man who can deny Poggiali the title on Sunday if he can beat the series leader by eight points or more, was seventh fastest. The Italian lines up on the provisional second row behind local favourites Alex Debon and Toni Elias and ahead of Australian Anthony West.

Into today, and despite rapid improvements from Elias, Guintoli and Debon, de Puniet's Friday time remained the target to beat through to the 18mins to go mark - when he himself bettered it to the tune of 0.25secs.

In terms to the title battle, Poggiali improved his hopes further by seizing second - six places and 1.2secs clear of Rolfo - shortly after the midway point of the 45 minute session. The Fortuna Honda rider would finally improve on his Friday time soon after, but only by a few hundredths.

The final minutes of the final session of 2003 saw Guintoli grab second from 'The Pog', before Elias - rumoured to be taking part in his final ride for Aprilia before moving to Honda next season - took the position from him, the Spaniard slipping just 0.091secs from de Puniet's best.

Poggiali and Rolfo would both fail to improve significantly by the flag, leaving Poggiali on the outside of the front row in fourth, but Rolfo dropped to tenth - 1.4secs behind the MS Aprilia rider whom he must beat tomorrow. Roby better start praying for rain...

Full times to follow...

1. de Puniet
2. Elias
3. Guintoli
4. Poggiali
5. Debon
6. Battaini
7. Nieto
8. Matsudo



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