In a rare qualifying session of sunshine this season at Le Mans, Valentino Rossi stole pole position for the French Grand Prix from his Gauloises Yamaha team-mate Colin Edwards inside the final minute of the hour.

It was only the second dry practice of the weekend and the riders left it as late as possible before switching to their qualifying tyres and providing a nail-biting end to the session.

Marco Melandri, Sete Gibernau, Nicky Hayden and Shinya Nakano all posted strong challenges for pole but were upstaged by a virtuoso performance from the Yamaha pair, with Edwards moving to the top of the time sheets before being dislodged by a new pole record of 1min 33.226secs from the world champion.

"This track wasn't so good for me last year so this pole position is very important," explained Rossi, who leads Melandri in the championship by 25 points. "We suffered a little bit in the practice but we did a great job in the hour we had this afternoon. The weather was good, the track surface was good and we were able to take advantage of every available second, working a lot on the tyres and the suspension.

"The race configuration is not bad. I put in a qualifying tyre and I wasn't at 100% on the first lap, but the second lap was perfect and the grip was excellent. I'm really happy for Yamaha because Colin is second today. He is a fast rider and his performance shows the potential of the YZR-M1. I think we can both have a good race tomorrow," he added.

"At last our hard work in the pre-season and over the first three races is paying off!" smiled Colin. "We pulled the bikes off the truck on Friday morning and basically they worked straight away. One of them had a simple base set-up and we dialled a few things into the other one that we thought would work here, and they turned out to be perfect.

"My race pace was really good and Michelin had the idea of putting a slightly softer tyre on before switching to the qualifiers, which really helped. The whole team have worked tremendously hard so far this season so this is a welcome boost. The first corner should be a bit gnarly but I'm feeling confident and, as I said yesterday, I'm ready to race whatever the weather," he declared.

Movistar Honda rider Melandri completed tomorrow's front row on a day when just over 0.7secs separated the first 12 riders, highlighting hopes of a close race, but one big concern is the weather - with heavy storms forecast to arrive at 14.00hrs tomorrow, the exact starting time for the fourth round of the MotoGP World Championship.



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