Tom Sykes secured the victory he needed in the World Superbike Championship decider at Magny Cours but fifth place for Max Biaggi was enough to clinch the title by the smallest margin in history, half a point. Sykes, Biaggi and Marco Melandri all entered the last race with a mathematical chance of glory and the high stakes led to a race of extraordinary tension.

In dry conditions, Sykes maintained the lead from pole position with Biaggi nailed down in tenth, unable to gain a place on the opening lap, and the Aprilia rider was initially banking on his teammate Eugene Laverty to prevent Sykes from winning. Laverty dived past the Kawasaki on numerous occasions during the opening lap but Tom had an answer on each occasion, enabling him to settle into a lead.

The first dramatic twist came on lap six, as did the elimination of a title protagonist. Sykes avoided that fate despite a twitchy moment exiting Chateaux d’Eau but Melandri wasn’t so lucky, suffering a high side on the approach to the tight right-hander. Loris Baz was wiped out too on the second factory Kawasaki which was bad news for Sykes as Biaggi inherited eighth. Eighth became seventh shortly afterwards as Leon Haslam outbraked himself into Lycée while Davide Giugliano surrendered sixth at the Adelaide hairpin, however with Sykes leading, the odds were favouring the Briton.

Trailing by 14.5 points before the start, Sykes’ strategy simply had to be win or bust and with nine laps to go he was keeping his part of the bargain, keeping Laverty, Sylvain Guintoli and Jonathan Rea at bay. In that case, Biaggi needed fifth or better to clinch the title and outgoing champion Carlos Checa was the man standing in his way.

The straight-line speed of the Aprilia RSV4 would prove to be Biaggi’s trump card as the 41 year old breezed past Checa’s Ducati on lap fifteen before surviving a lunge into Adelaide. In real time, Biaggi had changed a half-point deficit into the most precarious of leads and all he needed to do now was hold his nerve, and that crucial fifth place.

Sykes was faultless in the lead but his prayers for help elsewhere wouldn’t be answered. The Yorkshireman edged away from his three pursuers to win by 1.3s from Rea and Guintoli with Eugene Laverty demoted to fourth late on. As it turned out, the Irishman would’ve been the ideal safety net for Aprilia with Biaggi free to overtake if needed. Fifth was enough though to clinch a second World Superbike crown by a scarcely believable margin. It may have been only half a point, but that was all it took and Max was back on top of the world.

The two Althea Ducatis finished four second behind the new champion with Giugliano beating Checa to the flag by 0.201s while Chaz Davies, Ayrton Badovini and Leon Camier completing the top ten. Leon Haslam’s BMW career ended with a whimper after a crash six laps from home, removing him from the tail of Checa’s Ducati.