Edwards fast in France; Rossi way back

Updated: May 17, 2004, 11:50 AM ET

PARIS -- Former superbike world champion Colin Edwards eclipsed the championship front-runners with provisional pole in Friday's first qualifying for Sunday's French MotoGP.

The American was a surprise name at the top of the timesheets, lapping the 4.180 km Bugatti circuit in one minute 33.870 seconds, 0.096 quicker than compatriot and fellow Honda rider Nicky Hayden.

"I'm tired of sitting here telling the guys that this was going to happen so to come out here and do what we did feels great," said Edwards.

"We had a test last week in Jerez and I think the best thing that happened was that I crashed because I know where the limit is now."

Spain's Carlos Checa, on a Yamaha, was third quickest to complete the provisional front row on a bright afternoon when 13 MotoGP riders lapped inside Valentino Rossi's previous pole record of 1:35.208.

World champion Rossi, who left Honda for Yamaha during the close season, was seventh quickest with Italian rival Max Biaggi eighth on a Honda.

In front of them were Italian Marco Melandri, fourth on a Yamaha, ahead of Honda's world championship leader Sete Gibernau of Spain. Japanese Makoto Tamada, also on a Honda, finished sixth quickest.

For the first time since the Japanese Grand Prix in 2001, Rossi does not lead the 500cc or motoGP standings.

Gibernau has 41 points, leading third-placed Rossi by three points with Biaggi second on 40.

"It is a new situation for me and I have to say I had been waiting a long time for this moment," said Gibernau of his status as championship leader.

The Spanish rider won on home soil two weeks ago on a wet Jerez track with Rossi, who won the season opener in South Africa, finishing only fourth.

However, Rossi still felt confident ahead of the showdown.

"Le Mans is a track that suits Yamaha and I think I'll be able to win there," he said.

In the 250cc race, Frenchman Randy De Puniet is seeking to extend his lead with a home win: "I start this event like the others. I just hope to leave Le Mans on Sunday in the same position," he said.

De Puniet was provisionally on an all-Aprilia front row after finishing second behind Argentine Sebastian Porto. San Marino's Manuel Poggiali was third.