Olympic champion Yannick Agnel was pressed all the way to gold at the touch 1:45.48 to 1:45.61 over 200m freestyle by Jérémy Stravius, man of the French nationals and world-title trials.
Stravius had already won the 100m butterfly crown in 52.04 and was out to make it gold No5 of the meet. He fell touch shy but there was no doubting his determination: each time Agnel turned up the heat, Stravius responded and in the sprint for home as the Olympic champion split 27.09, the challenger chased like his feet were on fire: 26.48.
France will have a team of 25, 15 of them men, in Barcelona at the FINA World Championships (see list at foot of the article), Agnel down for five events and Stravius down for no less than eight events, five solos.
The 200m free splits tell the tale of the towering tussle that delivered a warning to Olympic champions USA that Gaul, 4x100m victors at London 2012, is gaining power and speed, for the 4x200m fight in Barcelona this summer:
For Agnel, soaring champion in London on 1:43.14 last year, the winning time today the 7th best of his career, while Stravius stepped up big time: a 1:47.30 in shiny suit in Pescara in 2009 had been his best, while in textile last year, he challenged that on 1:47.42 leading the French 4x200m freestyle relay to silver behind the US.
The bronze in Rennes went to Grégory Mallet in 1:46.69, his Marseilles teammate and 100m winner William Meynard on 1:49.53 ahead of Lorys Bourelly, 1:49.70. The top three can rattle the US. The fourth is the weak link as far as today goes, though Amaury Leveaux, best relay split 1:45.89, and Fabien Gilot, best relay a 1:47.35, will also be in the Catalan capital.
Stravius, the Amiens ace with victories in the 50, 100m backstroke and 200IM (in a thumping French record of 1:57.89) behind him, added a fourth gold to his tally in the 52.04 (24.44) in the 100m butterfly before silver in the 200m free.
His 'fly triumph left the minor spoils to Mehdy Metella, Toulouse, in 52.48, and Marseilles-linked Spaniard Rafa Munoz, on 52.79 (24.36), Romain Sassot locked out in 53.02.
At trials last year, Stravius, joint world 100m backstroke champion with Camille Lacourt in 2011, was locked out of Olympic selection by his Shanghai match and Benjamin Stasiulis, of Marseilles. There was no mistake this year and Stravius will defend the world crown with Lacourt. Stasiulis felt the drop this year, victory in the 200m in 1:59.16, 0.1sec ahead of Eric Hess, Antibes, outside the Barcelona world-titles target. The bronze went to Floran Joly in 2:02.33.
Olympic 400m champion Camille Muffat shaved a fraction off her 2013 world-leading 200m freestyle from semis yesterday (1:55.69) for a 1:55.48 victory in the 200m freestyle. She went through in 27.11; 56.58 (29.47); 1:25.88 (29.30) and finished with a 29.60, her 100m splits 56.58 and 58.90.
In her wake came the making of a fine 4x200m free team, Muffat's Nice teammate Charlotte Bonnet, 17, on 1:57.36, Coralie Balmy Mulhouse, third in 1:58.35, and Isabelle Mabboux, Boulogne-Billancourt, 1:59.32.
Nice-based Dane Lotte Friis, on a season world-leading 16:01.41 last month, put in another strong 1500m free on her way to defending the world crown in Barcelona this summer. On 16:04.72, Friis had only the clock for company, the silver going to Aurélie Muller in 16:39.07, bronze to Morgane Rothon in 16:46.41.
Friis was not the only visitor to win by a wide margin. Hungarian Evelyn Verraszto was a class part in the 400m medley, on 4:38.50, that time a big personal best inside a 4:46.63 from 2011, in a nation that boasts Katinka Hosszu and Zsuzsanna Jakabos as the toip two inside 4:36. In Rennes, the French fight went to Fantine Lesaffre in 4:49.13 and Adeline Martin in 4:50.83.
Agnel's training partner at Nice, Damien Joly, 20, took the men's last-day distance final, the 800m freestyle, in 7:58.99, the sole sub-8min effort though the fight was close, silver going to Benoît Debast in 8:00.48, bronze to Tunisia's Ahmed Mathlouthi in 8:02.55, Anthony Pannier and Lucas Vigorito locked out on 8:03s.
The women's 50m freestyle produced the third crown of the day for Nice, Anna Santamans on 25.37 ahead of Hungarian Eszter Dara, 25.83, bronze going to Margaux Fabre in 25.87. The winning time was not swift enough for a Barcelona 2013 ticket.
National record holder Giacomo Perez Dortona, Marseilles, clocked 27.77 for the breaststroke dash crown ahead of Joseph Welstead and Maxime Bussiere, on 28.26 and 28.51 respectively.
World Championships, Barcelona, July 19-August 4 - Team France: