Maverick Vinales of Yamaha celebrates his victory at the French Grand Prix on Sunday. Photo: Eddy Lemaistre, EPA

LE MANSSpain’s Maverick Vinales snatched victory in a thrilling French Grand Prix at Le Mans on Sunday after a captivating duel with Italian veteran Valentino Rossi.

Vinales surges into the lead of the MotoGP world championship at Rossi’s expense, after the 38-year-old Italian slid off in the final lap as he chased the fellow Yamaha.

Local favourite Johann Zarco – also on a Yamaha – was second and Spain’s Dani Pedrosa of Honda was third.

The 22-year-old Vinales, who lost the early lead to Zarco after starting from pole, said: “Incredible, incredible. I just gave my best. I saw Valentino make a mistake and I made a push after two disastrous races.”

Vinales and Rossi were battling for the win throughout, but stepped up their breathless battle with three laps to go when Rossi grabbed the lead, sending the 100 000 crowd under the Le Mans sunshine wild.

It looked all over, but Rossi made an uncharacteristic error to allow Vinales back into the lead on the last lap.

Then Rossi lost control and skidded out of the race when pushing hard to get his nose back in front in the closing moments.

Rossi was left distraught afterwards as Vinales celebrated a third win from five races this season to lead the standings on 85 points, with Pedrosa on 68 and Rossi still stuck on 62 in third.

Honda’s defending world champion Marc Marquez, of Spain, sits fourth after he too crashed out, on a day of carnage at Le Mans.