Normally, the first round ("Premier Tour") gives voters a chance to vote for their favorite minor party, and there were 12 presidential candidates (including 2 or 3 flavors of communists). However, this time the minor parties drew little support. With Bayrou, of the UDF, running to the left of Sarkozy and the right of Royal, it was clear there would be a battle for the top two spots. Everyone remembers 2002, when Le Pen slipped into second place ahead of the Socialist, Lionel Jospin, forcing the Left to hold their noses and vote for Chirac in the second round.
There is an interesting pattern in the geographic distribution of the support for the candidates shown in this map. Royal was strongest in the southwest, with most of the east and north going to Sarkozy.
Although Sarkozy beat Royal by just over 5 points, the second round is wide open. Bayrou drew over 18%, and he will certainly try to leverage that in negotiations with the other two. It's anyone's guess: 1) which way his supporters will break; 2) how much actual influence he has on that.
Personally, we have been pulling for Sarko. He is the closest thing France has had to a pro-market, pro-American candidate since Chirac pretended to be one in the '80s. France is wracked by fears: of "globalization" and the threat it poses to the comfy, unsustainable status quo; of the stagnant economy that creates few new jobs; of angry, unasimilated, unemployable young "immigrants" (many born in France); and of any of the changes that are needed to cope with these problems.
Sarkozy at least appears to understand what needs to be done and to have the nerve to do it. France cannot be a great country and avoid free, fair economic competition with the rest of the world. It cannot keep the social welfare promises its politicians have made without strong economic growth. It cannot generate the growth it needs without reducing the stranglehold the government has on the economy. Any move to change any of this is bound to provoke strong opposition, possibly including "social unrest."