Tour of Flanders: Will Quick Step's Sylvain Chavanel continue the French charge?
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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Tour of Flanders: Will Chavanel continue the French charge?

by Steve Jones at 11:27 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Tour of Flanders
 

Over the past few years Quick Step rider Sylvain Chavanel has shown himself to be a legitimate threat when it comes to the cobbled Classics. His journey to the north began with wins in the Dwars door Vlaanderen and Brabantse Pijl followed by a solid ride in Flanders in 2008, and solidified when manager Patrick Lefevere secured his transfer from Cofidis to the world’s top Classics squad last year. The Frenchman rode an impressive 2009 spring campaign, working tirelessly for the team and, in turn, earning respect for his sacrifices. Much like last year, Chavanel will be heading into this weekend’s Tour of Flanders as a super-domestique for Belgian champion Tom Boonen, but with the momentum that French cycling has had so far this season, perhaps some combination of fate and hard work will bring France their first victory in the event for nearly 20 years.

“It's more than a dream, it's a huge desire,” he told L’Equipe when asked what winning Sunday would mean to him. “The Tour of Flanders is a part of the great history of cycling. To be a part of that, it would be incredible. The 2009 Ronde remains my biggest disappointment of last season. These last two years, I've ridden two good Tours of Flanders. Now, I'd like to get a result. But it's difficult. It's a very high level, and given my limitations in sprinting, I must finish alone ... It will therefore depend on strategies, scenario. We saw this last year: with [teammate Stijn] Devolder in mind, I could not ride behind him although I felt good. That's racing.”

Devolder rode to his second consecutive Tour of Flanders victory last year by repeating his attack on the Eikenmolen to ride to the finish alone. The tactics worked out for the Belgian since Chavanel was forced to let his teammate go, and Boonen was unable to shake Italian Filippo Pozzato so he could ride across. For this year the course has changed and his launching pad has been removed - there will be a different scenario this time around.

When asked how he was feeling Chavanel said: “Even I don't know how my condition is [laughs]. I have done the same preparation as last year, but my results for the early season aren't as good. My condition in the Flemish semi-Classics was not good enough to attack and make a difference. But with the rest of this week [training], I'll bring it up a level and be ready for Sunday.”

Quick Step manager Lefevere has never been shy about telling the press when his riders aren’t living up to expectations. Recently, he’s been blasting two-time Tour of Flanders winner Devolder for his lackluster performances this season. Although Chavanel’s results have been admittedly worse than this time last year, the fact that Lefevere has not called him out in the press could be a positive indication of his current form.

Whether or not the Frenchman is a sleeper for the Tour of Flanders will unfold on the cobbles of Belgium, but there are several things that have aligned in his favor. This year’s edition will again see his team captain Boonen marked, which could present an opportunity tactically for him to ride away, as Devolder has the past two editions. There has also been a renaissance in French cycling this year which will bring with it some extra motivation for Chavanel to emulate Jacky Durand’s Flanders win in 1992, the last time a Frenchman has won the race. The motivation is also high on the Belgian front, as they have been blanked on home soil so far this season. Belgium’s biggest bike race is always ridden with emotion, but for the 2010 edition the stakes will be even higher.

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