Sylvain Chavanel: "I had legs of fire."
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Monday, April 4, 2011

Sylvain Chavanel: "I had legs of fire."

by Jered Gruber at 3:55 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Tour of Flanders
Quick-Step rider comes painfully close to the win in Meerbeke

Heading into Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen, Leopard Trek's Fabian Cancellara was the unquestioned favorite with a small army of major stars snapping at his heels: Tom Boonen, Philippe Gilbert, Juan Antonio Flecha, and more.

Considering the class in the race and the class within his own team, it was worth noting when Quick-Step manager, Patrick Lefevere, pointed a finger at not his Belgian superstar, but the Frenchman, Sylvain Chavanel, as the rider to watch on Sunday.

It turned out to be a brilliant pick, as Chavanel defined the proceedings in the race at nearly every critical juncture. Last year's Tour de France double stage winner jumped clear of the field on the climb that often signifies the opening of the race proper: the Oude Kwaremont. From there, it was the Chavanel show with the Quick-Step rider at the head of affairs for the next 87 kilometers.

"I had legs of fire," said Chavanel to L'Eqipe. "I wanted to anticipate the race, so I initiated the fight early. I'm a notch below Cancellara, Boonen, and Gilbert on the bergs. Since the beginning of this season, the riders that anticipate the race have been rewarded."

In the end though, he came a frustrating second to Saxo Bank's rejuvenated Belgian, Nick Nuyens. There was no question that Chavanel was on a great day and to come so agonizingly close must have been difficult to bear - that much was clear in his post-race comments.

"To come so close is infuriating. I will sleep badly for sure, because I consider the Ronde as one of the best races in the world. When you belong to a team like Quick-Step, the Flemish races are very important, and second is disappointing."

For Chavanel, his final two hundred meters could have gone a myriad different ways, but like a choose your own adventure book gone awry, he stayed a bit too long on Cancellara's fading wheel while Nuyens moved right, he then moved right with Cancellara, tried to come around him, only to find the door closed. He moved right the second time in his attempt to come around Nuyens for the win, but that door too swung shut as well, and Chavanel could only wave an arm in frustration at the closed doors all around him, and the win that slipped way.

Sometimes a sprint can be salvaged after one errant move, but two? The chances are slim, but Chavanel still almost managed to overcome the two moments of pause. Almost doesn't get your name written in the Ronde record books though.

"I'll rethink the scenario, especially in a sprint when I was forced to cut my effort twice."

While his sprint choices will likely get the most direct questioning, Chavanel can also consider two other race-defining choices - but both were out of his hands, and both happened in rapid succession.

Tom Boonen attacked on the Haeghoek section of cobbles leading into the Leberg. The two-time Flanders champion made a solid move, but by the time the racers turned off the Haeghoek, Cancellara was back in the lead, in command, and getting ready to attack for the first time on the Leberg, which would be in about 20 seconds.

It can be said that Boonen's aggression led immediately to Cancellara's retaliation, exactly what you don't want when your teammate is at the head of the race, and exactly what you don't want when you can't hold on to the wheel of the strongest rider in the race.

At the time of his post-race interview, Chavanel wasn't able to comment on his teammate's riding, as he hadn't seen the footage, but he's probably at least a bit miffed this morning.

"I have not seen the pictures. There are journalists who have told me that Tom attacked, and then put Cancellara into orbit. I am a little lost, even a little surprised when I hear that. If it's true, we will talk with the team early next week."

With Cancellara launched, it was only a matter of time before he'd connect with the lone leader. The connection occurred on the Valkenberg, and it was immediately apparent that Cancellara would have a lonely slog ahead of him, as Chavanel was not working. That wasn't the former French champion's choice though. Those were team orders.

"When Fabian Cancellara bridged up to me, I found it very sad that I could not participate. I defended the team tactics, as Tom Boonen was behind me, and he could possibly win in the sprint," said the 31 year old to Het Laatste Nieuws.

With his ride from Sunday, there's no doubt we'll be hearing more from Chavanel next Sunday at Paris-Roubaix. The real question, however, is whether the Frenchman in a Belgian team will get the respect he deserves as a legitimate favorite for the win. Will he get the chance to ride for the win if he gets in the same position next weekend?



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