Christophe Le Mével is having a good time in this year's Paris-Nice. The Française des Jeux stage race hopeful is not a contender for overall honours in the 'race to the sun', but was able to test his legs against top favourites such as current race leader Alberto Contador (Astana) and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne).
In the event's fourth stage to Mende, the race's only uphill finish where Contador took the victory as well as the yellow jersey, Le Mével gave it everything to see where he stands in comparison to the 2009 Tour de France winner.
"I knew it might be a bit suicidal to do this with Contador, but this way I was able to understand his accelerations and what I have to do to keep up," he told Cyclingnews at the start of stage five in Pernes-les-Fontaines on Friday.
For the 2009 Tour de France top 10 finisher, it was important to follow Contador's attack to judge his shape. "It's always interesting. You have to do these sort of things to see if it works out for you or not. I wasn't too successful as I only finished eighth on the stage, but still - I didn't crunch in the end so it was a good test for later in the year," he said.
Le Mével, currently France's best-placed Tour de France rider, also finished tenth overall in both Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné Libéré last year. His main goal this season, is of course the nation's Grand Tour, but "the races before it, like Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya, Tour de Romandie and Dauphiné, will be good tests to see where I stand compared to my rivals. Especially the Dauphiné - that's where it will really be interesting before the Tour."
Come July, the 29-year-old will not only have to prove but improve his abilities. "At the Tour, I would like to do a bit better than my tenth placing last year. That's only logical," he said. "Of course, I would also like to win a stage, but the two objectives are difficult to combine. It's hard to get away when you're a GC contender, whether that is in the mountains or in the transitional stages. It's a choice I've made - one day, when I can't contend for the overall classification anymore, then I will go for stages."
A seventh or eighth placing at the Tour would make Le Mével a happy man. "I know the top five riders will be hard to beat," he admitted. "But if I can be better than people like Kreuziger or Vande Velde, then I'll be satisfied."