By Hedwig Kröner in Cannes
"I'm always good in this stage to Cannes. I'd like to be in front again today, so we'll see..." said a more-relaxed-than-ever Sylvain Chavanel in the morning of the penultimate stage of Paris-Nice to Cyclingnews. The Frenchman had been close to victory in this part of the race in the last few years, so motivation was high at the start in Sisteron. And a few hours later, while we talked to his Cofidis team manager Eric Boyer in a Café at the finish in Cannes, Chavanel made his dream come true and pulled out of the breakaway to be the first to cross the line on the Boulevard du Midi.
These last few seasons, Chavanel was rated as a huge talent in French cycling, but someone who always failed to break through. So, for this year, Boyer decided to approach the season differently. "We completely took the pressure off him, and also changed his racing programme," the team manager explained. "And it seems to bear fruit! Maybe he needed that freedom to finally gain the confidence it takes to win."
Chavanel, who already opened his 2008 palmares with the fifth stage of the Tour Méditerranéen, also took the leader's jersey in Paris-Nice a few days ago. Even though he lost it again on the slopes of the Mont Ventoux, the Frenchman wasn't disappointed at all – which speaks for his newly-gained assurance. "Even if I would have had good legs, I would have finished 6th or 7th on GC; now, I'm 11th [Chavanel moved up to ninth after his win in Cannes – ed.]. I lost 3'40", as I didn't feel well at all, compared to maybe 1'30" if it had been a good day," he explained. "So I have no regrets! Really, none whatsoever."
After his victory in Cannes, Chavanel was of course on cloud nine. "It's a great emotion, a great pleasure. This has been my best Paris-Nice and to top it by a stage victory is great for me. The yellow jersey was a first reward, this is another one," he said.
"I have a different programme this year, so it's true that it motivates me more. This is my ninth year as a pro, and there was too much routine in always having the same race schedule. It's good to do something new, something different!" Chavanel will head up to the Flemish Spring Classics in Belgium this year, instead of doing the races in the Ardennes. With his current form, we might see more of Chavanel in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen soon. He wasn't even afraid of the bad weather: "I like the rain and the cold – remember in the first stages of Paris-Nice, I was in front..."