By Brecht Decaluwé in Roubaix, France
After a decade in which the French crowds only had former winner Frédéric Guesdon as one of the favourites at the start in Paris-Roubaix, a new era has started with 29-year-old Sylvain Chavanel. The versatile rider from the dominating Quick Step formation discovered that he has what it takes to fight for the win in the vélodrome of Roubaix.
Last Sunday Chavanel was in front of the race until the important pavé sector number 10 – Mons-en-Pévèle – less than 50 kilometres from the finish. It was the point when teammate Boonen accelerated and got away in a group of six. "I sat too far back at that moment," Chavanel said to Cyclingnews.
Chavanel had a scare before that, in pavé sector number 17 (the sectors are counted downwards), the famous passage through the Arenberg forest. "The forest was a setback. I was held up by the big crash there. Together with teammate Stijn Devolder, we had to spend a lot of energy to get back to the front of the race; I paid the price for that in the finale," Chavanel said.
Once the Boonen group was clear, Chavanel counter-attacked together with this season's discovery Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam). Haussler beat out Chavanel in the vélodrome, leaving the Frenchman in eighth place, 3:15 behind winner Boonen. "I showed those who figured I should concentrate on the Ardennes Classics that I have my place in this race. It was a superb experience to ride Paris-Roubaix in a team that masters every detail of this Monument," Chavanel said.
Chavanel's last time in the Queen of Classics was in 2001. Last year the he made an unexpected move from the French Cofidis team to Patrick Lefevre's Classics squad. "The team worked fantastic and since Tom was the strongest rider out there he deserved the victory; he's made for Paris-Roubaix. He isn't a big head despite his impressive palmarès. He still makes time for his fans and remains humble," Chavanel said.
"I started the race convinced that I could win," Chavanel added, emphasising he's capable of that. "It's a tough race, especially when you're not super, which was the case for me. It's a demanding, physical race and it's an unbelievable experience to storm on to each pavé sector. It's a man's race. I'm very tired now and my back hurts; I'll have a good sleep tonight, but overall I'm satisfied," Chavanel said.
Next week the Paris-Nice stage winner starts the Amstel Gold Race, before taking a well deserved break. "My next objectives are the Tour de France and after that the World Championships," Chavanel said. For 2010 he'll be back as one of the top favourites in Paris-Roubaix, taking over from Guesdon who'll be starting in his last Queen of Classics.