By Hedwig Kröner
Last season Sylvain Chavanel won two semi-Classics, the Dwars door Vlaanderen and Brabantse Pijl. Now with the Belgian Quick Step team, the Frenchman is hoping to remove the 'semi-' and add a true Classic to his name.
Even though it will be just his second time in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the Frenchman will be one of his squad's leaders for the cobbled Classic, and has been busy honing his form to be ready for Sunday's race.
Unlike most of his teammates, who took part in this week's Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, Chavanel was quietly fine-tuning his racing shape ahead of the Ronde. He chose to stay at his home in Châtellerault this week, training six hours on Thursday, three hours "race intensity" on Wednesday and four hours on Tuesday, taking advantage of some beautiful springtime weather in Northern Europe to prepare himself for the big objective of his team's spring campaign.
"Last year, I had to let go 15 kilometres before the finish," he told Cyclingnews on the phone while doing his training ride on Thursday morning. "I had attacked before the Muur of Geraardsbergen, but got caught there. But I hope to be stronger this year, quite simply. I showed in the last two Belgian races that I was always with the best – so my goal is quite clear. We are a strong team, so that's reassuring and makes me feel confident."
Chavanel's confidence is well-founded, too, since he has already shown himself with a stage win and third overall at Paris-Nice. He now finds his own name on the list of favourites along with teammates Tom Boonen and last year's champion Stijn Devolder.
Despite a relative lack of experience with the course, Chavanel doesn't feel at a disadvantage. "I just need to stay focused and follow the other guys, like Tom, who will be up front in the strategically important parts of the race," explained the former Cofidis rider.
"I think it's a race that fits my profile as a rider. I got to know the event last year and I like it a lot. Maybe I should have participated in it sooner. It suits my style as baroudeur, puncheur, rouleur [could translate as break-away rider, strong finisher, time triallist - ed.]... I get on well over those climbs, and I can race fast. It suits me."
With three potential winners at Quick Step, the obvious question of hierarchy had to be asked: Will Boonen, Devolder and Chavanel be equal leaders at the race? "There is no equality. It all depends on the race circumstances. Surely, Tom will be the number one leader – he's the big favourite. Then, we have two nice cards up our sleeve with Devolder, who won last year, and myself, who still has everything to prove. So voilà."
The Ronde van Vlaanderen, Belgium's supreme classic, will be taking place this Sunday – time will tell if Quick Step will play its three aces right against its many rivals such as three-time runner-up Leif Hoste (Silence-Lotto), Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo TestTeam), Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) as well as Nick Nuyens (Rabobank).
Who do you think will win the Ronde van Vlaanderen? Tell us on the forum!