By Hedwig Kröner
French rider Sylvain Chavanel, who will be racing his second year with Cofidis next season, knows what is expected of him in 2006. At the team’s mid-December training camp in South of France town Baillargues, directeur sportif Francis Van Londersele told Cyclingnews'Hedwig Kröner that Chavanel was one of the riders he was counting on to bring results next year, as the squad has been rejuvenated in an effort to develop younger talents on long term. The 26 year-old is also one of the hopes of a cycling nation longing for great victories, whose last public heroes were Laurent Jalabert and Richard Virenque - not to speak of Bernard Hinault, the last Frenchman to have won the Tour de France some 20 years ago.
So was he feeling any pressure? "There’s always pressure coming from the team management, of course, but as long as I do my job the best that I can, it’s not negative," Chavanel responded calmly. "Of course, I’m entering a time of my life where I’m expected to bring some results, and I know that."
Looking back on 2005, the Frenchman was happy to list his victories and top places, as there were quite a few. "For me, it was a pretty good season," he continued. "I always achieved high placings, especially in the races that I had targeted at the end of the season. The changing of teams was smooth [Chavanel had spent five years at Brioches La Boulangère - ed.], and as I was in good form they took me to the Tour de France, too."
Chavanel describes himself as a "rouleur-puncheur" - strong in a long effort but able to accelerate at the right times. "I get along in the mountains, too, but not the real high ones - that’s something I’m still working on." Although he won't be targeting any true climbing events of course, and "pretty much" repeating his 2005 programme next year, Chavanel is looking forward to making his debut at some Northern spring classics in a few months.
"I will again participate in a lot of stage races, but we’ve decided for me to also target the Classics, as I want to find out what I can achieve there," he continued. "Except for the Tour de France and races like Paris-Nice, I will ride one day races like the Tour of Flanders, which I have never done. It’s a race that I don’t know at all, so I will discover everything about it. Of course I hope to be able to pull something off! The Belgians in the team [Rik Verbrugghe and Thierry Marichal - ed.] know it well, so I hope that they will guide me."
Not wanting to further raise any expectancies, Chavanel did not reveal what he hoped to achieve at these races. "Right now, all we have established is a racing programme, but I can’t really talk about my ambitions or goals yet," he explained. "We’ll have to see once we’re there. The level of performance is so high that I can’t put forward my objectives now - I’ll have to make the best of my form at the right time. If I say 'I want to win this race' now and then I miss it...
"I do have personal goals, but I don’t like to talk about them. Especially not to journalists...," he added with a smile. But did he have any particular races he aimed at? "Yes, there are certain races where I need to prove myself, because I missed them this year. Take Paris-Nice: I was in good form arriving there, but then suffered a gastroenteritis. I want to make up for that."
Taking up the challenge of finding out what Chavanel’s ultimate goals were, I asked him about his dreams. "Dreams are something that we can’t really imagine; something inaccessible," he responded, weighing his words. "Any great race would do, I think, if the dream becomes accessible. Winning a stage at the Tour? Next year, it will be my sixth Tour, and I haven’t won yet."
Chavanel knew that a lifetime's goals can only be achieved by constant renewal. "Cycling is about progress, over and over again. To question oneself, to prove oneself and not rely on past achievements," he added.
Speaking of French cycling’s lack of great results in recent years, the winner of the Circuit de la Sarthe realised that it wasn’t easy to live up to the public’s expectations. "Everybody is looking for a new Jalabert or a new Virenque, but the problem is that you can’t compare apples and oranges. Everybody is different and has different careers; there’s not one resembling the other," he concluded.