French champion perfect foil to favourite Boonen
Riders will be attracted to Tom Boonen's rear wheel like moths to light on Sunday afternoon, but his Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammate Sylvain Chavanel is among those who could benefit from a tactical stalemate in the finale of Paris-Roubaix.
Chavanel played a key role in aiding Boonen during his Tour of Flanders triumph last weekend after helping himself to victory at the Three Days of De Panne in the week leading up to the race. While Chavanel stressed that Boonen will be the outright leader again on Sunday, he admitted that he would gratefully seize any opportunity that arises.
"The circumstances of the race will decide, although I think Tom is really the strongest at the moment," Chavanel told reporters in Compiègne on Saturday. "But if I end up profiting from certain situations during the race then I wouldn't hesitate for a second to think about myself."
With no Fabian Cancellara to deflect any of the attention, Boonen is sure to be heavily marked as he sets off in pursuit of a record-equalling fourth Paris-Roubaix victory, but Chavanel admitted that he is hardly likely to be given a free rein himself. Since his victory at Dwars Door Vlaanderen during his final season at Cofidis in 2008, the Frenchman has evolved into a rider of some distinction on the cobbles and he enters Paris-Roubaix as one of just a handful of potential winners.
"Being the big favourite is always a handicap because you're always going to be marked," Chavanel said of Boonen. "Me, I'm among the outsiders, but I know that I'll be marked a bit too because I'm not someone who you can allow to escape just like that."
The loudest cheers at the pre-race presentation on Saturday afternoon were for the home favourite Chavanel, but paradoxically for a French rider, he has enjoyed greater success on the pavé over the border in Belgium than he has done in the Hell of the North. His second place finish at the Tour of Flanders last year, not to mention his role in the victories of Stijn Devolder and Boonen, eclipse his best showing at Paris-Roubaix, 8th place in 2009.
"Personally, I've had more pleasure at the Tour of Flanders, but I hope to have the same kind of joy I've had at the Tour of Flanders at Paris-Roubaix, starting this weekend," Chavanel said. "Getting on the highest step of the podium is a personal objective but in any case I would certainly like to do a good Paris-Roubaix with the French champion's jersey on my back."
Chavanel entered last year's Paris-Roubaix on a high after his gallant showing at the Tour of Flanders the previous week, and with the QuickStep squad struggling for form collectively, much of its hopes were pinned on his shoulders. Instead, two punctures at a crash shortly after the Arenberg forest saw his challenge unravel, while Boonen's race also ended in similar circumstances.
"I simply hope that the team has more success than last year," Chavanel said. "We had a lot of punctures then and an enormous amount of crashes. Part of Paris-Roubaix is about trying to get past all of that and then having the legs in the finale of course."
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