Sylvain Chavanel, one of the pre-race favourites for the upcoming Paris-Nice, is fully focussed on what he describes as "the first big event of the year". A designated goal since he placed on the podium on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice last year, the Quick Step rider is determined not to let any opportunities slip by him in his quest for "at least one stage victory and a top overall result".
"I've worked hard, I feel good so I think I'm ready," the Frenchman told Cyclingnews on Friday after training.
"This Paris-Nice will again be decided within seconds. If you look at the parcours, the finish in [stage five to] Mende is short but steep, and it will not create big gaps. Paris-Nice has always been a race that held its surprises. One should never give up until the end - that's what I like about this event," said Chavanel.
Against prominent rivals, including Astana's Alberto Contador (who has also marked the overall victory in Paris-Nice as his first major objective), Saxo Bank's Fränk Schleck (second-placed last year), and Caisse d'Epargne leaders Alejandro Valverde and Luis Léon Sánchez (2009 race winner), Chavanel knows that the race for victory will be a hard-fought battle.
A win on the stage to stage five to Mende, facing rivals such as Contador, is "practically impossible," continued Chavanel. "It's not that I lack ambition, but it's just highly unlikely. What I need to do is use my opportunities on the stages before that one - and maybe the ones after it. Why not? Last year, there was an escape because of a wind echelon. Like I said, it's a race that has certain traps..."
But if the race unfolds without incidents - and the weather forecast predicts good conditions throughout next week in France - the Quick Step leader is realistic about his chances. "Against Contador, the overall victory is nearly impossible. I'm very motivated for Paris-Nice, as I've always been, but that's just the way it is."
The uphill finish in Mende may not be the only decisive climb. The peloton will face the Col de Vence (9.7 kilometres at an average gradient of 6.6 per cent) on the penultimate stage and then three Category 1 climbs on the final loop around Nice before the overall victor is crowned.
An opportunity, perhaps, for Chavanel to pounce. "At least, as everybody is focusing on Contador and Valverde, I'll be able to ride my own race..."