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Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) in the maillot jaune
Frenchman acknowledges effect of yellow jersey in home country
Two Tour de France stage wins and two spells in the yellow jersey are more than most riders manage in a career but in spite of his heroics in July, Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) maintains that he didn’t scale the same heights in 2010 as he did the previous year.
“The 2009 season was my best one,” Chavanel told members of the public in a special interview organised by La Nouvelle République. “In my eyes, this year was less good in terms of results even if I had a great Tour de France.”
Chavanel’s 2010 campaign was tempered by the fractured skull he suffered in a crash at Liège-Bastogne- Liège but the Frenchman recovered in time to light up the Tour de France. His persistent aggression and tactical intelligence were rewarded with stage wins at Spa and Station des Rousses, and on each occasion he also managed to assume the overall lead.
In spite of his starring role in July, however, Chavanel gained more satisfaction from his exploits of the previous season, his first with Quick Step.
“I found my bearings straight away,” he said. “It’s a team built around the northern races, the classics, be they in Flanders or in France. In all of those races, I finished in the top 10.
“That impressed the team, especially the directeurs, and that helped my integration. When you have the results, it’s much easier to integrate. A lot of cycling is psychological.”
However, Chavanel admitted that this July’s purple patch yielded gains for him in his home country that no sequence of results in the northern classics could hope to match.
“Financially, the yellow jersey had repercussions,” he said candidly. “I doubled my fee for taking part in criteriums.”
As well as seeing the commercial weight of the maillot jaune, August’s criterium circuit hammered home to Chavanel just how much Tour performances colour the French public’s perception of cycling.
“I already had some fame at quite a young age, but with the Tour, that went up a notch,” Chavanel explained. “It was crazy at the criteriums, but so much the better. I’m just touched that some people support me: whether it’s 100, 200 or 300 people doesn’t matter. I just want that people appreciate me as I am, not only on the bike but also off it.”
Unsurprisingly, while the northern classics will again show up on Chavanel’s radar in 2011, the Frenchman is already looking ahead to the Tour de France. Having developed in the Vendée U stable and Jean-René Bernaudeau’s professional set-up, he is particularly au fait with the opening stages of the race, as it moves from the Vendée into Brittany.
“It’s going to be a very difficult Tour for us riders, but great for television viewers, because it will be spectacular,” he said. “The first part in Brittany is quite hilly and there could also be echelons formed.
“Afterwards, there’s the Massif Central, the Pyrenees and the Alps to finish up. From the Alps on, it will be very, very difficult. Personally, that suits me because there should be stages for baroudeurs.”
The 31-year-old also revealed that he is already thinking about his life after cycling and said that whatever path he chooses will not entail as much travelling and time away from his family as being a top-level cyclist.
“I won’t still be racing at 37 or 38 years of age,” he said. “In the past couple of years, some projects for after my career have come up. But it will all depend on the opportunities.
“I just don’t want it to eat into my private life. I won’t want to be dragging my suitcase behind me anymore.”