By Daniel Benson
After several near misses at the Tour of Langkawi, Aurélien Clerc (Ag2R La Mondiale) is in confident mood heading into the start of the Classics campaign. The 29-year-old Swiss sprinter is set to start this weekend's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and after finishing second in 2008's Gent-Wevelgem, believes his best chance at landing a Monument could come soon enough.
"I've been improving my condition and despite all the problems I had over the winter I've already had some good placings at races like the Tour of Langkawi," Clerc told Cyclingnews.
During the off-season, Clerc was told that his previous employers, Bouygues Telecom, had no budget to keep him, and with little time to find a new team, he eventually found a home at Vincent Lavenu's AG2R squad. "There was some delay with finding a team after they told me they had less money, so I didn't train until I had a contract with AG2R in early December. Since then I've worked hard though, both on my own and at training camps."
A new team and new surroundings look to have kick-started Clerc's self-belief at a critical point in both the season and his career. "I like riding in Belgium. It will be hard for me to follow the leaders in races like Roubaix but I can get a top placing there. Roubaix is my favourite race and I'd love to win it one day but races like Het Volk and Gent-Wevelgem are perfectly-suited to me. When the bunch finishes a long hard day with around 30 to 40 riders, I can be a contender."
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will be Clerc's first race on European soil this year and he'll lead a roster that includes Sébastien Hinault and Lloyd Mondory in Belgium's first race.