French national team boss Laurent Jalabert on Saturday said his men must take inspiration from their compatriot Romain Sicard as they attempt to end a drought stretching back to Laurent Brochard's World Championship win in San Sebastian in 1997.
Jalabert was a rider in Spain that day, but on Sunday he will begin his career behind the steering wheel of the French national team car. Having watched Sicard destroy the opposition in the Under 23 race on Saturday, Jalabert said that he hoped his six riders would show similar panache in the elite road race on Sunday.
Although Jalabert didn't single out any individuals, the best hopes of a French medal surely lie with Pierrick Fédrigo and Sylvain Chavanel. The four remaining members of Jalabert's starting six are Thomas Voeckler, Dimitri Champion, Christophe Le Mevel and Christophe Riblon.
"We have as good a chance as anyone else," Jalabert said on Saturday night. "We have to believe and we have to ride as a team, just like our Under 23s just have. It's the same for the elite riders as it is for them.
"The women's race and the Under 23 race have confirmed exactly what I thought before about the course. It's hard. When the race really winds up at the end, there are riders all over the road. Tomorrow it will be the same."
France's failure to qualify among ten teams entitled to field nine riders on Sunday has been viewed by some as national sporting disgrace. Jalabert, himself a stern critic of French cycling over the past decade, believes that his team can overcome their numerical disadvantage.
"With only six riders, there's a slight danger of the race getting away from us very early on, but anyone who attacks early will have a hard time holding on," the former ONCE and CSC star said. "We have to be good in the closing laps. That means saving energy early on. Races are won and lost in the finale, especially World Championships. We didn't even see Sicard in the first half of the race. He attacked once four laps from the end and then again two laps from the end. He was the strongest but he was also intelligent.
"All six of my riders are in good condition," he said. "They've done what they had to do. The big favourites are Spain and Italy, then one or two individuals who are real specialists in this kind of race. Fabian Cancellara's riding out of his skin, so he's a big favourite. Then there are the Russians - Sergey Ivanov, Alexandr Kolobnev - they could be very dangerous. There'll be good surprises and bad surprises. I hope we're in the former category."
Jalabert reserved his last comment for Sicard, whose success he hopes will galvanize the French senior team in the 19-lap, 262.2km elite road race. Himself a former world number one, Jalabert believes his young countryman can go far.
"Sicard is a good climber, a good rouleur, an excellent rider all round," he said. "What impresses me most about him, though, is that he hasn't got a big head. He's still very polite, and knows how to say "please" and "thank you". That's the mark of an intelligent kid. I like him a lot."
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