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Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Barracuda)
Frenchman frustrated and disappointed after two years at Garmin-Sharp
Christophe Le Mével will move from Garmin-Sharp to Cofidis during the off-season, and as he brings the curtain down on his time in argyle, there is a sense that he harbours some regrets about how his two-year sojourn at the squad played out.
While his omission from the Tour de France selection for the second successive year perhaps precipitated his decision to leave the team, Le Mével admitted that he had already been concerned by his racing programme in the early part of the 2012 season.
"I was really very happy the first year," Le Mével told Cyclingnews in Beijing on Tuesday. "This year, I was satisfied too but I couldn't do all the races I wanted to do in the early part of the year, so it was a bit difficult for me at the start of this season. But all told it's been a very good experience for me these past two years."
Ninth at Flèche Wallonne in 2011 after a pugnacious showing in the finale, Le Mével had high hopes of making a fresh impact in the Ardennes classics this time around. Instead of racing in at the Tour of the Basque Country as preparation, however, he spent the first half of April training at home, and confessed that he was found wanting in the white heat of battle.
"I didn't do the races to prepare the Ardennes classics," Le Mével explained. "I trained at home but that was difficult to be prepared properly for the classics. As I arrived at my objectives without having done races beforehand, it meant that I wasn't quite at the level because I didn't have the right condition. I had trained very, very well at home, but I was missing a little bit in the races themselves.
"It was hard for me to accept that I was coming to my objectives without the level that I wanted. But after reflecting on it, I think it was because I hadn't done the races I needed to do as preparation beforehand, which made it a bit difficult for me this year."
Le Mével was able to laugh when asked to describe how it felt to miss out on the Tour for the past seasons, although one has the sense that - as Morrissey would have put it - he can smile about it now, but at the time it was terrible.
"It's certain that as a Frenchman in a team like Garmin, I would really, really like to have been at the Tour de France," Le Mével said diplomatically. "But when a team makes its selection for the Tour, there are those who are happy and those who are disappointed. I was one of the disappointed and it's true to say that I was very disappointed."
By his own admission, Le Mével did not anticipate making the Tour squad in 2011, given that he had just raced to 14th in a gruelling Giro d'Italia and, particularly given that Jonathan Vaughters was looking to build a selection to win the team time trial, a policy that would also delay Dan Martin's Tour debut by a year.
Come 2012, however, and Le Mével had centred his campaign around the Tour only to find that he was again surplus to requirements. For the 10th place finisher of 2009, the frustration was palpable.
"This year was a lot more disappointing because the Tour was my aim from the start of the year, whereas the year before, I was focused on the Giro - that was my objective was the Giro and I did well there," Le Mével said, before half-joking: "I also realised that - if things go as normal - there will be a team time trial at the 2013 Tour de France, so I think that if I stayed at Garmin, I wouldn't have done the Tour!"
Although he steps down to Pro Continental level with Cofidis in 2013, Le Mével was confident that his new team would earn a wildcard invitation to the Tour de France and the Ardennes classics. Without a Tour stage win since Sylvain Chavanel in 2008, Cofidis have been active in the transfer market, adding Le Mével, Jérôme Coppel and Daniel Navarro to their roster.
"It will be more complicated to get selected for the classics, but I'm crossing my fingers that we can get there for Flèche and Liège above all," Le Mével said. "I think Cofidis has made some good signings this year, there's Navarro coming too, so I hope we can make a good start to the season and ensure we get invitations to the races that suit us best."
At 32 years of age, the amiable Le Mével is something of a veteran in the Cofidis line-up, and he said that he was looking forward to marshalling the youthful pairing of Coppel and Rein Taaramae at the Tour, after pursuing his own ambitions in the spring.
"I will have more freedom at Cofidis. I won't be an uncontested leader, but I can be a good road captain and help Taaramae and Coppel to do as well as possible at the Tour de France, while in the Ardennes classics I can ride as a leader."
As he prepared for the start of the Tour of Beijing in the stirring open spaces of Tiananmen Square, Le Mével mulled over the highlights of his tenure away from French teams, ultimately opting for his attack on the Mur de Huy at Flèche as the stand-out moment of 2011.
Le Mével was somewhat more hesitant when it came to choosing a memory from 2012. "I don't know yet," he smiled after a pause. "Maybe here."