Christophe Le Mével was not exactly tipped for being third on GC on the first rest day of the Giro d'Italia but consistency in team time trial, transition stages and uphill finishes put him in an ideal position.
"Today when I came back from training at my hotel, a reporter from La Gazzetta dello Sport was waiting for me because, he said, I had been underestimated at the beginning of the Giro," Le Mével told Cyclingnews in Vasto Marina after the transfer from Sicily to the Adriatic coast.
It has remained unseen but the Frenchman wasn't feeling well in the past two stages. "Probably because of the dust, my bronchial tubes made me suffer," he said. "I found it hard to breathe during stage 8 but I managed to make the top 10. I was pushing myself to ride near the front of the bunch before the sprint because I wanted to avoid a split and I even thought that a split could make me get the pink jersey."
Stage 8 to Tropea was Le Mével's last chance to lead the overall classification of the Giro. After missing out on time bonuses on two occasions (stage 3 and stage 5), he was left five seconds behind Pieter Weening when the Dutchman was in pink.
"Against Alberto Contador on Etna, there was nothing to do," the Breton rider explained. "I was right on his wheel when he attacked with 7km to go. I think he was on the big ring and it was the steepest part of the climb. It was really impressive. No one could go with him. I couldn't, for sure!
"I've looked at my Garmin files and I was missing ten watts compared to what I can normally do in the climbs. I did my best for hiding behind the other guys and staying protected from the wind, otherwise I could have lost three minutes and I was only a few seconds down at the end, so it was another positive result but after so much suffering."
Le Mével looked a happy man when talking in the lobby of his hotel in Vasto Marina. "I've already recovered from my sickness, it's behind me," he said. "I feel great now and the bunch of guys I have around me in this team is fantastic. I have no regret to have missed out on the pink jersey because I did everything I could and the guys have seen that I rode flat out for David Millar to get this jersey on stage 3. In the team time trial, I had done maybe 5% of the work and he had done 50%, so he deserved this jersey much more than me at that point of the race. Everyone at Garmin-Cervélo knows that I'm a team player and I can feel they want to help me defend a good position on GC now. We want to prove that a Frenchman can do it."
After riding for a few years at Crédit Agricole for Thor Hushovd following an injury that sidelined him for almost a year in 2004, Le Mével finished 10th with Française des Jeux at the 2009 Tour de France.
"Some people say I did it because of a breakaway before the Alps but the time I gained that day compensated what I lost in the team time trial," he recalled. "Had I not made that breakaway, I would have finished eleventh instead of tenth, but the 10th being Mikel Astarloza who has been disqualified, I would have ended up 10th anyway. Now I can see the margin of improvement there is in a Grand Tour with being part of a group that performs in a team time trial when there is one."
The points' classification of the Giro d'Italia after nine stages also highlights his personal consistency: he's third behind Contador and Alessandro Petacchi.