Entering Friday's time trial stage at Paris-Nice, Jean-Christophe Péraud (AG2R La Mondiale) held 15th on general classification and didn't hold out much hope of duplicating his top-10 overall finish achieved last year in his pro debut season with Omega Pharma-Lotto.
"The top ten is jeopardized," Péraud said after stage five in Vernoux-en-Vivarais on Thursday. "There are too many big time trialists ahead of me on GC. I can't hope to regain time on them. My condition isn't as good as last year."
The 33-year-old Frenchman was particularly disappointed because he had reconnoitered the course of that crucial fifth stage. Péraud felt that the final climb of La Mûre really suited his characteristics, particularly with its steepest gradient at 12 percent providing an opportunity to showcase his climbing prowess which had led to his success as a mountain biker prior to turning pro on the road in 2010.
Péraud climbed with the lead group on the final ascent, but missed the eight-man move which went clear at the summit and stayed clear through to the finish. Péraud finished in the first chase group, 19 seconds down.
Péraud, however, finished fifth in today's 27km individual time trial and jumped to fifth overall on general classification, 1:14 behind overall leader Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad). Péraud has shown time trialing ability before as he won the French time trial championship in 2009.
"Jean-Christophe was defeatist yesterday but it was my role to not let him think so," AG2R La Mondiale team manager Vincent Lavenu said after the time trial. "I told him to not lose confidence. It was a great pleasure to follow him. He had a flying start. After 200 metres, he was cruising at 70km/h!
"After only five kilometres we could see the car behind Michael Rogers. It was a great confidence booster for him to realise that he was able to catch a triple world champion in the time trial."
"It was my goal to make the top 10 at Paris-Nice," Péraud said. "I'm still new on the road. Now I realised that I'm built for stage races. I climb pretty well, I can time trial and I also recover well.
"Last year I struggled at the Vuelta because I hadn't fully recovered from the blood poisoning I got at the Dauphiné and that deprived me of riding the Tour de France. I don't know yet how I can perform on a three-week basis but one-week long stage races are definitely my forte."
As he moved from Omega Pharma-Lotto to AG2R La Mondiale this season, Péraud received authorization to return to mountain bike racing. He intends to take part in four legs of the mountain bike World Cup this year. Péraud hopes to represent France in two events at the London Olympic Games next year: the road time trial and the mountain bike cross country races.