Former mountain biker the latest to shine on the road
Olympic silver medallist Jean-Christophe Péraud's decision to switch from mountain biking has reaped rewards, as the Frenchman scored his first UCI world calendar points by finishing ninth overall at Paris-Nice.
Péraud took second at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and some may have questioned his decision to become a road professional at the age of 33; Omega Pharma-Lotto hired him as a replacement for another former mountain biker, Cadel Evans, citing his time trial national title - won ahead of Sylvain Chavanel - as proof of his pedigree on the road.
Believed to be an even better climber than a time triallist, he was disappointed not to make the top-10 at the uphill finish in Mende during the week-long race. "I was hoping to be more efficient," he noted as an indication of his high ambitions despite Paris-Nice being his first race at the ProTour level.
When Thomas Voeckler dropped from the top of the general classification due to a flat tyre in stage five, Péraud became the first Frenchman overall. "I was more focused on making the top-10 that being the first Frenchman," he explained. He took both honours however, remaining high in the standings after the final stage at the expense of Peter Sagan and David Millar, who lost time.
"He has the capacities to do well and he shows them," quipped Omega Pharma-Lotto's directeur sportif Hendrik Redant. "He's got real talent and he's going very well uphill. He also fits quickly in the group although he comes from a sport of individualists [mountain biking].
"His progress is spectacular as we can see he already recovers better from his efforts at Paris-Nice than at the Volta ao Algarve. It's totally new to him to race for eight days in a row instead of one, and six hours a day instead of three."
Redant didn't hide the fact that Péraud is now very likely to take part in the Tour de France this year. "The possibility is very high," said the Belgian. "He's already at a great level but we don't want to put him under stress. We also want to see how it goes at the Dauphiné and give him more time to prove himself."
Péraud, a father of a three-month-old baby, quit his job as an engineer for nuclear company Areva in Lyon to finally become a professional road cyclist with Omega Pharma-Lotto. He had conducted discussions with all the French teams but none of the managers took the risk of hiring a mountain biker.
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