Italy's Davide Rebellin will again be one of the men to watch in two weeks time, when the "Race to the sun" will be getting under way from Paris to Nice in Southern France. Aged 36, the Gerolsteiner rider proved that his current form is excellent by taking the victory in Sunday's Tour du Haut-Var in front of the likes of Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux), Fränk Schleck (Team CSC), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Alexandre Botcharov (Crédit Agricole), who recently won the Tour Mediterranéen.
Rebellin started his winning move on the Côte des Tuilières with 15 kilometres to go. Only Botcharov and Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2R-La Mondiale) were able to follow, as Gilbert, Schleck and Valverde could not close the gap to powering Italian. "For me, this is the first high level race of the season," said Rebellin to L'Equipe after the race. "It's perfect for me, it completely corresponds to my abilities. The parcours is similar to Liège-Bastogne-Liège, with a series of not-too-long climbs. Of course, the Ardennes (Classics) are still far away, but this was a good test."
His Gerolsteiner directeur sportif, Christian Henn, also felt that Rebellin's form was promising and made him a favourite once again for Paris-Nice. "Last year, Davide lost only because of a few seconds," he said. "Now, with his current fitness, it would be difficult not to make him one of the favourites."
But Rebellin himself played down his chances in the upcoming French stage race. "The parcours is more difficult than last year. The Ventoux might be a bit too hard for me. But, if I have the legs, who knows?"
Even more than Paris-Nice, the Italian of course focuses on the series of Spring Classics in Belgium and the Netherlands this upcoming April. Last year, the winner of all the three events in 2004 (Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège) placed second in Amstel, won again in Flèche and came fifth in Liège. "I want to be at the top of my form in April," Rebellin reiterated this Sunday. Winning against such contenders as Gilbert, Schleck and Valverde will certainly help him staying focused on that goal.