By Jean-François Quénet in Hahndorf, Australia
Ag2r-La Mondiale's Sylvain Calzati recalled his best season when he started with the 2006 Tour Down Under as a helper for eventual overall winner Simon Gerrans, and later that year included a heroic stage win at the Tour de France. "It only went wrong afterwards when I sustained a big crash in Bessèges and I was forced to take a break," he said while appreciating the blue sky in Stirling.
"Two years ago, I struggled with the jet lag, but this time I'm fine and I'm very happy to put distance in my training." Calzati is actually coming back once again after a forced break. He has not competed since he pulled out of last year's Tour de France due to sciatic nerve problem and a double tendonitis. "The recovery has been long and complicated," he explained. "I've had two months of intensive care in a hospital in Lyon. Every now and then I can still feel a bit of a pain but stretching helps me to be okay. I'm back on track."
Calzati has also started a new training programme under the guidance of French-based Italian coach Guido Possetto. "He has set up a new machine on which I do sessions of 50 minutes with the cranks being paralleled. It's supposed to help me gain power. I'm confident it's working well."
Before his break, Calzati was set to become a classification rider for Ag2r. "I still have these ambitions, but I prefer to keep them quiet," he said. "Anyway, I want to do well at Paris-Nice and the Giro [d'Italia] overall, then I'd love to do the Tour de France again but my start isn't guaranteed so I must do something good before."
His first goal is to work for Ag2r-La Mondiale to win the inaugural race of the 2008 season. The French outfit has won the Tour Down Under successively with Gilles Maignan, Mikel Astarloza, Simon Gerrans and Martin Elmiger, so a fifth time out of ten would be nice for them. "We definitely want to win again. Elmiger looks able to double up but we're afraid that the ProTour changes the face of the race. It could be less open and all decided on Saturday in Willunga Hill. We'd prefer to initiate a breakaway before that. We're motivated, that's for sure."