Adam Blythe gave his Omega Pharma-Lotto squad a boost as his sealed his first overall stage-race victory as a professional at Franco-Belge on Sunday. The result gives the Briton a confident finish to his neo-pro season and he told Cyclingnews he hopes to carry his good form to this weekend's Paris-Tours in support of teammate, Philippe Gilbert.
Blythe, who turned 21 on Friday, celebrated his birthday in style by winning the first and third stages of the race on his way to overall victory in the four-day tour. His first stage win had been his first as a professional and his eventual six second victory over Sep Vanmarke (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) saw him add his name to a list of former overall winners that includes fellow sprinters Tyler Farrar and Robbie McEwen.
"It couldn't have gone much better really. Two stages, one just before my birthday, one the day after it and then the overall. I couldn't have asked for much more," Blythe told Cyclingnews.
Blythe was able to retain his race-long hold on the overall despite a late scare on the final stage. A puncture on the penultimate lap of the race's closing circuits had left him wondering whether his yellow jersey would be lost.
"I was really nervous. Luckily Olivier Kaisen had lost contact with the group on the last lap and just as I was getting my wheel changed he came past me," he said. "He helped me over the top of the climb and did an amazing job to ride me back onto the peloton. A couple more guys from the team were waiting at the back and they took me up the bunch and to the front. Without them I wouldn't have been there in the end."
Omega Pharma-Lotto has enjoyed a far more successful season this year that last, but Blythe's victories meant he became just the third member of the squad to top a podium in 2010, after Philippe Gilbert and Matthew Lloyd. With several significant roster changes to occur for the Belgian squad in 2011 - including the arrival of André Greipel from HTC-Columbia - Blythe indicated that both his and the team's moral is strong.
"Everyone was really happy after the race. I think everyone was happy to work for me and give 100 per cent for me in the race, so everyone was over the moon with the result," he said.
"At the start of the year I just wanted a stage win in any race. I've tried to be consistent throughout the year and my form's slowly been coming. I won the first stage and that was it, I'd reached my main goal. Then I won another stage and had a chance at the overall. For me, confidence-wise, the overall victory and the second stage win have helped as I didn't think that it would be an option."
While his sprint success at Franco-Belge proves his ability to win professional races, Blythe has no allusions about what to expect in his sophomore year. The arrival of Greipel will give the team a big-name sprinter, but the Blythe is looking forward to sharing the workload.
"I think the team is going to be one of the best you could have. We've got [Philippe] Gilbert for the Classics, well, Gilbert for anything really. Jurgen [Van den Broeck] for the overall at the Tours and then André for the sprints," he said. "It's going to be one hell of a strong team and I think we're going to have a lot of opportunities in a lot of races."
Blythe will close his season next Tuesday at Putte-Kapellen but will line-up two days earlier at Paris-Tours. With a tough new finale for the French semi-classic he's realistic about his own chances of success and will instead support Philippe Gilbert's bid for a third consecutive win at the race. The Belgian said he will decide on his participation in the race upon return from the World Championships in Australia this week, but Blythe thinks he'll start.
"I think Gilbert will start because he's won it two times in a row. Hopefully he'll arrive [for the race], but we've just got to see what happens. I know the last 20 kilometres of it has changed for this year so it's going to be very, very hard."
Blythe's only race prior to Paris-Tours will be Binche-Tournai-Binche in Belgium on Tuesday. "I'm pretty confident, I'll just have to see how my legs feel tomorrow. Putte-Kapellen is pretty much a sprinters race so hopefully I'll have a chance there as well."
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