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Chavanel a dark horse in Three Days of De Panne

Sylvain Chavanel spent some time off the front.

Sylvain Chavanel spent some time off the front. (Image credit:

The Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, a three-day stage race in coastal Flanders starting today, was not initially on his racing programme but Sylvain Chavanel opted to include it anyway. The Quick Step rider will be lining up as team leader in Middelkerke on Tuesday morning, and even if he said that he'd use the event more as training in view of the Tour of Flanders this week-end, the Frenchman could still be a favourite for the overall.

"As I've had a few illnesses since the beginning of the season, I still need to fine-tune my form," Chavanel told Cyclingnews on Monday. "After Paris-Nice, which I had to abandon, I figured I'd do this before the Tour of Flanders."

Since then, the Frenchman's form has been gradually on the rise, and Chavanel himself suggested that he could be an overall contender if everything goes well. "My fitness has been getting better and better. I still need to put in some efforts, but I also want to take advantage of my form, which is not too bad after all.

"De Panne is not an essential objective: above all, I want to be in top shape on Sunday [for the Tour of Flanders - ed.]. So I don't want to take too many risks. Then again, I'm not going to hesitate if there's an opportunity..."

Chavanel did not hesitate in the last 35 kilometres of Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, either. His presence in a late attack made sure that his Quick Step team was covered behind, and even if a bunch sprint marred his personal chances for victory, team-mate Boonen finally delivered.

"Boonen's victory was a great relief for everyone," he said when asked about the pressure on the team, whose manager Patrick Lefevere nominated Boonen for Gent-Wevelgem at the last minute for a complete lack of World Tour points. "We knew what we had to do. We are professionnals, so we knew that we had to do everything in our power to get the victory. The team was without any points at all, and we didn't feel good about it."

At the Three Days of De Panne, Quick Step now hopes to continue on the same vein. The wind-battered stages often conclude in small bunch sprint finishes, with the final time trial settling the overall victory amongst those favourites who have not lost too much time in wind echelons or crashes beforehand. "It's a dangerous race," he admitted.

"But we have a beautiful team here. We have Steegmans, Chicci and Ciolek for the sprints, and then myself for the time trial. I'd like to put in a good performance against the clock," said the three-time French time trial champion.