By Jean-François Quénet in Stuttgart
The French national team isn't exactly mentioned among the favourites prior to the World championships in Stuttgart. "We are ranked 10th I think," national coach Frédéric Moncassin noticed. In fact, France was on the edge of being able to line up only six riders. The top 10 nations on the Pro Tour ranking are awarded nine starters. The French champion Christophe Moreau brought the most number of points to his country thanks to his victory at the Dauphiné, but Moreau isn't a part of the roster in Stuttgart since he never found the condition he had in June again. Therefore, the captains will be Sylvain Chavanel, Thomas Voeckler and Pierrick Fedrigo who has made an exception to his habit to focus on hunting at this time of the cycling season.
"Should it be a bunch sprint finish with 70 riders, we might have selected the wrong Chavanel," Voeckler joked in a press conference, referring to Sylvain's brother Sébastien who is one of France's best sprinters. The fastest of the selected French riders is Romain Feillu, a rookie who was second at the World's last year in the U23 category. Anyway, Moncassin has advised his boys to "anticipate a possible bunch sprint". Voeckler successfully surprised the sprinters three kilometres before the finish of the UCI Pro Tour GP Plouay on September 2nd, but he reckoned they should be in action before the final lap.
"Fortunately for us, in cycling not always the strongest wins," Voeckler stated. "If we are the smartest it should be all right," Stéphane Augé added. "In the previous years, the sprinters were able to get over the climbs on the World's courses," Chavanel noted. "Hopefully it'll be different on Sunday."
French riders are clearly hoping for something new in cycling. "Should one of us produce a good result, it would have a different impact in today's context," Voeckler explained. "We are happy that there will be fewer cheats on the start line, although the necessary clean up brings a lot of bad publicity along and tarnishes the image of cycling. But if the first of us comes 15th, it won't mean that there will be 14 dopers in front of him. Not only French cyclists are clean. There are many more."
Veteran Stéphane Goubert returned from the Vuelta with a positive impression. Four French riders made the top 20. "I've noticed that even in Spain, cycling was cleaner than before. I hope it's a good start. If the world championships are a little easier than usual, the better for us."
Voeckler also said: "It's a pleasure to come and ride the World's in a country that has launched a huge clean up campaign one year ago, even if Germany has done it with more publicity than France a few years ago. We don't know if there'll be some cheats on the start line, we'll have to deal with it anyway. I haven't taken part in many races where it was possible to guarantee that there was zero doper in the bunch."
French trade teams have done pretty well at the time trial with Credit Agricole's Laszlo Bodrogi second and Bouygues Telecom's Stef Clement third. Now it's up to French riders to take their chance as well. Anthony Geslin came third two years ago in Madrid where the French team also adopted a low profile prior to the event.
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