"Free" Chavanel in form at Paris-Nice

Omega Pharma-Quick Step has a powerful contingent at the ongoing Paris-Nice, counting last year's overall winner Tony Martin in its ranks but also Levi Leipheimer, Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel. The Frenchman has healed his back problems after getting surgery during the winter, and has proven his good form by finishing sixth in the prologue in Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse on Sunday.

"I did a decent time," Chavanel told AFP in the finish. "I tried not to get into the red in the climb, as it was all about what came afterwards.The big time triallists had a good time in the last five kilometres."

His American teammate Levi Leipheimer also showed very good form, finishing third behind winner Gustav Larsson (Vacansoleil-DCM). Defending champion Tony Martin "had a bad day" but the Belgian team managed by Patrick Lefevere has several cards to play at the 'race to the sun' this week.

"I'm not putting a lot of pressure on him," said Lefevere. "He knows that Tom Boonen will be doing the sprints and that Tony Martin and Levi Leipheimer will be fighting for the classification but he, too, can be a factor for GC. Over one week, you never know what can happen. There are no particular instructions for Sylvain, he's free to do what he wants. I'm very fond of this rider."

The two-time Paris-Nice stage winner has finished on the top three overall before (2009) and has vowed to "be in the mix and defend a placing in the general classification, why not. I will be on the attack in certain stages," according to Eurosport. "Paris-Nice is a race that I have always liked, and in which I have made a name for myself. And I have a revenge to take with regard to last year." Indeed, Chavanel was unable to finish the event in 2011 as he fell ill with bronchitis.

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