French hopes for a Paris-Roubaix win on home soil rest firmly on the shoulders of Sylvian Chavanel (Quick Step). The 31-year-old rider is in the form of his life, but it has yet to bring him a win in any of this year's cycling Monuments. After falling just short of the win in the Tour of Flanders last Sunday, Chavanel hopes to bounce back with a victory in Paris-Roubaix.
"I'm still regretting my loss in the sprint (in Flanders), but if I can win on Sunday, that will make up for it," said Chavanel.
With teammate Tom Boonen having won previously on the vélodrome in Roubaix three times, it seems obvious that the Belgian will be leading the team again in the Hell of the North Classic, but sponsor Frans De Cock from Quick Step said that from a publicity point of view, a win from Chavanel in Roubaix would be more interesting.
Boonen agreed and pointed out that there's no hierarchy among the team leaders, so Chavanel will be able to fight for his chances on the cobbles, too.
"After Flanders, I rested a lot and avoided reading newspapers," said Chavanel. "I want to point out that there's no polemic with Boonen. I made a mistake in the sprint, too. In hindsight, it's always seems easier."
The likeable Chavanel noted that he benefits from riding with Boonen on the same team. "I lack the experience in these races, and he knows the races very well. He gives me a lot of advice. I can learn from him," Chavanel said.
When asked about how he rates his chances for Paris-Roubaix, Chavanel, who is nicknamed "Mimosa" said, "The fact that there are many more French journalists compared to our press conference last week (in Flanders) says something about the expectations. I guess it's important for the French media. I'm hoping to do very well, and I will not hide away. I love this race, and I want to reap the rewards of my top form."
No other French rider will carry the weight of the north of France like Chavanel on Sunday. Fréderic Guesdon (FDJ) was the last French winner of Paris-Roubaix in 1997, but for the 39-year-old, time is not on his side.
FDJ Team Manager Marc Madiot, a former winner in 1991, gave his view on the chances of French riders on Sunday. "There's always Fréderic Guesdon. He's indestructible. He's always there in this race. Honestly, I don't think he can still win it, but a top-10 result is possible. The warm and dry weather conditions are good for him."
When asked about other French rider who can do well in the most important French one-day race, Madiot said there weren't many options. "Of course there's [Sylvain] Chavanel, who's going really well."
"We have William Bonnet in our team. He did well in the Tour of Flanders and especially in the E3 Harelbeke. We had a good one, too, with Yoann Offredo but he's out."
Offredo had a great start to the season and added colour to several races with his attacking. A fourth place in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and a seventh place in Milan Sanremo were the highlights of his campaign, which was halted abruptly in the bunch sprint at the end of Gent-Wevelgem, where the 24-year-old crashed spectacularly into a photographer just after the finish line.
"Other than that there's nobody really. Maybe Adrien Petit from Cofidis. He's got the profile for this race, but currently lacks the engine to play a role of importance," Madiot said.
With few named French options for victory on Sunday, a win from Chavanel might give French cycling a welcome boost.