By Jean-François Quénet in Sisteron
At the start of stage five of Paris-Nice to Sisteron, polka-dot jersey holder Clément Lhôtellerie made no mystery about his tactics. "I'm too well placed on GC now," the Frenchman said. "My team will try and control the race until the first King of the Mountain prize at km 30." Skil-Shimano did the job and the polka dot jersey of Paris-Nice took first at the top of the climb, securing a comfortable lead with 41 points ahead of Kjell Carlström with 19.
Lhôtellerie first came into the picture when he broke clear with Bradley McGee and the Finnish rider Kjell Carlström Liquigas who out-sprinted him in Saint-Etienne after doing less work along the way. "I have no regret about that," the Frenchman explained. "I had to attack anyway. Even if Carlström had collaborated, he would have beaten me in the sprint. But I don't think about that anymore."
On the other hand, Lhôtellerie easily admits his mistake when he attacked five kilometres away to the top of the Mont Ventoux stage on Thursday. "I lost quite a lot after that," he said. "Before the stage, I didn't know if I had recovered from the day before but I did and I felt very good when we started climbing up the Ventoux." This is a climb he was to use to train on when he was racing as a junior and U23 with VC La Pomme Marseille.
He hails from Charleville-Mézières in the French Ardennes but he learned his job in the famous club of the south of France. He was a mountain-biker and a cyclo-cross rider before switching to the road. "Because of that, I was a climber straight away," the former stagiaire at Crédit Agricole underlined. "I wanted to turn pro as soon as possible but it was my choice not to do it in a ProTour team. I thought an intermediate step was a smart move. When I heard that Skil-Shimano was looking for some young French riders for the 2007 season, I contacted them. I think I've made the right choice. With them I have a good program."
He'll do the Criterium International in his home town and Paris-Roubaix, which isn't new to him. "This race has always made me dream, I like the pavés as much as the climbs," he stated. Last year he finished second to last but he was proud to finish after taking part in the morning breakaway. "I think you need a lot of experience to perform in this race."
Lhôtellerie is a smart man who turned 22 the day of the prologue of Paris-Nice. A former student in physiotherapy, which he did for two years after college, he speaks a fluent English and puts no limit to his cycling ambitions. "Now I wear the polka dot jersey in Paris-Nice but in the future I want this same jersey but in July in a race that lasts for three weeks," he smiled. "I enjoy long breakaways like Richard Virenque did. I'm not afraid of going clear with 200 kilometres to go. I'm not afraid of the mountains. I hope to become one of the world's best climbers."
Considering the current context of professional cycling and the performances of Lhôtellerie and Thierry Hupond at Paris-Nice, the Skil-Shimano Dutch registered team might get an invitation to the Tour de France already in 2008. "Why not?," Lhôtellerie reacted. "Our team doesn't have the structure for that standard of racing yet but everything is possible." The young Frenchman is contracted with Skil-Shimano until the end of 2009 with an option for him to leave at the end of the current season. As France's new climbing sensation, he might be courted by bigger teams pretty soon.