By Jean-François Quénet in Vienne, France
Maxime Monfort (Cofidis) showed great form at the beginning of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. Showing off his improved time trialing ability, the rider finished fourth in the prologue behind Levi Leipheimer (Astana), Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne).
"This result increases my motivation for Wednesday's time trial," said the Belgian. "I'm not at 100 percent of my capacities yet, but I'll target a top 10 finish."
Monfort has been trialing a new position for time trialing that really suits him. "Now I focus on time trials and I enjoy it, I know how important it is for stage races," he said.
Monfort assessed what his specialty is during his first year as a professional with Landbouwkrediet. While at the squad he claimed victory at the Tour of Luxembourg in his first professional season and has since moved to French ProTour outfit Cofidis.
"Stage races are what I'm the best at," said Monfort, who finished 11th at the Vuelta a España last year.
The rider had his eye on contesting last year's Tour de France, but wasn't on Cofidis' roster for the French Grand Tour. While disappointed at first, the decision meant he avoided the drama that followed, with the whole team pulling out of the race after a positive test from Cristian Moreni.
For Monfort, who is one of the leaders of the young generation against drugs use, it would have been a difficult situation to be forced to go home because of somebody else.
"I was very disappointed to be left out of the Tour team, but everything is fine now," he explained. "My start is guaranteed this year. I'm looking forward to my first participation to the Tour de France.
"I know I'll have to take the initiative and secure some advance to the big leaders before the mountains," he added. "I'll have to profit from the stages with little mountains. That's what I did at the Vuelta last year."
Monfort is improving so much that the French speaking part of Belgium will have at least two stars to watch during the coming Tour. Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) is the second rider from the region in the picture.
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