Sébastien Turgot surprised many by swooping to second place at Paris-Roubaix last year and the Europcar rider enters this year's race with ambitions of another podium finish after a solid performance at the Tour of Flanders last weekend.
Turgot's campaign to date has been a model of quiet consistency – 15th at Milan-San Remo, 10th at E3 Harelbeke and 8th at the Tour of Flanders – but the crux of his spring will be played out this Sunday on the rocky road to Roubaix.
"The morale is very good, I've prepared well for Paris-Roubaix and all the Classics this year," Turgot told Cyclingnews. "In Flanders I was already up there in 8th place with all of the best Classics riders in the world, so now I'm looking forward to Sunday."
Turgot's striking progress over the past two years has mirrored the remarkable development of his Europcar team, even if it has not been without its controversies. He risked suspension last summer when he was placed under investigation after apparently recording three violations of the whereabouts system for anti-doping controls, although he was eventually cleared by the French federation.
Prior to last year, Turgot's stand-out result was third place in Paris-Tours in 2008, and his best display on the pavé had been 14th place in the under-23 version of Paris-Roubaix in 2006. On a slate grey Easter Sunday in northern France, however, Turgot emerged from relative obscurity to land on the Paris-Roubaix podium.
"That result was a bit of a déclic for me and it has given me a lot of confidence," Turgot said. "It's been a few years now that Team Europcar has invested time and energy in the Classics, and put together a good group for these races and it's encouraging to see that it's working. I just hope that it doesn't stop here and that we can continue to evolve and strengthen our group next year."
Turgot will be flanked by Paris-Nice prologue winner Damien Gaudin and Sébastien Chavanel in Europcar's Paris-Roubaix line-up, and French cycling in general is enjoying something of a quiet resurgence in the Classics. Five Frenchmen placed in the top 20 at the Tour of Flanders last week, and much is expected from Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and FDJ trio Yoann Offredo, Matthieu Ladagnous and Arnaud Démare.
"It's not just me, it's clear that there are a lot of French riders who are starting to get results in the Classics," he said. "This generation is getting to know these races and get results."
Whether that promise can transfer into France's first Paris-Roubaix winner since Frédéric Guesdon in 1997 remains to be see, however, and the presence of Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) on the start in Compiègne certainly complicates matters for any other contenders.
"Tactically, I don't know how we'll go about it but you'll have to be smart," Turgot said, coyly. "The one certainty is that it's going to be very, very hard to beat Cancellara in this kind of form. And on top of that, he's very motivated because he had no luck in the Classics last year.
"We'll see how it pans out. The first thing to consider really is how the weather is going to be on Sunday, and after that we can start to think about the rest. You can have your tactics and plans before the race but that can all go out the window according to luck and form on the day. It's certainly going to be complicated to beat Cancellara, but we'll have a go."
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