Knowing he is racing in the red and white of Cofidis for perhaps the last time was not the only spur for Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel prior to his maiden victory on the Tour de France Friday.
Chavanel, enjoying a breakthrough season at the relatively late age of 29, was given a boost by the memories of a close friend who committed suicide last year.
“It happened while I was racing at the Tour of Spain last year,” said Chavanel after the end of Friday’s 165.5km stage. “That was all I could think about in the final couple of kilometres. So this victory is for him.”
After incessant attacks throughout the Tour, most of which ended up with him being reeled in by the peloton, Chavanel finally got his just rewards on Friday after beating comptriot Jeremy Roy in a two-man sprint to the finish line.
“It’s my eighth Tour de France, so you could say I’ve been expecting this for a while,” said Chavanel, the older brother of Francaise des Jeux sprinter Sebastien. “It’s the first time I’ve managed to take one of my breakaways on this race all the way. It just shows, if you keep at it you can succeed.”
Chavanel has been hailed as one of France’s most talented riders for years, and most feel that despite a number of big wins he has, until this season, often flattered to deceive.
His move to Cofidis in 2005, after cutting his teeth with the Bonjour and Boulangere team of respected manager Jean-Rene Bernaudeau, gave Chavanel the chance to relaunch his career. It also made him the highest paid cyclist in France, although in the past he has brushed off suggestions that Cofidis have failed to reap the benefits.
“I’ve heard it a thousand times, but it doesn’t bother me,” said Chavanel. “I’m not ashamed by the amount of money I earn because I know it’s honest money.”
It was only after winning two prestigious Flemish one-day ‘semi-classics’ earlier this spring that Chavanel finally won respect from both his detractors in France, and his peers in Europe’s cycling elite. Having seen teammate Samuel Dumoulin claim victory on the third stage, Chavanel could hardly fail to follow.
It took a lot of effort, but it was all worth it before he starts counting down the days towards racing for QuickStep – Belgium’s biggest team – where he will be expected to help Belgium’s biggest cycling star Tom Boonen add further one-day classic crowns to his collection.
“It’s been a great season for me so far. I’ve really moved up a level,” added Chavanel. “This is the best present I could offer to Cofidis before I head off on what should be a new adventure for me.”
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008