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Giro finale
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An interview with Sylvain Chavanel, March 9, 2005

"Paris-Nice: A Mini Tour de France"

Sylvain Chavanel is enjoying life at Cofidis - his new team for 2005 - after breaking ties with long-time team manager Jean-Rene Bernaudeau. According to Chavanel, he needed a change of scenery and 2005 was just the right time for that change. Stephanie Langlais caught up with Sylvain and found out that he's enjoying his racing and looks forward to being co-leader of a well-respected team. Translated by Chris Henry

Chavanel prepares for the prologue at Paris-Nice
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
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Cyclingnews:Is Paris-Nice a race that appeals to you?

Sylvain Chavanel: The first time I raced Paris-Nice, in 2001, I crashed and was unconscious. I finished the race in the ambulance! But yes, it's a race that I like. I prefer stage races to single day races because you start to feel better from day to day; I get stronger bit by bit. That's what will happen at Paris-Nice.

CN: The bad weather doesn't make you nervous?

SC: No, I'm a rider for all seasons. Whether it's sunny and hot or whether it's raining, it's fine with me! Besides, all of the riders have to deal with the cold, the snow, or the rain, so it doesn't really change anything. We're all up against the same thing. But I do think some stages may be cancelled, like last year, because they've predicted bad weather all week.

CN:You were promoted to leader of your team…

SC: I'll be co-leader with David Moncoutie. My objective is to win a stage and finish in the top 10 overall to earn some points in the Pro Tour classification. If I succeed, I'll be very pleased, particularly considering the field here this year. The level is very high, it's a mini Tour de France.

I don't want to do too much too soon or expose myself to too much pressure. Plus, I've just come off a very bad week. I prepared very well for the Vuelta a Valenciana but it rained for four days there and I think I caught a virus. Wednesday I had a bad cold and that cut off my legs. Now I feel better, and at the end of the week I felt good again in training, so that's a good sign! Besides, you don't lose all of your condition in one week.

Chavanel at the Critérium International in 2004
Photo ©: Franck Fife
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CN: You really don't expect to finish higher than a place in the top 10?

SC: It's true that deep down, I hope to be on the podium…

CN: What do you think of Armstrong's presence here?

SC: That's no problem for me! It's good for the race, and it also brings fans to the side of the road.

CN: Do you like it when people cheer you on?

SC: Yes, when it comes from their hearts. Often, people encourage you just because you're doing well. When you're not winning anymore, they let you know it. The media behaves the same way. I want people to appreciate me for who I am and not treat me differently depending on whether or not I'm riding better or worse. That makes no sense. What remains most important for me is support from my family.

CN:How do you feel in your new team? (Chavanel signed a two year deal with Cofidis at the end of 2004)

SC: Great (big smile)! The team is very well structured, very professional. Now, as far as training goes, I pay more attention to quality over quantity. I have more rest periods, whereas before I would keep riding even when I was running on empty. I've learned to better evaluate my condition. That's more important than just piling up the days in competition, around 80 to 90 each year. I'm present from the beginning to the end of the season.

Warming up before the Tour of Belgium, 2004
Photo ©: Mani Wollner
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CN: You had offers from a number of teams…

SC: Yes, particularly from foreign teams. But I'm happy in France, I want to stay here. La Française des Jeux was also interested. I hesitated a bit… But I didn't want to get in the way of some other riders from that team that have a profile similar to mine, and Cofidis offered me a bit more financially.

CN: What made you leave the side of [Bouygues Telecom directeur sportif] Jean-Rene Bernaudeau?

SC: I've been racing for six years with Jean-Rene Bernaudeau (as a junior with Vende U, then professionally with Bonjour and then Brioches La Boulangere - Ed.). You start to get a bit bored… I wanted a change of pace; I was afraid of falling into a rut. I decided to take a step and challenge myself a bit. I want to see what I'm capable of in this new environment. Either way, it'll be good for me. It's great to be around new people. My entry into the team has really gone well, I very quickly became part of the group. Simply put, I'm in my element here!

CN: How would you describe your 2004 season?

SC: It was a good year (silence)…

CN: I read that you were a bit disappointed with your Tour de France?

SC: No, not disappointed. I had a great experience at the Tour with Thomas (Voeckler's) yellow jersey. Personally, what I missed was a stage win. I rode for the team, which was normal, and I don't regret it. It was great to be a part of that.

CN: Was the fact that you weren't the sole leader at Brioches La Boulangere one of your reasons for leaving?

Chavanel discusses a protest
Photo ©: Karen Lambrecht
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SC: A little bit, for sure. But I'd rather not talk about it. I was loyal to Jean-Rene Bernaudeau since I started. I discovered the world of professional cycling through him. Now I want to see some other things, get a new perspective. Everything went very well when I left the team.

CN: What did you learn from your years with Bernaudeau?

SC: There was a great sense of camaraderie. My three first years there were the best. I don't know that I'll ever find another ambiance like we had then. Really, I've felt a bit alone since the death of Fabrice Salanson. I lost a friend. That was a turning point, and since then, I've had time to reflect. Perhaps it's also because of that that I decided to leave.

CN: Do you have any close friends in the peloton?

SC: Not close friends, no. Competition will always be competition! I'm not the same guy as I am in normal life. For example, people tell me I'm affectionate, but on the bike I'm a jerk. I'm reserved, I don't talk a lot, and frankly I don't really want to.

CN: Does it bother you that you're no longer on the same team as your brother, Sebastien?

SC: Actually, that doesn't change much. We weren't seeing each other much last year since we weren't doing the same races (he's more of a sprinter).

Chavanel time trials hard
Photo ©: Luc Claessen/Cyclingnews.com
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CN: What have you set as objectives for 2005?

SC: Paris-Nice, the Dauphiné Libéré, the French national championships (road and time trial), and one or two classics: Liège-Bastogne-Liège or Milan-San Remo.

CN: And the Tour de France?

SC: It's an objective, of course, but it's different. What will change relative to 2004 will be my approach to the Tour de France. I'm going to have a long break beforehand, around four or five weeks, to go on vacation with my family and build up my morale. Then I'll go to the Vuelta a Catalunya to work on my climbing, then to the Dauphiné, which I've only ridden once (and even then I was asked to abandon because of illness).

But like I said, I'm competitive from the beginning of the season to the end. I don't ride just for the Tour de France. I'm way too young to do that. Before I sacrifice everything for the Tour, I have to first see what I'm worth in other races. What I'm missing right now is a big victory, a real breakthrough. But maybe that'll never even happen (laughs)! I prefer to live day by day.

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