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France’s great hope: Romain Sicard taking it slow in rookie year

Sicard solo'd to the U23 title last year in Switzerland. AFP PHOTO / POOL /GABRIELE PUTZU

Roman Sicard, the reigning U23 world champion, could be the rider the French have been waiting for since Bernhard Hinault last won the Tour de France in 1985.

Sicard, 22, made his debut on French soil last weekend at the Tour of Haut Var, but he said it’s too early to speak about inheriting Hinault’s throne.

“ I don’t believe I can set concrete goals in my first season. This year, I want to get to know a higher level competing in the biggest races,” he said on a team-posted interview. “I need to learn and continue on my way little by little.”

Sicard made a big splash in 2009, which included victories in the pro ranks at the Subida al Naranco in Spain and overall victory at the Tour de l’Avenir.

The funny thing is, no French teams came calling despite his phenomenal 2009 season. A native of France’s Basque region, Sicard was snagged by Euskaltel-Euskadi and becomes only the second French rider to race for the Basque-backed team.

Sicard made his pro debut at the Tour Down Under, and he quickly fell ill, but bounced back to finish 54th at the Tour du Haut Var last weekend.

“The extra attention from (French) fans shouldn’t influence me, though it’s certain the public’s support will be positive. Their support is very important in cycling,” he said. “I have to concentrate on the work I have to do, on learning and on my progression. I should continue at my own pace.”

Sicard is getting thrown into the deep end for the spring classics, with a heavy schedule that will include Ghent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

His top goals come later in the season, but the team still hasn’t decided if they will send their protégé to the Giro d’Italia or the Vuelta a España. More likely is a start in the Dauphiné Libéré.

“I hope to be at my best in May and June. There are some important races and I should be at my best by then,” he said. “I don’t know if you’ll see me before, it depends on my progress, but I should prioritize on these months.”

No matter where he races this year, the French will be watching closely to how well the Basque team protects their national jewel.

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