MILAN (VN) — France’s top-ranked cyclist Sylvain Chavanel and his new team, IAM Cycling, are preparing for the 2014 season. After four years with Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Chavanel is going full-speed into a new era. “Chava” is racing cyclocross and forgoing a true offseason break in a bid to hit the classics running.
“The older I get, the more my body becomes a diesel engine,” he told France’s La Nouvelle Republique. “It takes time to ramp up.”
In the last four years, the 34-year-old helped Tom Boonen win several big classics. He also achieved results for himself in the spring, including a runner-up finish in the 2011 Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) and a fourth in this year’s Milano-Sanremo.
Next year, however, will be one of his most important seasons since he made the switch to Omega Pharma in 2009. As one of IAM Cycling’s few leaders, Chavanel will head the blue and white team through the classics. Good results there could help the squad earn a wildcard invitation to the Tour de France.
Team owner Michel Thétaz told VeloNews that is what “Chava” wanted when he signed with the second division Swiss team.
“We had several big riders, including Chavanel, that wanted to join our team. We turned a few down but welcomed Chavanel,” Thétaz said. “In our team, he will be the clear leader.”
It was also the personal touch, added Thétaz, that drew Chavanel, Jérôme Pineau (Omega Pharma), Vicente Reynes (Lotto-Belisol) and Mathias Frank (BMC Racing) from first division teams to IAM.
“Chavanel and those guys know that with a smaller team they will be taken care of,” Thétaz said. “It’s not like we have the big budget, but what we do have is the family atmosphere that comes along with a second division team.”
Chavanel must feel obliged to provide for his new family in Switzerland. The intensive offseason should see him start in his first road race, Grand Prix La Marseillaise, on February 2 with his engine already running hot. From there, in the south of France, it is not that far to the cobbled northern classics that are sprinkled in the following two months.
“Previously, I’d completely stopped for five to six weeks,” Chavanel said. “With age I find that I have to keep the pace. I do micro-breaks, maybe doing some other form of exercise like playing tennis or running.”
He explained that he will participate in about a dozen cyclocross races over the winter, some with his 8-year-old son. In the spring, Chavanel will lead IAM in the classics, starting with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on March 1.
Thétaz said the team’s goal is two-fold: classics and stage races with Frank. “Last year, Heinrich Haussler was isolated a lot,” he said. “Now we have Chavanel and several strong puncheurs: Reynes, Pineau, and [Roger] Kluge.”
This year, Tour de France organizer ASO faced a difficult decision. Instead of four wildcard invitations, it only had three given that there were 19 first division teams. The nod went to the French teams. Next year, the first division will feature 18 teams and ASO will again have four invitations to extend.
“I feel confident we’ll be invited,” Thétaz said.
Chavanel, who has won three Tour stages, is becoming confident too as he builds for what is approaching on the horizon.