By Andrew Hood
What a March it’s been for Sylvain Chavanel. Earlier this month, the Cofidis rider became the first Frenchman to win a stage at Paris-Nice en route to ninth overall in the Race to the Sun since 2002.
On Wednesday, the 28-year-old soloed home in the 200km semi-classic to become the first Frenchman to win Dwars door Vlaanderen on a cold, grimy afternoon in Belgium’s Flanders region.
Chavanel won 26 seconds ahead of Steven de Jongh (Quick Step), which led home a chase group ahead of two-time ex-champ Niko Eeckhout (Topsport Vlaanderen).
“It’s the first time I’ve competed here and it’s my first win,” Chavanel said. “It’s a wonderful feeling. I will race in the Tour of Flanders, but that will be another story.”
Many of the big guns were taking part in the 63rd edition of the race to hone their form ahead of next month’s Tour of Flanders. Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) was active on the Valkenberg before things livened up on the l’Eikenberg, with Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto), Matti Breschel (CSC) and Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) setting a brisk pace to fracture the peloton.
Chavanel counter-attacked an elite group of riders with about 9km to go and was strong enough to carry home his third victory of the 2008 season.
The win adds Chavanel’s name to the list of contenders for Flanders on April 6.