Chavanel key to Omega Pharma success at Flanders, says Steels

Omega Pharma director says with new finale, there is no chance to get back if a rider is dropped at Flanders

KOKSIJDE, Belgium (VN) — Sylvain Chavanel is key to Omega Pharma-Quick Step taking another win in the Tour of Flanders on Sunday in Oudenaarde, says team director Tom Steels. The Frenchman, second last year, will start as Tom Boonen’s right-hand man and a potential winner in his own right.

“We have Tom who’s proved in the last couple of weeks, even in the last couple of months, that he’s in good shape. But Chavanel, too. He’s not that big of a winner, but in that kind of race, he’s one of our best riders,” Steels told VeloNews. “He’s eager to win and show his potential.”

Steels leaned against the team’s Peugeot car at the finish Wednesday in Koksijde after the second of four stages at the Three Days of De Panne. Chavanel rode over, took a bottle and rode to the team’s hotel to rest, prepare for the final stages tomorrow and then the 255km monument on Sunday.

“He’s healthy,” Steels said. “He had a problem [bronchitis] ahead of Milan-San Remo, but it was same problem last year in Paris-Nice. He’s ok now. He’s eager to win and show his potential.”

Steels is no stranger to what it takes to win on the bergs of Flanders. He won the Belgian championship four times, nine stages in the Tour de France and Ghent-Wevelgem twice. He mostly keeps watch on the Omega Pharma’s young riders, like Andy Fenn and Matthew Brammeier, but thanks to his experience, is connected to Boonen and Chavanel.

Boonen has won Flanders twice and in the last week, he proved ready for a third victory with wins at the E3 Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem.

“We really connect, we’re good friends,” Boonen said after Harelbeke of Chavanel. “We don’t have any problem with helping each other.”

The E3 Harelbeke semi-classic is a mini-Flanders, featuring many of the same climbs riders will face on Sunday. In that prelude, the two riders worked together flawlessly. Chavanel escaped after the Oude Kwaremont climb and rode free, over the Tiegemberg, until seven kilometers to go. The move set up Boonen, who pounced in the sprint for his record-breaking fifth Harelbeke win.

Steels explained that using the team’s strength and numbers would also be important in Flanders, especially with changes to the parcours this year. The organizers decided to bypass the Muur-Kapelmuur, but take riders over the Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont three times each.

“It’s not going to be easy. It’s a very hard course with the Kwaremont and Paterberg, and all the other ones in between. There is almost no chance to organize. And, when you’re dropped, your dropped, there is not even a possibility to come back,” Steels continued.

“Some guys will for sure try to break it open, guys like Stijn Devolder who lack the explosiveness on the hills. Those guys are going to break it up early. You have to really be at the right place at the right time.”