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Sylvain Chavanel hopes to salvage Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s classics season

Chavanel has the green light — but can he go against Cancellara?

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COMPIEGNE, France (VN) — Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel has an absolute green light to lead Omega Pharma-Quick Step in Paris-Roubaix Sunday. With Tom Boonen out with a cracked rib and the Belgian team’s full backing, it is up to him to rebound from Ronde van Vlaanderen.

Chavanel sat in perfect position on the Kwaremont last week, but saw eventual winner Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) ride clear with Peter Sagan (Cannondale). He saved himself for the unfavorable sprint and managed 13th.

The result was less than ideal and added to the team’s problems. Only 19km into the race, it lost its leader and three-time winner Boonen to a crash. Despite the blows, Chavanel said he is motivated to take on Roubaix.

“It’s not that there’s less motivation. Maybe that affected a lot of people on the team, me too,” Chavanel said in a press conference Friday. “We’re still motivated, we’ve still got eight riders on the team, and if I wasn’t motivated, I’d go home.”

Chavanel played down his leadership role. After Boonen’s crash, though, he is the de facto leader and has the very heavy weight of salvaging Omega Pharma’s spring campaign.

“I’m just sure that I’ll be a good card on Sunday,” Chavanel said. “I haven’t necessarily claimed a certain role on the team. I don’t need eight riders at my side to protect me; one is enough. I don’t really like this position where a whole team is sacrificed for one rider.”

Pushed, he acknowledged that behind the heavy favorite, Cancellara, he stands an equal chance of winning with a handful of other riders.

“I think Taylor Phinney, he could be up there, but beyond that, I think Juan Antonio Flecha, Filippo Pozzato … Chavanel.”

Dutch champion Niki Terpstra will be Omega Pharma’s plan B.

The heavy favorite

Cancellara destroyed everyone in Ronde. Only Sagan was able to stay with the Swiss specialist on the Kwaremont, but he too became dislodged shortly after on the Paterberg.

Everyone greeting the crowd at Friday’s team presentation in Compiègne is worried the Cancellara show will continue in northern France.

As regards what happened in Ronde, said Chavanel, “it wasn’t ridiculous, but almost.”

“You can’t give him 2 meters. Otherwise, finished. But he fell Wednesday and he fell Thursday, so it’s never won. You never know.”

Chavanel shook his head at the idea that he could have attacked early in Ronde to put Cancellara on his back foot. It was going too fast, he said, and it would have been a waste of energy. With Boonen, he admitted, it would have been a different story.

Given Cancellara’s emphatic win and the end of the cobbled campaign, Chavanel says that teams will be willing to risk riders and try early moves. Again, the idea is to put Cancellara on the back foot.

“We have a strong team collectively and we have to make the most of that,” Chavanel said. “He’s used to having the whole peloton on his wheel and he knows how to manage that.

“We’ll have to play it intelligently on a tactical level. It’s always a possibility, he’s never sure of winning. I know it can seem that way, but in 2011, Johan Vansummeren won and he was second.”

Chavanel hopes that everything else falls into place — Omega Pharma plays a perfect tactical game, perhaps Cancellara suffers a bit from his crashes — so that he can take advantage of the green light given to him.