DE PANNE, Belgium (VN) — Confirming that he’s a pre-race favorite for Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, French national champion Sylvain Chavanel upset the TT specialists Thursday to win the stage 3b time trial and take the general classification at the Three Days of De Panne stage race.
Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) rode the flat 14km time trial in 17:49 (30.75mph), four seconds faster than stage runner-up Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM). Chavanel finished ahead of Westra and Poland’s Maciej Bodnar (Liquigas-Cannondale) in the overall standings to become the first French winner of the race in its 36-year history.
With the victory, Chavanel also became the tenth Omega Pharma rider to register a win this season, extending the team’s consecutive win streak to four, following Niki Terpstra’s victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen last week and Tom Boonen’s sweep of E3 Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem over the weekend.
The win came as just desserts for Chavanel, who has worked to improve his race against the clock. “This win is the fruit of work done over the winter on my riding position,” he said. “I finished sixth in the time trial at the Tour of San Luis [in Argentina], then fourth in a time trial in Paris-Nice. Finally I’ve won.”
Unlike many Flanders contenders, Chavanel said his goal at De Panne was always the win.
“It was my goal to win this race,” Chavanel said. “When I left my family, I said, ‘I will go to win.’ I was a bit afraid of Westra, but I was concentrated. I like these races in Belgium. The first day was very important, you could not lose any time.”
Canadian national champion Svein Tuft (GreenEdge) was the highest-placed North American, finishing third on the stage, 17 seconds behind Chavanel.
“I felt good, it was one of those days, you always hope to feel good on an important time trial day, and it was a good ride,” Tuft said. “I am familiar with the course, I’ve ridden it a few times, so I had good memorization of the course, and it’s a course that suits me. I had a little trouble; I caught a guy in one of the [180-degree] turnarounds, and the follow car was stuck in between us, so I lost a little time there, and I was concerned that with caliber of riders here, it was going to be very close. You don’t want that to hold you up, and I was fortunate to get through, but it bobbled my momentum a bit.”
Along with 37 other riders, Chavanel started the stage 12 seconds behind race leader Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).
After finishing fourth in Oudenaarde on stage 1 and second in Koksijde on stage 2, Kristoff finally took his first victory of the year on stage 3a. The Norwegian national champion outsprinted German Andrè Schulze (NetApp) and Dutch rider Kenny van Hummel (Vacansoleil) for the victory across cobblestones.
“I’d done that sprint finish in 2010, so I remember the cobbles,” Kristoff said. “We also saw the finish one time before the finish line [on finishing circuits]. It’s not easy to sprint on the cobbles, but I felt strong, and the team did a good effort to bring me to the front. I had the best lead-out, I could really save energy at the end. I wanted to start my sprint early, and I almost got passed, but I managed to hold them off. I’m really happy with the victory.”
Though he has promised to work for teammate Tom Boonen at Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, Chavanel’s win confirms that the Omega Pharma superdomestique, who finished second at Flanders in 2011, goes into the race as one of the favorites.
“We have a very strong team, but the pressure is not only on our shoulders,” Chavanel said. “The first thing I am going to do, though, is enjoy this victory and drink a glass of wine this evening.”