Guest Voice: Sebastien Chavanel – our man in the peloton

Last year FDJ physio Sophie Chavanel shared her experiences throughout the season. This year it’s the turn of her husband, sprinter Sebastien Chavanel, who has returned to ride for FDJ as Nacer Bouhanni’s poisson pilote. Seb will be VeloVoices’ man in the peloton, revealing team tactics and giving his view of how races unfold for FDJ. Here’s his tale from last week’s French stage race Etoile de Besseges.

Stage 1: Bellegarde to Beaucaire, 154.5km

FDJ won two stages here last year and it was clear teams expected us to set the pace on the first day. The plan was for three riders to set tempo on the front of the peloton to protect our two general classification leaders – national road race champion Arthur Vichot and Jeremy Roy – leaving two riders, including me, to help Nacer Bouhanni on the final stretch.

Seb Chavanel riding shot gun for Nacer Bouhanni (image: Pressesports)

Seb Chavanel riding shotgun for Nacer Bouhanni (Image: Pressesports)

Climatic conditions were far from ideal with plenty of rain and a maximum temperature of only 8°C!

After only 20km, the six breakaway riders had an advantage of 8:30 and soon after the team started to work to reel them in. Unfortunately, none of the other teams wanted to give us a hand. At the finish, the breakaway still had a 20-second advantage and we didn’t need to sprint because Nacer flatted with less than 1km left. We were as deflated as Nacer’s wheel after all that hard work. Still, tomorrow’s another day!

Stage 2: Nimes to Saint-Ambroix, 149.3km

After yesterday’s disappointment, today everyone was riding for Nacer but at least the race leader’s team Topsport Vlaanderen would also have to work at the front. The Belgium team succeeded in keeping the break’s advantage to around 3:30.

The stage concluded with five 7km laps. As we readied ourselves for the inevitable sprint finish, we sent Laurent Pichon to the front for the last kilometre. My work began with 550 metres remaining and I took the last corner in the lead with Nacer on my wheel. I dropped him off with about 180 metres to go and he sailed across the line to record our first victory of the season!

Nacer later said:

Laurent Pichon took charge from the flamme rouge and rode strongly. Afterwards, Sebastian launched his effort at just the right moment. He dropped me off perfectly at around 200m to go.

This winter, I insisted that I should have Sebastien Chavanel at my side. I realised that I didn’t have enough support last season. With Geoffrey Soupe, Laurent Pichon and Sebastien Chavanel, I’m going to have a great train all season long.

FDJ's opening victory of 2014 season (image: FDJ)

FDJ’s opening victory of 2014 season (Image: FDJ)

Of course, the first win lifts the weight of expectation off all our shoulders and we look forward to raising a small celebratory coupe of champagne over dinner. Everyone’s very happy and more relaxed.

Stage 3: Besseges to Besseges, 152.6km

Today was the best stage for the GC riders. After only 10km on the first climb of the day, the five-man breakaway included Arthur.

In the closing stages, Giant-Shimano worked to pull back the break to set up John Degenkolb. A bunch sprint was inevitable and we set about preparing the sprint train but in the last 2km the bunch broke up and it wasn’t easy.

Nonetheless, with 500 metres remaining, I tried to take Nacer as close to the finish line as possible. He was a little bit nervous and I began my sprint at 350m, but it was into a headwind so it was very difficult for me to get to the 150-metre marker. Nacer finished second to Europcar’s Bryan Coquard and he was very disappointed. But tomorrow’s another day – forza!

Stage 4: Goudargues to Laudun, 156.3km

Today was the last possible stage for a puncher because the finish was atop a little climb. Like yesterday, the break formed early on, after only 3km. When the gap was around three minutes, we started to work on the front for both Nacer and Arthur. The final stretch was very, very stressful and, with less than 3km remaining, three of my teammates were caught up in a crash: Laurent, Nacer and Benoit Vaugrenard.

I continued to work for Arthur. I started with around 1,500 metres remaining up until 500 metres leaving Arthur in fourth but Coquard was faster and won his second stage while Arthur finished fifth. I was satisfied that I’d done my job but the team aren’t smiling this evening as Laurent has gone to hospital and we’re awaiting news.

Stage 5: Ales to Ales individual time trial, 10.7km

Today was the last stage, an ITT. The three guys who crashed yesterday didn’t start. Laurent’s okay but he had to have stitches in his facial wounds. There were just two of our riders in the reckoning but they were both disappointed as the winner of the stage [Giant-Shimano’s Tobias Ludvigsson – Ed] took the overall. They were close, but not close enough.

On balance, we won a stage but perhaps didn’t do as well overall as we’d hoped and an awful lot of work went into that solitary victory.

Watch out for more Guest Voice updates from Sebastien Chavanel during the course of the season.

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