Like four of his teammates, Valentin Madouas was set to discover the Tour of Flanders this Sunday. That was quite a discovery for him. Unlike Stefan Küng who unfortunately suffered stomach issues, the Groupama-FDJ’s puncher took part in the final part of the race and battled some of the Ronde’s favourites. He even got to the home stretch hoping for the podium in the Flandrian Monument. He eventually ended up in 14th place, but he’s already looking forward to coming back.

“Stefan’s condition was not sufficient for him to be in front”, Frédéric Guesdon

The fourth Monument of the cycling season took place on Sunday. Exceptionally, it was also the last. Due to the cancellation of Paris-Roubaix, scheduled for next week, the Tour of Flanders was the last big event for the Classic riders in this very special year. Also, without the Hell of the North as a “catch-up” session, the “Ronde” was all the more important. After an early start, the fight for the breakaway even took place for almost thirty minutes before a group of six managed to go. Gijs Van Hoecke (CCC), Dimitri Peyskens (Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles), Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-hansgrohe), Samuele Battistella (NTT), Danny van Poppel (Circus-Wanty Gobrt) and Fabio Van den Bossche (Sport Vlaanderen Baloise) could enjoy an eight-minute lead before the peloton started to be tense entering the second half of the course. The first counter-attacks occurred with a little more than hundred kilometers from the finish, as Kevin Geniets and Valentin Madouas tried to get into some of the moves. However, the selection was made from behind, and an ill Stefan Küng got dropped in the second time up to the Oude Kwaremont.

“Stefan was unwell on Friday, and even if it seemed to be better since yesterday, he was a bit doubtful this morning”, explained Frédéric. “We thought, “let’s try and we’ll see”. We tried to remain confident, but when the race really started I asked him if he was feeling well, and he said no. He held for 200 kilometers, but his condition was not sufficient to ride the Tour of Flanders in the front. We then gave some space to Rudy, Valentin and Kevin”. There was nearly fifty kilometers left to cover and the team still had these three cards in a first bunch of about fifty men. Following a few moves after the frightening Koppenberg, Van Aert, Van der Poel and Alaphilippe went away while Valentin Madouas and Rudy Molard got into a chasing group. However, it did not last for Molard, who suffered a puncture approaching the Taieenberg. His fellow-compatriot was therefore the last rider of the team to remain in front. He even tried to bridge cross with the defending champion Alberto Bettiol, but did not succeed. The leading trio then became a duo when Alaphilippe collided with a motorcycle, and Madouas found himself in chase, battling for remaining places. Quite impressive on the bergs, he never got dropped from the second group featuring the rest of the event’s favourites.

“I hope to come back for a better performance”, Valentin Madouas

While Van der Poel and Van Aert went to sprint for victory in Oudernarde – the Dutchman being crowned -, fifteen got together for third place. Valentin Madouas tried to play his cards but he had to settle for fourteenth. “It’s nice to be at the front of the race, but I’m a little disappointed with my place in the end,” he said. “When we arrive for third, we definitely hope to do better, but I had nothing left in the legs. I tried to anticipate the sprint a bit because I knew there were still some great sprinters around and that third place would be difficult to grab.” Although the result could have been a bit better, the 24-year-old man still enjoyed his first time in Flanders. “I lacked a bit of experience in this race, he confessed, but for a first, I am really satisfied. We can see that it is very important to know the roads and the climbs. You have to be in the right place at the right time. We are lucky to have Fred and Martial who know the course very well and guide us very well on the radio. I had the legs to be in the top 5/7 at the finish. It’s a pretty good sign and I hope to come back for a better performance in the next few years.”

According to Frédéric Guesdon, the balance of the final Classic of the year was also rather positive. “It’s just a shame that Stefan got sick, because we had a very strong team”, still recalled the sports director. “Considering what he had shown in the last few weeks, we could have aimed for victory or at least a very good result. We are disappointed from this point of view, but being sick does happen. Rudy’s puncture is part of the race, but it’s also disappointing because he was in a really good position. We could have done a lot better but we know it’s a race where anything can happen. We had five riders discovering the Tour of Flanders, and one of them finished in the top 15 playing third. It’s not bad, so let’s say it’s still satisfying. Valentin and Rudy had a great time on this race. Rudy had been telling us for a while that he wanted to do it, and Valentin had been scheduled since the start of the year. In any case, it’s not really a surprise to see them perform well in this race. Like Kevin, they were “rookies” but did very well. It’s encouraging for the future”.

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