On Thursday, June 17, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team experienced one of the greatest days of its long history. In the 2021 French time trial championship, Marc Madiot’s riders clearly dominated the competition and actually monopolized all podium spots! Two years after his first title, Benjamin Thomas took the jersey back while Bruno Armirail and Alexys Brunel won the silver and bronze medals respectively. A perfect day, simple as that.

“I don’t realize yet”, Benjamin Thomas

A year after losing it, Groupama-FDJ aimed to conquer the tricolour jersey again on Thursday. In order to do that, they could count on several men on the quite demanding course of Épinal, across forty-five kilometres. “There was a little more elevation gain than last year, but we actually did the recon, we realized that it did not really feel like it,” said Anthony Bouillod, one of the team’s coaches. “The climbs were less steep than last year, which was rather to our advantage”. The rider from the organization to set off was the Conti member Enzo Paleni shortly before 4pm. Clément Davy, who went from that same Conti to the WorldTeam last winter, started soon after and showed his elders the way. The former Junior French Champion got better and better during the time trial and even set the best provisional time when he got to the line. “He had a very good performance”, said Anthony. “His work in Arnaud’s group also allows him to ride strong as he did today. He clearly improved”. Later, Alexys Brunel, Bruno Armirail and Benjamin Thomas, all candidates for the podium, also left the start area. And all three did end up with a medal around their neck on Thursday, as the defending champion Rémi Cavagna did not have his best day.

A leader at every intermediate check, Benjamin Thomas dominated the event from start to finish to take his blue-white-red jersey back. “It is obviously a huge satisfaction,” he said. “I don’t realize yet. Although I might have come here with a little less preparation this year, I came from a very tough Tour de Suisse and was confident in my possibilities. I didn’t necessarily think about Rémi. I wanted to focus on my own effort first. I started a bit too fast, I struggled a little afterwards but I had the gaps on Bruno and I think that was a little advantage. In the head, it helps to better manage and not explode. That being said, the last kilometers were endless. Today I really gave the best of myself. It was certainly hot but I was able to take advantage of it. I handled it pretty well, even though I suffered like everyone else.” “I am not so surprised by Benjamin, although his preparation was not made for the French championship”, added Anthony, his trainer. “It was more of a crossing point for the Olympics’ goal, not a clear goal like in 2019. However, the last two weeks had given us a lot of confidence. He was in good condition and, more importantly, his approach and the heat conditions were similar to those of two years ago. That also gave him confidence.”

“It’s really amazing”, Alexys Brunel

His runner-up for the day, Bruno Armirail, also proved extremely consistent throughout the 45-kilometre course. Third at the first checkpoint, second in the second one, he logically got his second consecutive podium in the French Time Trial championship. “Third last year, second this year,” summed-up Bruno. “I missed out on the title but Benjamin was the strongest today. I hope I’ll be able to win the jersey in the next few years, but I’m still satisfied to be on the podium today. I didn’t make any mistakes. The goal was not to start a bit slower than usual because we know what the heat can do to you. Then I had nothing to lose. When I realized I was fighting against Benjamin, I tried to go as deep as I could. With this new podium, I prove my consistency, but the ultimate goal is to win. It’s good to score podiums and top-5s, but I’m missing that victory. I still hope to have a little room for improvement. This year, I prepared the time trial less than usual because I prioritized climbing. I’m hoping to improve on my position and a lot of other things in order to try to get the win next year.”

Ultimately, Alexys Brunel also intends to get closer to the French champion jersey. In the meantime, the 22-year-old young man, who is a long-time time specialist, set a superb performance today. He indeed took third, less than a minute from Benjamin Thomas. “From a personal point of view, it’s really amazing,” he said. “It’s my first podium in a French pro championship and I was kind of looking forward to it. It’s a little surprise considering that I got sick on the Tour de Suisse, couldn’t finish it and didn’t have the best feeling in training. On the other hand, it is not such a surprise, as I also know my qualities. When I saw the course, I knew it was a pretty good one to me because of it being pretty hard. When I caught Stéphane Rossetto, I realized that I was doing a good time and that I was on a good day. Then I finished focusing on my feelings and I did not crack. It’s nice. Year after year, I gain places and that’s my goal: to keep doing better and better. I’m still far from the jersey, there is still a lot of work to do and I know it. Yet, I do everything to make it happen. Hopefully I can wear it one day, that’s one of my career goals.”

“A fair reward”, Marc Madiot

For now, Alexys Brunel has already taken part in a historic 1-2-3, giving company to Benjamin Thomas and Bruno Armirail on the final podium. “Apart from the individual performances, having three men on the podium shows all the hard work done by the coaches, mechanics, assistants and all staff,” said Anthony. “Today, it really is a team performance, and this can only be explained by the work done behind the scenes”. The riders could only endorse such a statement. “The team performance is huge”, said the new French champion. “It’s a great satisfaction for us. It’s the icing on the cake for the team, which invests so much in equipment and everything else. We really have the best conditions to perform”. “The team is doing everything they can in this area,” Alexys added. “We have top equipment, we can’t do better! It’s so great to be in such a team, which is so dedicated to the time trial. For runners like us, it’s really exciting. Making 1-2-3 is historic. I think the team couldn’t have asked for better today”.

A very happy man to say the last, general manager Marc Madiot also had a word about this memorable day: “To take the first three places is a bit unexpected. We were hoping to be in the fight for the win, and it turned into a 1-2-3. We should also point out the sixth place for Clément Davy and the performance of Enzo Paleni. Our guys were ready, they were on good day and are also enjoying a good momentum. It is also very nice with regard to our R&D investment together with Lapierre and Fred [Grappe]. The coaches are also extremely precise when it comes to preparation, so that’s a fair reward”. It is also one title already in the bags in these 2021 French Championships. “It gives us confidence and it may also take away a little pressure for Sunday”, concluded Benjamin Thomas. “We will approach the road race with more peace of mind, but still with a lot of ambition. We have always been up there for several years, and we hope to be there again on Sunday with a strong and ambitious team”.

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