A member of the “Conti” since last winter, Antoine Raugel (22) is one of the most experienced riders of the team’s line-up for the 2021 season. A cyclist for fifteen years, the young Frenchman already has a large background in the sport. The former crossman proved quite successful in his first races with his new team, and we went to get to know him better.

As far back as he can remember, Antoine Raugel has always been immersed in cycling. His dad was a decent amateur rider in the East of France. With him, he obviously travelled a lot on the regional races, so it could appear natural for him to follow this path. The reality is not that simple. He was certainly only seven years old when his adventure on two wheels really began, but cycling came to him more than he came to cycling. “At first, I was doing basketball and judo,” he says. “My father would slow me regarding cycling. In his opinion, you’re more likely to get fed up with it if you start too early. However, one day, a manager of my father’s club, the Vélo Club Eckwersheim, rang at our door. They needed a boy to do the cycling schools’ all-around competition in Alsace, which was an important event at the time. Daniel, that’s his name, had seen me ride a bike before and wanted me to take a permit in order to complete the team. He insisted but he left with a “no” from my parents. Still, a week later, he came back, knocked on the door and said: I paid him his permit, he has to come!”. Antoine Raugel quickly rewarded his benefactor’s investment at the regional competition. “I went there, and I won the first event: the road race,” he recalls. “It’s funny because no one knew me. Then, there were the skill games and I sucked at it as I had never practised it before. However, I won the cyclocross and the sprint after that! I finished second overall. For my first time on a cycling competition, it was great and the club was super happy. I quickly got a taste for it”.

His name on a bike, passionate about cyclocross

On a side note, he gave his first pedal strokes with quite an original bike, literally and figuratively. “My father, who is a metal worker, made me a small bike with heating tubes,” Antoine smiles, though he was sadly unable to get his hands on the object again. “He also painted it. Therefore, the brand of the bike was Raugel!” He still changed bike a little later, while he also decided to abandon his other sporting activities around ten years old. “Cycling was my competitive sport, I was doing it to race and compete against others,” he adds. “At that age, you don’t really realize that you have qualities, but when I was little, I won almost everything in Alsace. I had also done the French Trophy for young cyclists and I noticed that I was up to the task even nationally. I wasn’t training. At this age, it essentially comes down to talent and physical maturity”. Training, or something close to it, only came around 13-14 years old when he joined his father for a few rides. “I always wanted to beat him, so I didn’t have to do too many kilometers because I was always at the limit,” Antoine remembers. “We were racing against each other, but he would play with me, he would catch with me at the last moment and tease me like “the podium and the flowers are for me”. I was green with envy, I was a bad loser!”

Although his father gave him a hard time regarding home competition, the young boy proved quite successful against people of his age. He gradually made a small name for himself in his region, on the road… and in the mud. “From the very start, cyclocross was my favourite discipline,” says Antoine, who also tried the track in his younger years. “When I was a U16, my father was not very keen on making the trips for the National Cup, to Normandy for example. In my first year U16, the first round was in St-Etienne-les-Remiremont, two hours from home, so we decided to go. He told me that if I scored points, we would go to the other rounds. I was motivated like crazy and I managed to get points (19th out of 188, editor’s note). That’s the first thing I told him when I arrived! In the beginning, cyclocross was more of a goal than road cycling. This is where I enjoyed myself the most and where I wanted to succeed the most.” In his first year U16, however, he actually caught the eye of the U19 Btwin Racing Team thanks to his results on the road. Antoine Raugel shined on the “Challenges de l’Est”, won the last round, and soon benefited from the support and guidance of the development structure. This was a first turning point for him.

An “incredible” second year as a junior

“I told myself that they hadn’t chosen me for nothing,” explains Antoine. “They saw my potential. They also gave me my first road bike. Until then, I was riding cyclocross bikes on the road and was just changing the tires. For me, this structure was a real opportunity. Without it, I would never have reached this level. They gave me access to a coach, equipment, higher-level races, advice, training camps. It was very beneficial for me. I also liked the dual project, as I didn’t want to quit school. I knew it was important and I had some abilities for it.” In sporting terms, he had the opportunity to compete in the Trophée Madiot, “a fine benchmark”, and showed himself in his very first participation, in Châteaubriant. He finished sixth in the time trial, third in the road race, thus proving his qualities at the higher rank. In 2016, in his first year as a junior, he was a runner-up in a French Cup in Normandy, finished tenth in the French time trial championship but especially had a good season in cyclocross, taking fifth in the European Championship and sixth in the Valkenburg World Cup. However, he then struggled to train properly after classes in the winter, and could not take part in the World Championships won a few weeks later by Tom Pidcock.

Antoine Raugel later entered his second season as a junior completely regenerated and had an “incredible” year. With the Btwin U19 Racing Team, he was able to compete in numerous races outside France and scored some top-10s in the Netherlands, Belgium or Luxembourg. “There are all the best juniors in the world in these races, it makes you improve a lot”, he says. “I gained a lot of experience, it is certainly thanks to these international races that I was so successful at the French championships later in the year.” In July, he was indeed the main protagonist of his category in Saint-Amand-Montrond. He had to settle for the silver medal in the time trial, for just eight seconds, but did not let the blue-white-red jersey slip away in the road race. Along with that, he took a victory in the Tour de la Vallée de la Trambouze, got second in the Chrono des Nations Juniors and scored other valuable results on the national scene. This remarkable 2017 season earned him a spot in Chambéry Cyclisme Formation the following year, and he therefore left his club of Eckwersheim. “They have helped me a lot, especially financially, and I do not forget them,” he still gratefully says today.

A deliveryman during lockdown and desires for new horizons

Then came the U23 years, when he also had to make the heartbreaking choice to put cyclocross aside. However, it paid off on the road right away. “I had a very good season, I already had a good level on the Elites races”, he says. He indeed had several results among the amateurs and tenth places on both Paris-Roubaix U23 and the Trofeo Edil C to show for it. The transition looked seamless, but his second year in the category proved more complicated. “I had a little more trouble, suffered from injuries, had ups and downs,” he says. “I was putting pressure on myself too because people expected me to be better than in my first year. It was difficult. It was sometimes very bad, sometimes very good, I was unable to be consistent”. A victory in Belley and a few podium places left him with the feeling of something missing. He therefore tried to make up for it in his third year, and succeeded in doing so. He won the Circuit des 4 Cantons in March but the health crisis stopped his rising curve a week later. “Then, there was the lockdown, during which I delivered vegetables,” he sums up maliciously. This idea came after a talk with his grandmother, who is also used to shopping by bicycle. Handyman, Antoine Raugel made a hitch to attach a trailer to his road bike, and so he became a provisional deliveryman.

In doing so, he could kill two birds with one stone. “At the very beginning, I really did this to go out,” he explains. “I needed to move, to get some fresh air, to work, to train. In short, to do something. I didn’t have any training program, I adjusted to people and orders”. Initially, the deliveries were limited to his close neighbours and to his family, but the initiative gained more and more attention as people and media started to talk about it. The home phone rang more than usual, orders piled up, so much so that he could have “7-8 orders” a day towards the end of the lockdown. “I would leave at 10am and would come back at 2-3pm,” he adds. “I didn’t necessarily take a powermeter but I surely did quite a few kilometers. I did more than a hundred trips for sure”. There may not be any connection but when the road season resumed later in the year, he was able to find some consistency again. “I was there every time I was expected,” he says. “I won at Châtillon-Dijon and I made top-10s in French Cups and in the French Amateur Championship”. These results enabled him to become stagiaire at the end of the year and to get a taste of some big races, such as the Brussels Classics and Paris-Tours. This was an eye-opener for him. “I told myself that in 2021, I didn’t want to do the same program I had for three years,” he explains. “I needed a change.”

“I did not fail in any races”

That’s when the “Conti Groupama-FDJ” stepped in. “I have always stayed in touch with Nico Boisson, who trained me when I was in the U19 Btwin Racing Team,” he recalls. “I saw that the project was going really well. Nico and Jens told me about the organization and the calendar. I really liked it, as well as the very interesting connection there is with the WorldTeam. I wanted to ride and show myself in bigger races than the French elite scene”. Becoming a pro rider in January 2021, Antoine Raugel then got closer to his “dream” of joining the highest level of the sport. Before entering his fourth and final year as U23, he also had the opportunity to dedicate himself fully to the sport, having completed his school curriculum with two diplomas: one in metal architecture and one in marketing of sports products and services. “If cycling stops tomorrow, I’ll land on my feet,” he says. In the meantime, a whole new adventure started last winter, and the now 22-year-old quickly realized it. “When I think about it, I tell myself that we have access to all the same things as the WorldTeam,” he says. “We really feel that we belong to the same team. Marc Madiot even came to make a speech at the start of the season. It was really motivating. He explained to us the purpose of the structure and why we’re here. We were also told that we weren’t there to fill holes in the WorldTeam, which I really appreciated”.

One of the most experienced riders of the 2021 line-up, Antoine Raugel knew that the opportunity to ride with “the big boys” would come, but he still gave real guarantees from the start. He attacked in Le Samyn, his first race of the season, took third in Paris-Troyes, fifth in the Giro del Belvedere and could even have scored another noticeable result in Trofeo Piva (22nd) if he hadn’t broken his derailleur. “I really improved over the winter, especially since I started to work again with Nicolas Boisson,” he said. “I managed to be there immediately, and once you get into the right momentum, you just keep going. I did not fail in any races. I’ve always been there, either working for the team or going for a result myself.” His good condition allowed him to join Arnaud Démare, Stefan Küng & co for the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana that was relocated in April. “When I saw the roster on the call-up, I thought: man, I can’t mess up,” he recalls. He probably did not imagine the “dream week” he was about to experience with this group: four stage wins in five days plus the overall victory. “From a personal point of view, I didn’t expect to be at this level,” he said. “I was happy with my sensations, but even more that I had done my job 120%. When Arnaud and Stefan tell you that you’re doing a good job and you must continue like this, it can only motivate you even more. It also worked out for me because the team really made me comfortable from the start. I was considered as a teammate like any other, not as a young boy from the Conti. It puts you in the right direction straight away.”

A versatile profile

As he is now entering the second half of the season, Antoine Raugel hopes to get more opportunities with the WorldTeam, regardless of the race. The young man indeed has an interesting profile, as he can perform on various terrains. “I consider myself to be a good rider in every area, without being a champion in one specific area,” he says. “Except maybe in the downhills, where I feel very comfortable. I’m fast enough to outsprint a small group but I will not win a bunch sprint. I like 4-5 kilometers climbs, but I struggle more on longer ones. I also do quite well in time trials. I would define myself as a versatile rider with a puncher speciality”. Growing up, he was more inspired by the great crossmen than the road riders, but the Frenchman was still marked by the performances of a former member of the organization: Philippe Gilbert. This is the path he would actually like to follow. “I would like to develop my profile as a Classic rider,” he says. “I want to get to know this terrain more deeply. That’s what makes me dream. I have a weakness for the cobblestone races, but I like all the Classics. I love when the weather is bad, when it’s windy, when there are echelons and when it is a very tiring race”. This is also where his background proves quite useful. “Cyclocross has given me great technical skills,” he says. “When I need to jump sidewalks, avoid crashes, I have good reflexes. I take good lines on the downhills, in the curves, and I feel the grip very much with my bike. It also gave me that little kick to accelerate after the corners, and it allowed me to develop my ability for the hour-max effort. It’s also why I manage to be there on some punchy climbs.” We just need to wish him the same success as the former crossmen who moved on the road.

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