A new year begins for the Groupama-FDJ continental team; the fifth of its history, following an exceptional season. In 2023, Eddy Le Huitouze will be the most experienced man on the team, despite being only 19 years old, but he will also be a valuable spearhead. A winner since his youngest years, the rider from Brittany should get an increased role within the squad based in Besançon. We sat down to get to know the U23 French time trial champion better.
When you’re given the first name of the greatest cyclist in history, it is probably quite difficult to ride away from your destiny. When Eddy Le Huitouze was born on April 3, 2003, the “Cannibal” was already retired for almost twenty-five years, but the memory of the Belgian was still very fixed in a family passionate about cycling. “I have known the origin of my first name since I was little”, explains the Frenchman. “Before I even rode a bike, we went to the races, we watched the races on TV, and through the conversations there were, I quickly understood where my first name came from, and who he was”. Nevertheless, the young man first tried football, for about a year, before jumping on a bike. Inspired by his father and his uncle, both strong regional amateur riders, but also by his older cousin, Eddy joined the tradition from the age of seven. “It was almost logical,” he says today. From there on, no other sport interfered between him and cycling. Especially since he was also very at ease in the discipline thanks to the advice given by his close ones. “It helped me at the start with simple things like changing gears at the right time, braking properly, taking corners, or drafting,” he explains. “When you are 7-8 years old, it does not come naturally if you are not told”.
More than a hundred “wins” in the early categories and tasting time trial
Ahead of his playmates in some respects, Eddy Le Huitouze did not however train more than them. He was content at first with the weekly session, before later sharing rides of about ten kilometres with his father “in the evening, when he came home from work and the warm days arrived”. It was only when he was 11-12 years old that he started riding solo, and his physical and technical maturity allowed him to regularly dominate his mates/opponents. “At the beginning, it was mostly about fun, even if when you take part in a competition as a child, regardless of the sport, you always want to win,” smiles Eddy. A local and regional champion from his earliest years, the man from Morbihan also tasted victory very frequently in the U14 category. He even counted them for a while, and actually came close to a hundred when he arrived in the U16. “But races in cycling schools have nothing to do with those in the higher categories”, he tempers today. One thing is certain, the bar of one hundred victories – a “Cannibal” figure – was reached among the “cadets”. At fifteen, the young man made his appearance on the national scene, on the road, but also on the track. However, training was still relatively simple. “I would ride in endurance mode on Wednesdays, but I didn’t have any specific exercises, except on the track where I did more intensity”, he describes. “On the road, I had no power meter, or even a heart rate monitor, I did everything according to my feelings”. That was enough for him to stand out.
He proved it in the most famous competition in France for this age category, the Trophée Madiot. “As a first year U16, I competed in the first round in Tours because I had won a lot of races at the start of the year”, explains Eddy. “I thought there would be a level much higher than what there was in Brittany. In the end, it was of course better, but it was not much harder. I was surprised to be able to perform right away, because I thought I would be dropped from the start. Since I did well in the first round, we decided to go do the others”. Fourth in the second one in Lannilis at the opening of the Tro Bro Leon, third in the time trial in Chateaubriand, he did win a time trial a bit later on the land of the Madiot brothers, in Renazé. “It was my first victory in a time trial at this level,” he recalls. And this is how a vocation was born: “In the U14, there were almost none. So, it was from there that I said to myself that it could become a real strength”. He confirmed it at the end of the season with a second place in the Chrono des Nations. Yet, the road was only a part of his cycling accomplishments. During the summer, Eddy Le Huitouze took part in the Track French Championships, in Hyères, just a few months after being introduced to the discipline. His endurance and strength abilities hit the target instantly.
“Becoming a pro was of course a dream from a very young age”
At just fifteen years old, he won his first three French champion jerseys, in the individual pursuit, the elimination race and the tempo race. “When you are a young kid, the French championship is something you dream about”, adds Eddy. “It was still a surprise to come away with three titles. I knew I was doing well, especially at the regional level, but winning the French championship is something else… At that time, I still saw it as something exceptional”. However, he got used to titles and awards. He was indeed named ‘Vélo d’Or Cadets’ in 2018, and he fully gave credit to his status the following year for his second season in the category. The Breton won the overall classification of the Trophée Madiot (after finishing third the previous year), including two rounds, and won another four tricolour jerseys on the track. He was quite logically named Vélo d’Or Cadets for the second year in a row and headed towards the junior ranks with quite some confidence and clear desires. “Becoming a pro was of course a dream from a very young age, but it wasn’t until I was U16 that I realized that it could perhaps happen, because I got to national races where I could test my worth against others”, he explains. “The victories meant a lot more. I also realized how big it was because of the Vélo d’Or awarded by Vélo Magazine, which is surely the biggest cycling magazine in France”.
Joining the upper category, Eddy Le Huitouze already enjoyed a small reputation, and he also benefited from the support of the Groupama-FDJ cycling team, who launched its “junior follow-up” just a year later. “In 2020, it was more as a reward for my victory in the Trophée Madiot”, explains the young man. “I would go in training camp with the Conti in Calp, they would lend me bikes and Benoit Vaugrenard would coach me. The idea was the same as the current follow-up, but it was a little less extensive”. In the races, he realized quite early that he was up to the pace, but the season came to a sudden halt in mid-March due to the pandemic. An episode that did not bother the member of the Etoile Cycliste Pluvignoise so much. “In the end it was almost positive for me because I was doing well in training, even on home-trainer”, he says. “In Brittany, we also resumed quite early with time trials, and I had achieved some good performances right away with the Elites”. The end of his season precisely centred around this discipline. The first crossing point was not far away: in Plouay. “The European Championship was thirty kilometres from home, so it was really a big goal”, he remembers. “I was super motivated, I had prepared well, and I had won my selection. It was a great experience”. It ended up with a nice top-10 (8th) for his first competition at this level. At the end of October, he therefore came as a favorite to the French time trial championship, and he did not fail. He was crowned ahead of Enzo Paleni, Pierre Gautherat and Romain Grégoire, thus taking his first national title on the road. “I realized it was big,” he adds. “When you look at the rankings of the French junior championships, the guys who are up there often become pros later on. It is more meaningful than in the U16 or on the track”. He nonetheless made a detour to the velodromes where he won a European bronze medal on the Omnium.
Performances on the continental scene and “exile” to the Conti
His second Juniors year therefore coincided with the official launch of the Groupama-FDJ follow-up. Further supported, the Frenchman yet experienced ups and downs. He did win the Trophée Sébaco in Brittany at the beginning of June, but two setbacks came subsequently one after the other. “I got knocked down by a car during a round of the French Cup in Mayenne and I suffered a head trauma,” he says. “I had to take a break, I then came back, won the Brittany road championship, but I stupidly crashed the following week in the Brittany track championships. That was enough to break my collarbone and miss the French road championships that were just after. At the time, it was not easy to deal with this series of small setbacks, even if it is part of the cyclist’s life”. He was therefore unable to defend his title in the time trial and returned to competition at the end of August, in the Course de la Paix, where he was not particularly reassured about his physical condition. Yet, barely ten days later, he took the bronze medal at the European time trial championship. “It was more or less what I was aiming for, but it was far from guaranteed given my preparation,” he said. Confidence nevertheless rose two weeks ahead of the Worlds, the ultimate goal of the season, where he scored a very good fifth place. “I wasn’t far from the podium (four seconds, editor’s note)”, he adds. “At the time it was still frustrating to be so close, but it was anyway a very good performance”. Frustrated is also how he felt at the end of Paris-Roubaix, which he competed for the first time. In the mud, he finished tenth despite a puncture. “I could have done a lot better,” he regrets. “This is one of my fondest memories as a Junior. It’s an iconic race, and it was even more special with the rain that year”.
He closed the year with a third place on the Chrono des Nations and headed towards the 2022 season, which meant joining the “Conti”, something that was planned for a long time. The transition proved to be very smooth, despite it coming with quite a big change. For the first time, the Breton left the family home and moved to Besançon, at the opposite end of France. “It wasn’t really a problem,” he said. “I don’t feel the need to be at home all the time, it didn’t bother me too much. It was also nice with the guys from the Conti. It’s great living together, and it allows us to have better cohesion than if we were all on our own. It also allows you to learn English because there are a lot of foreigners in the team”. As for the team’s structure itself, it had surely nothing to do with that of his local club. However, Eddy Le Huitouze was not overly surprised: “Unlike some guys from abroad, I knew pretty well where I was going”. On the other hand, he had much less assurance regarding his worth at this level, especially for his first year with the Under-23s. He therefore set himself reasonable objectives for this discovery of the professional world. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he says. “The goal for me was rather to progress as much as possible, learn a lot and help the older guys from the team rather than to perform right from the start”.
“I would definitely like to be a little more than a time trial rider”
An adjusting period was well necessary for the 18-year-old rider. “I was not that bad, but the first months were not easy”, he admits. “I was no longer going for the win either, even if I participated in the team’s victories”. Despite everything, he reassured himself on the Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux where he took part in a collective display and obtained seventh place in the individual time trial. In May, he was given the opportunity to ride with the “big guys” through the well-known exchanges process. “It was great, especially since it was at home”, he smiles, talking about the Grand Prix du Morbihan and the Tro Bro Leon. “I realized the difference of level, but also the difference in terms of public! There were a lot of people on the road, including a lot of the team’s fans, so it creates expectations.” For him personally, the real expectations began in June with the sequence of time trial appointments. The first of them was the French Elite championship, which he finished in 23rd place. “It was not glorious,” he says. “I could have done much better with the legs I had, but I mismanaged my effort because it was the first time that I was doing a time trial of almost an hour”. On the other hand, he brilliantly bounced back at the European championship, where he conquered another bronze medal although being a first year U23. “A nice surprise,” he said.
The surprise was far lower in the U23 French championship the following month, where he honoured his status by securing the eleventh tricolour jersey of his young career. “The objective was clearly to win, even if it was not a foregone conclusion given the level,” he continues. “It also felt good because almost the whole team had won by that time. It was great to do it myself and finally do something on a personal note”. Full of confidence, he later flew to the World Championships in Australia. He competed in three events there, including the mixed time trial (7th) but above all in the U23 time trial. He obtained a promising seventh place. “All the best were there,” he says. “It was a logical performance, maybe even slightly better than I could have hoped for as a first year in the category”. His first season as a professional has in any case reinforced his strong point, which he wants to keep perfecting without forgetting the rest. “I would definitely like to be a little more than a time trial rider, because being good in time trial is good but it’s not enough to have a great career”, he explains. “I want to be a kind of rouleur that can benefit the team or myself, also on hard races. I like the Classics, but we couldn’t do many of them last year. From the few experiences I had, I was doing well, and that’s something I might like in the future. We see that the best guys in time trial are not only doing that. Riders like Stefan Küng, Wout van Aert, are also very strong on other terrains. Right now, I don’t know what my exact profile will be. 2023 should help me to know myself better, to know what I can do on different courses”.
In a few weeks, Eddy Le Huitouze will start his second year with the “Conti”, being the only one left from the 2022 promotion. His role and responsibilities will necessarily be increased even if this Formula 1 fan does not forget the track and the 2024 Olympic Games, which are now really coming closer. “For now, it will only be the road at the start of the season, then I will see according to availability and the races”, he states. “It can surely be a goal, moreover in Paris, but we have to see how it can work with the road next to it, because the track still takes a lot of time”.