Simon Guglielmi was in the front row last week to watch Alexys Brunel, his friend since the Continental team, standing out on the Etoile de Bessèges. The 22-year-old from Savoie was not there as a spectator though. Quite the opposite indeed, as he largely contributed to the team effort for several days in order to protect the leader’s jersey. A first outing with the World Team obviously rewarding, which not only gives him ideas for the future, but which also proves that the transition from the development team to the mother team is both straightforward and efficient.

Simon, how do you feel physically after your first week of racing with the team?

Physically, I’m doing well. This week of racing helped me to get back in shape. I got there a little bit sick and I hadn’t raced the Grand Prix La Marseillaise because of a virus. Right now, I feel a little tired but I also feel that as soon as I will have recovered, I will be pretty fine. I’m in the right timing and I’m looking forward to my second race, the Tour of Algarve, hoping that I will have even better feelings than those I had in Bessèges. I don’t worry too much about it though.

“In Bessèges, I have already improvd and learned”

It was a quite an introduction you had in Bessèges…

For sure! We weren’t necessarily expecting it. We were able to win in my very first race with the team, and it was even more special since Alexys won! When I saw there would be wind on the first stage, I thought it was going to be a tough start of the season. In the end, I managed to be in the mix, although I was not at the top of my shape. I stayed a little while with Valentin [Madouas] in the second echelon. I helped maintaining the gap to the front group, then I finished a bit “easy” and I listened in the earpiece what was going on. I heard Thierry [Bricaud] cheering on, but I didn’t know it was for Alexys! From far, I thought we could make it, and when I finally crossed the line, I was really happy to see that we had won. You can only be glad when it starts like this. Then, it was a great experience to defend the jersey every day. There was a good cohesion among us, we all got along well. We managed to show great things throughout the week and I had a lot of fun on this first race.

You also had the opportunity do your part in defending the jersey.

Exactly. For my first race with the team, I was already able to work for something important. I really enjoyed working, my legs maybe not so much (smiles). Overall, it was great. I was really well guided. Olivier and Valentin gave me precious advice to set the good pace in front of the peloton. In the end, I am happy because I have already improved and learned, in particular to handle a breakaway. It was really a “win-win” situation for me. For sure, starting with that is not necessarily the easiest thing to do, but having a specific role is also something I was looking for. I left the race with great satisfaction. .

The early abandon of Matthieu Ladagnous, the most experienced rider in the group, did not seem to disturb you, the “young guns”.

It’s true that we were all young, but having a good chat in the briefing made us perfectly prepared for the race. Olivier also has a lot of experience and does not hesitate to share it. I immediately found myself very comfortable in this group, with people of my age and whom I knew. I didn’t feel like it really changed from last year. It was certainly not the continental team, but I knew everyone, we had good laughs and we were able to work well on the bike too.

“I am even more motivated after this first race”

Did Kevin and Alexys, your former colleagues from the development team, impress you?

We knew what Kevin was capable of; he already showed great things last season. Regarding Alexys, he was very strong during the training camp in Calpe. I knew he was physically able to do great things. Still, to be able to win like he did, it was a very nice surprise. Moreover, it makes me want to continue training well, because we realize that even if the level is high coming from the continental team, it is still reachable. You just have to give yourself the means to get there.

Watching your friends perform, is it already a trigger for you?

Exactly. At the beginning, we don’t really know what to expect because we didn’t ride often at that level last year. But now, after the first race, I am even more motivated than I was just before, because I see that this is possible to achieve great things. It makes you want to train even more, to pay even more attention to the details. Now, I can more easily contemplate and plan my season, because I understand that the level is certainly high but accessible nevertheless. We train like the others, and even if we are young, there is always a way to show ourselves on certain stages or certain types of races. I think the trigger could have been later if we hadn’t had any results last week, if we had suffered every day. Alexys’ achievement helped me to gain self-confidence, and overall it has also boosted the team’s confidence.

“In the continental team, we were looked after from A to Z, every day”

In what way last year’s experience in the development team enabled young riders like you to be immediately ready?

Without being an imitation, the continental team is functioning like the World Team. The only difference is that some details are logically a little less advanced. So once you join the World Team, you are by no means lost. Everything looks alike. The staff works in the same way, the support is relatively similar. Everything is getting a little bigger, but you already know how it works, which is very practical to acclimatize yourself. That’s the key.

Concretely, what did the Groupama-FDJ continental team bring you that would you not have got in a more classic path?

First, the multiculturalism of it, with riders from many countries, makes you learn a lot. A Brit and a Slovenian don’t necessarily see cycling in the same way as we do, and it is something very interesting. Riding all the time in .2 races is obviously important as well. Doing big races is what makes you improve. Then, the real difference with an amateur team is that in the continental team, we were looked after from A to Z, every day. We could go to the team headquarter, talk training with Fred Grappe, the coaches and the doctor was also there for us if we had any concerns. This really advanced support is the real difference. We felt constantly help in practising our sport.

Do you actually feel like you switched teams during the offseason?

The transition is indeed really smooth, especially since we had already done training camps with the World Team. So we already had a foot in it. It may have been a little weird at first, for 2-3 days, but as we speak, I already feel like I have known this team for a long time. The sporting step is high, we must be aware of it; there are two divisions between the development team and the World Team. On the other hand, it is really easy to be integrated and you have to realize that it is a chance.

“Seeing Alexys perform in Bessèges makes you want to do the same”

Do you also feel like you are leading the way and setting an example for the riders who will follow the same path?

It’s already rewarding to see that five riders from the continental team have turned pro, including three in the Groupama-FDJ World Team. Then, it’s also nice to see that the riders coming from the development team can immediately perform with the World Team. It gives motivation to everyone. I don’t think there is a pressure on us, it’s rather gratifying to have been the first to benefit from this link. Then, if our performances can help others to be even more motivated for the future, this is only a bonus. I keep very good contacts with Théo [Nonnez] and Clément [Davy] for example. We talk a lot, they ask us questions and they also see that we are having fun. It’s true that it motivates them even more. It’s nice to see and I encourage them to work hard, to join us!

According to the circumstances during the season, do you feel able to go beyond your initial role to take your chance like Alexys did?

Seeing Alexys perform in Bessèges obviously makes you want to do the same. In the back of my mind, I know that I will give my best in this regard, but I am also aware that in my first year, I will most often be a teammate. As we discussed it this winter with Yvon [Madiot], I will initially be 100% focused on the teamwork, but I will have my chance from time to time, depending on the scenario, and I will have to try to seize it then. It is also very enjoyable to work for the team, as in Bessèges. Even if I did not achieve personal results there, the fact that Alexys won and that we defended the jersey brought me as much emotion than if I had performed myself. This is also why I like cycling.

If the opportunity arises, what kind of race do you expect it to be on?

Considering my profile and what I did the last seasons, it would be more likely on open, punchy style races, with several and short climbs, up to 7 minutes. These are short efforts but that that is what I like. It would also probably be on races that develop the way I know. When I was called to tell me that I was going to join the team, I was also told that I was mainly going to race in the FDJ French Cup at first, and I think these are races that suit me well. These are the most similar to what we experienced in amateurs or .2 races. They are also the races where it is more likely to achieve results since the level is more reachable than in World Tour.

“I don’t set boundaries and I will take the time to discover it all”

Can you already define yourself as a rider?

I still need more time. As we often say, when you join the pros, it is an all-new world. For sure, I am not going to move towards a pure climber profile. I would have no interest in doing so. In the Baby Giro (8th) or in the Tour de l’Avenir (16th), I always managed to achieve results but without being the best. If I ever happen to work in this area, it would only be temporarily with a potential role of teammate in the mountains. It is the same thing with sprints. I’ve already managed to do some nice massive sprints, but within the pros it’s much more specific. So I think I’ll rather move towards a puncher profile, on short climbs and more open races. I don’t set boundaries though and I will take the time to discover it all. The team has appointed me on different race profiles so I can’t wait to see which ones can suit me.

Precisely, what races will you be doing in the next few months?

My program is established until July, which is ideal for planning. First there will be the Tour of Algarve, the Drôme Classic and the Classic Sud Ardèche. Then I will have a break before discovering the little Classics of the North like Nokere Koerse, the Bredene Koksijde Classic and the Grand Prix de Denain. Then, I will have quite a few rounds of the FDJ French Cup with the Route Adélie, the Roue Tourangelle, the Classic Loire Atlantique and Cholet Pays de la Loire. Then will come the Tour de Romandie, which will be my first World Tour event with a mountainous profile. Later, I will ride the Boucles de la Mayenne, the Route d’Occitanie, the Mont Ventoux Dénivelé Challenge and finally the French championship. It’s a very mixed menu and it was done expressly so as not to set limits and allow me to discover all aspects of professional racing. I’m really happy to be able to see so many different things.