While his third season among the pro ranks is beginning, Valentin Madouas has got many ideas in mind and great challenges to meet going forward. At only 23 years old, the former winner of Paris-Bourges says he is ready to take the responsibility of being a regular leader for the Groupama-FDJ cycling team, and he proved it already with a podium on the Grand Prix La Marseillaise. Other goals now await the young Frenchman, who also tells us about his will to discover as much as possible in order to discover himself as a rider.
Valentin, this podium spot on the Grand Prix La Marseillaise was a good way to start the season.
Eventually yes, I’m pretty happy. You can never really know where you are physically speaking when you get back in the race mode. I was quite satisfied to show that I was already in the fight for the win. Then, when you end up second in a group of four, it’s obviously a bit disappointing, but honestly I don’t have too many regrets. It was won on details and let’s say it was not to be (smiles). It would have been really nice to win but it certainly gives ambitions for what’s coming next. I am definitely reassured about my shape.
“I still want to learn”
Did you aim to perform in your very first day of racing?
Yes, but I didn’t necessarily expect to actually do it. I got a little sick last week and it changed my training schedule a bit. I still managed to do the required exercises more or less but I was a little tired and it took me 3-4 days to get over it. We also worked well in Calpe, but as always in a training camp, and it doesn’t say much about your actual physical condition. It was a real goal for me to perform immediately. I know that at the start of the season, I don’t necessarily have to ride a lot to be able to do well in races. I have this advantage of not having to do such a big winter like some others to be ready as soon as the season starts. I have a natural aptitude, so I also have to take advantage of that to win races early on, or at least do everything I can to make it happen. Then, those are races where the team gives me a chance, so I have to try to do well anyway.
Starting with a podium is also a way to show that the team had it right to trust you?
It was important for me to show I was up there, because we don’t always have the chance to get a free role during the season. I feel capable of assuming this leadership role, and if it happens regularly I would be delighted, but I also know that I still have to improve. We talked about it with the team and I have a good feeling about it. In French races, we have to perform and I’m starting to get used to this kind of races, I know how the racing is and I know that I have the physical level to win from time to time.
To be designated among these riders who have to get results, is it a pressure that you manage to handle well despite your young age?
This is by no means an additional pressure. It doesn’t change much in my way of looking at races and approaching them. It is also a role that I have been quite familiar with in the amateurs’ ranks, especially in my last two years. I think they have served me enormously in this regard. Now, it’s clear that I still want to learn, I still lack experience on some points, but nevertheless I feel ready. As the races go by, we will progressively find the best way to ride together and I hope it will pay off soon.
“I ride a bike to win races, not to be on the podium”
Thanks to this leadership role, you performed last year but couldn’t get a win.
Yes, and I was a bit frustrated about it. It actually was my first year without a win and I made my self-criticism, without falling into pessimism though. I missed my chance a few times and it bothered me a bit because I ride a bike to win races, not to be on the podium. I could have done better some times. Podiums could have been victories, and I also think I had the legs to win the French championship. These missed opportunities left me a bit frustrated at the time but everything was not to be thrown away. I managed to get past that and bounce back for this year. It is not a mental block, rather a source of motivation to succeed in getting one or more victories this year.
What are the positive points you get from last season?
I improved in terms of consistency. I managed to perform well more often. All season to tell the truth, except the last part during which I had some problems. Even if I could not win, I was always in the mix and I think it was a real turning point for me. But it’s actually in terms of recovery, thanks to the Grand Tour that I did, that I improved the most. I feel like I reached a little milestone thanks to last year’s Giro. Not necessarily on pure intensity efforts, but rather in coping with the training loads and the series of races. I think we should witness that on the road this year.
Since you are talking about the Giro (13th overall), is that where you surprised yourself the most?
I actually approached it without too much pressure. Even almost none because I was not really prepared to do it. I went there to discover, to learn, and I just wanted to do the best possible result, rather on stages. As I had not done a proper preparation, I went there with what the previous races brought me. In this extent I surprised myself. I could not get there 100% ready, but maybe it’s also why I managed to do well for three weeks at a high level. And surviving them the way I did is something that I really did not expect. I haven’t really done big climbs since then, except for a training camp last July, so I certainly hope to be able to do it again soon and test myself again. There will be the Col de la Colmiane on Paris-Nice, which is a beautiful climb but which is not very hard. I will also go on a training camp in Tenerife after the Etoile de Bessèges, but not in altitude like Thibaut and the others. I’ll go at the bottom and work on the climbs thinking about Paris-Nice.
“The 2019 Giro created ideas in the back of my mind”
Is this “climber” profile something you intend/want to develop further?
I think it gives me ideas. I won’t claim that I currently have a level good enough to aim for a very good general classification on a Grand Tour. Nevertheless, I am convinced that I still have room for improvement in this area, and that as the years go by, I may one day be able to go for a Grand Tour GC. The 2019 Giro created ideas in the back of my mind. At least once in my career, I hope to be able to do everything 100% and focus on a Grand Tour to really test myself on this kind of races, see if I am able or not to achieve a great performance. From there, I will be able to really point out which types of races I am the best at. It’s a thought for the future. It won’t be for now, but in a few years, if I have the chance.
So far, on which major races have you felt you were closest to the best, to winning even?
It’s quite complicated to say. Last year, on the Amstel Gold Race (8th) and Paris-Nice (11th), for example, I felt good without feeling great either. Because it’s a Classic, the Amstel is more about details and tactics, but in Paris-Nice there weren’t twenty guys who were physically better than me either. I was able to be in the mix in the two races, but I think I always lost against stronger riders than me, it’s that simple. Honestly, there is not one race where I felt closer to victory than the other. But in a few years, I think and I hope that I’ll be able to go for the win on both. The “random” part of the Classics appeals to me. These are long and tiring races, something I also really appreciate. You have to be able to deliver some power on the last hills, last bergs, where everyone comes short. It can suit me. On Grand Tours and stage races, there are inevitably longer and boring stages on the bike, but I also like the fact that the ratio of power is balanced over several days.
Since we’re talking about the Classics, a big one appears in your program: The Tour of Flanders. Why have you chosen to go there?
First, I simply want to discover it because it’s a legendary Classic that I’ve always watched on TV. Second, to improve in terms of positioning and strength. Third, I hope to find out that this is a race that may suit me for the future, after I would have gained some experience. It takes a few years to be able to come on the “Ronde” 100% ready. Positioning there is so much about details… It’s a real learning process to take on before hoping to go for victory one day.
“I hope to pass a milestone in Liège-Bastogne-Liège”
Is your early career also helpful to look around in order to define what suits you the best?
It’s a bit like that. I like to discover new races. My goal is to discover as much races as possible so that, if they suit me, set them as short, medium or long term goals. I really want to experience everything that it is possible to do. If we talk about the Monuments, I would normally have known three of them at the end of this season. I may have to wait for Milan-Sanremo. I like Paris-Roubaix, I rode it four times in the young categories, but it is not a priority right now. It may come during a season where I will have no goals on the Ardennes Classics, because it seems complicated to do both. We’ll first see how it goes this season but I really want to explore everything.
What do you particularly expect from this 2020 season?
I want it to be the confirmation season. I want to show that I have stepped up to another physical level. I want to be a little better than the previous seasons, and of course win! This is something I owe to the team. This is something important for me, also to reassure me with this leadership role. If I don’t win this year, I will be really disappointed. A victory in the WorldTour is not unthinkable either. I think I will have opportunities this year and it will be up to me to seize them. I won’t have ten of them but anything is possible.
What are your main appointments for the upcoming months?
I’m certain about the start of the season only. I know my schedule until Liege and then everything will depend on whether I do the Tour or not. In this case, my goals will naturally be clarified. For the start of the year, my goals are mainly Paris-Nice, where I want to help Thibaut [Pinot] to make the best performance possible, and the spring Classics. I will discover the Tour of Flanders, where I hope to benefit from the work done in Paris-Nice, then there will be the Amstel Gold Race which suits me well, and finally Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where I hope to pass a milestone after two unconvincing first experiences. If I show up 100% at the start, I feel capable of performing. And if David [Gaudu] is in good shape, like last year, it will be perfect for the team. I know that I have room for improvement and that I can be better than what I have shown so far in this race.
On Paris-Nice, you will team up with Thibaut with whom you have shared only five days of racing in the last two years.
We know each other well, we often talk to each other, but it’s true that we haven’t raced very much together. As a trainee, I was able to do the Tour de l’Ain with him. Since I became a pro, we mostly rode different races, but the few times we teamed up, it has gone super well. I think we’re in tune and look alike in the way we ride. There is no reason it could go wrong. I also hope that doing Paris-Nice with him will help me in getting a shot for the Tour. We’ll be able to set things up. They use to race a lot together, so it will be up to me to fit in and find my place among them if I want to be on the Tour.