Valentin Madouas will remember the 2023 season as the one where he definitely entered the world cycling’s elite. French champion and winner of a WorldTour Classic – on his home soil – the 27-year-old Breton is called upon to take on even more responsibilities in the coming seasons. In this interview, he tells us about his desire to explore his limits in the near future, while looking back at this crucial year.
Valentin, what have you been doing since the end of your season?
I only got back on the bike on Tuesday. Otherwise, I took a real break. After the end of the season, I prepared my fan club’s ride (editor’s note: La Val Madouas) which took me quite a bit of time. I couldn’t do too much running like I used to in recent years, and then I went on holidays straight after. I may have done a little less physical and sporting activity than usual, but I was still often on the move. I am very happy. I have recovered well, both physically and mentally, and I am ready for the new season. Last season was busy, so it was good to have a proper break.
“I reached the milestone that allows me to fight for victory in the Classics”
Is it obvious to say that this is your best season of your career so far?
It is, of course. I was consistent all season, from the Strade Bianche to Montreal. Also, with the French championship and the Bretagne Classic, I not only fulfilled two season goals, but most importantly two career goals. It’s therefore very positive from that point of view. I would obviously have liked to win more, and I think I had the possibility to do so in certain races, but circumstances meant that it didn’t happen. That said, two great victories like these ones are well worth five or ten smaller victories. I would have liked to raise my arms a little more, but we’ll keep that for the next few years (smiles).
What is your biggest satisfaction from last season?
What pleased me was to have been consistent and to have reached a real milestone in the WorldTour Classics. In recent years, I was rather between the top-5 and top-15, and I managed to achieve a big result from time to time, for example with my podium in Flanders. This year, I got much closer, I was more often in the top-5, and regularly in the top-10. I even won one Classic. This means that I reached the milestone that allows me to fight for victory in these Classics. My victory doesn’t come from nowhere, I was always around. Being able to be so consistent at this level is really something I’m satisfied with this season.
On the other hand, what are you disappointed with?
I’m a bit disappointed with the stage races. I haven’t been performing as well as I did in recent years. Why? It’s hard to say. I was not lucky. I often suffered an issue, an allergy, an illness, except on the Tour de France. I think that’s a bit of the negative point of my season. I always missed a little something on stage races. This is an area where I was not able to make the most of my potential, and I was therefore left hungry for more because I think I really was able to achieve big results. It’s a shame, but I tell myself that it gives me room to do better. It’s also up to me to find solutions so as not to get sick, pay attention to the details, and not be weakened in these races in order to be even more consistent next year. That said, the disappointment is not that big because these weren’t my goals. I wanted to win the French championship, a WorldTour Classic and a stage on the Tour. So it wasn’t the priority, even if it leaves me a taste of unfinished business. This is why I consider my season very good but not excellent.
“I’m more expected and watched over”
Let’s go back to the Classics. Do you feel that the big win in a Spring Classic is now within reach?
It’s achievable. Every time, we face riders who get to win all the Monuments, so it’s hard to get rid of them, but we saw again with Stefan’s top-5 in Roubaix that we weren’t far. The opportunity will come at some point. We improve year after year. We had a solid, united team this year. It’s now up to Stefan and myself to give it a boost, so that it gets even stronger and more homogeneous, and so that we can ride at a very high level all together. If we want to have control over our destiny, it’s up to us to try things and not be afraid of losing races to win them. These are fine words, and it is easier said than done, because we are facing very strong teams such as Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo-Visma or Soudal-Quick Step. But I think we can be right behind them. We now need to get the opportunity and seize it. We won’t have it in every race, we have to be realistic. We will suffer sometimes, but we will have it, and as soon as we do, it will be up to us to take our destiny in hand. Stefan has the same vision; he also works for it. I also think that we have very good new riders for next year to fill the missing gap, and they will help us a lot. We need teammates who will be there even further in the final of the races. This is what will allow us to win a great Classic soon.
Earlier this year, you said that your French champion title as an amateur was still your best memory on the bike. Did it drop into third position over the summer with your victories in the French championship and the Bretagne Classic?
They are the two best moments of my career, that’s for sure. I dreamed of the professional title all my life. I was convinced I was going to get it; I just didn’t know when. Yet, there is a real difference between thinking about it and actually doing it. For me it was almost obvious I would win it, but I still had to prepare it properly and achieve it. Plouay was also a life goal, because it is the WorldTour Classic in Brittany, which I have known since I was a kid. All of this had a huge impact on my season, and on my career more generally. I think it came as a trigger for a lot of things. I’m more expected and watched over, by viewers and my opponents. These races took me to another level, and it is now up to me to have a season with equally good results next year.
How did you experience the Tour, with mixed results for the team?
I felt good, but it is true that it was difficult in terms of results. I think we weren’t as successful as we were last year. Thibaut broke away on stages which did not really suit him. I also did three breakaways on stages that didn’t really suit me either. We should have exchanged our breakaways, and we might have had better results… I think we had good momentum as a team. Yet, a little something was missing, and that little something is what makes David slip from the top-5 to ninth place. There was also a very, very high level. We obviously questioned ourselves during and after the Tour. We try to understand why it doesn’t work, to identify the errors, but it’s very difficult to reverse the trend on the Tour. Speaking for myself, I identified several errors that I may have made. The French championship was a career goal, and achieving this goal reduced my impulse for sure. It wasn’t conscious, it’s just natural when you get something. It just didn’t happen at the right time. These kinds of details mean that I was not 2000% focused on the Tour, that my physical condition was slightly less good, which leads you to miss the right moves.
“2024 will be a test year to see how far my body can go”
You finished the season in 27th place in the UCI world ranking. Does that mean something to you?
It’s something that matters to me, especially with the new scale, which emphasizes consistency more and which really rewards the best world’s best riders. We can actually see it. For me, the top-10 riders in the rankings are the best riders in the world. It’s something that I look at and that makes me want to improve. When I look at the rankings, I also see that I gain positions every year. I’m in the top-30 and I hope to get closer to the top-10 as fast as possible. It’s also a career goal.
You once said that one of the hardest things in pro cycling was to keep the same motivation throughout the whole season. Have you now mastered it?
Every rider knows that it is really very hard to be at your best all year round. As for me, I learn over the years, I gain experience, I know my body better, I know how I react. I think I managed to be very consistent regarding my motivation this year, and that reflected in the results. Other riders express themselves through big peaks of shape. Next year, I would like to be even more consistent and be at a high level for as long as possible. We’re going to change a lot of things. This is the year to innovate, while keeping what has worked. We will try to put even more work loads, to be even stronger and more consistent. It will be a test year to see how far my body can go, and it will serve as a good basis for future years. This will be a very important year for me. I want to have great results and I want to see how far I can go. I think I have reached a mental and physical maturity which allows me to achieve big results.
After ticking important boxes this season, how do you see your future goals?
My goals evolve with the years, the races I compete in, the experience I gain, the fun I have, and my form. Every year, I take stock of my season. From there, I see where I can go and I try to set high but achievable goals. I work in stages. I try to be realistic. I had never won in the WorldTour before this year. I told myself it was time to do it, and I did. I wanted to win a Classic, and I did. But I remain quite vague in my goals, because I am also aware that there is a very high level on the Monuments and that you also need a bit of luck. I try to take each race as a goal, even if I’m unconsciously more excited for some than others. That said, there are crossing points that I haven’t reached yet. Winning on the Tour is something I want, and I will do everything to achieve it. Until that is done, I will continue to go there, because the Tour is something that made me dream since I was a child. This is the next step. I am also not forgetting the Classics, a Monument, and why not the Olympic Games, if I am lucky enough to be selected. Participating in the Olympics is a childhood dream, but besides participating, I would like to win a medal. That could be a great goal for next year.
“Bringing together people is a great challenge that I have set for myself for the coming years”
Does having fulfilled two major goals this year give you confidence in your ability to achieve what you are working for?
A lot of people tell me, “When you set your mind to something, you achieve it.” Then they ask me “Why don’t you have more things on your mind?”. I simply answer that I can’t put all my energy into everything, and every time. When I have something in mind, there is also almost unconscious work. I visualize, I also work a lot on my mental preparation. As soon as I ride, I have that in mind, I picture fifteen scenarios, how it will go, the riders I will face. I try to do it for as many races as possible, but it’s very hard to be able to repeat it, and there are things we can’t control. This is how I work. It paid off this year, but it might be because I now have this physical and mental maturity. Now that I have managed to prove certain things to myself, I have a great basis to work on to try to reproduce it more often next year.
Have you definitely found yourself as a rider, or do you still want to evolve?
I think there are plenty of things to explore and to work on. For me, cycling is a sport where you’re constantly reinventing yourself. What is very important for me is to see what worked, to take stock with myself, with the team, with the people who allowed me to obtain these results. We work from that, then we try to develop new things to take a step forward and get out of a routine. For me, there is nothing worse than having a routine at the highest level. You certainly need one for what has worked, but you have to know how to get off of it to try new things and avoid resting on your laurels. For now, I have not reached the very, very high world level over a full year. Therefore, we must try to look even further. I think I know myself well, but I think there are still things to develop. I don’t know my limits, and I have reached an age where I want to know them, whether they are mental or physical. This is why we want to try things and see where they are.
How do you cope with your now full leader-status within the team?
This is something important to me, especially since with Thibaut and Arnaud leaving the team, I’ll have more responsibilities next year. I want it to continue this way, and I want to prove that I can take over from them. It will be up to me to prove it on the terrain, to create a group, a connection with the riders, to pull everyone to the high level and win races. I have to win races, but I also have to bring people together around me and that’s a great challenge that I have set for myself for the next few years. It’s something you can work on, but it’s natural at the same time. Thanking the riders is the least you can do. Being respectful and honest is the first step to uniting people around you. You must not play a game; you need to be frank and natural. Thibaut is a perfect example. He was able to say when the work was done well or not and explain why. This is the example I would like to follow. I also take confidence thanks to my results. Until some time ago, I didn’t feel legitimate at times because I hadn’t yet had results or victories compared to other riders. But over time, you gain stature, experience, and self-confidence. This is what allows me to unite better and better around me, and also to unite the team with itself. It’s a role that I want to have.
“To do everything to be selected for the Olympic Games and win a medal”
At the end of November, do you already know your main objectives for 2024?
I won’t have the program until December, but I roughly know what I want. I have goals, and I have things in my mind. Everything will depend a lot on my possible selection for the Olympic Games. I always watched it when I was a kid, and I dream of being there. If I am lucky enough to be selected, the ideal preparation would be to go to the Tour. I want to do everything to be selected for the Olympics and win a medal. It will be up to me to prove at the start of the season that I deserve the selection, and if I get it, I will set my second peak of shape for the end of the Tour/Olympics in order to be ready on D-day. The start of the season will remain the same. I dream of winning the Tour of Flanders and it will be my big appointment in the spring, together with the Strade Bianche. These races are made for me, and I hope to win them one day.
Last question Valentin: have you got used to riding in the French champion’s jersey?
It’s always nice when you put it on, especially the first time of the year, like on Tuesday. You say to yourself “It’s really cool”. You get used to it anyway, but I don’t absolutely intend to give it away in June, so I think it’s positive (smiles).