On September 11th, on the other side of the Ocean, Anthony Roux put an end to fifteen years of good and loyal service to the Groupama-FDJ cycling team. The 35-year-old from Lorraine never left the Madiot brothers’ team and notably brought them a French championship title and a stage win in the Vuelta. After many years as an exemplary road captain, he decided to close a chapter of his life this season in order to open a new one. One month after he left the peloton, he took some time to talk about it deeply.
Anthony, how do you feel a few weeks after ending your career?
I’m taking it well. I don’t see it as an end, but as another step. My mind is now focused on other things. Cycling races are behind me. Mentally, I had processed it for a while. It was a long and mature reflection. I did not take this decision in a hurry. Since the moment it was decided, I just wanted to participate in my last races and move on. I had reached the end of my rope, I was struggling to get entirely involved in the races. To call it an end was just pure and simple logic. I am happy to be where I am today, but I still want to do sport. I wanted to stop cycling competitions, but I am not tired with sports at all. On the contrary, it’s still what makes me want to get up in the morning.
“Races did not suit me anymore”
How did you experience your last races as a pro rider?
I wanted to finish in the Canadian races because I know the atmosphere there. Considering the program that was proposed to me, it was the only date that was important. I couldn’t see myself finishing in Isbergues or Chauny. I have no ties with these races. I have much more history and love for Québec and Montréal. I was just hoping it wouldn’t rain so I could enjoy it fully. The weather was very good, even quite warm. The conditions were perfect. Sportively, because I hadn’t raced much since my crash in April, I really struggled. Still, I hung on to make the most of the last few moments and not have regrets later. The weekend was very tiring and by the evening of the Grand Prix de Montréal, I was dead. I experienced a big mental drop, as if fifteen professional years had fallen on my back in one go. I even fell asleep before going to the restaurant. On Saturday, I received a nice gift from my family who sent me a letter to Montreal. A QR code came with it, and it led to a video in which about fifty members of my family had a word for me. I’m not going to hide the fact that I finished a box of tissues. It was very intense and emotional. They have been following me since I was a child, they have always come to see me at the races. I know how important they have been to me. I can’t wait to see them again to thank them all over a good meal.
Did you think about your career on the way back?
No. The chapter was already closed for me, it just had to end on a specific date. I was also looking forward to moving on to new things and opening another chapter. I have no regrets, so it’s easier to accept. I didn’t have the mental strength to do high level racing anymore. When you know that you don’t belong anymore, that you have less and less fun, you actually can’t wait for it to end. Races didn’t suit me anymore. I didn’t find my place there anymore.
When did this reflection begin?
It’s been on my mind for about a year. I also want to start other projects as soon as possible, and that makes you realize that it might be the time to stop and do something you want to do. For me, the main issue was the crashes. I certainly didn’t have many, but it was quite serious each time. It calls into question how much risk you are prepared to accept in a race. Thinking about it, I understood I did not want it anymore. I was going to the races telling myself “don’t crash”. That’s the best way to approach races the wrong way. Nowadays, you have to take risks to be a pro cyclist, and I didn’t want to do that anymore. My fitness was still there, the training was going great, I always wanted to get on my bike, but I didn’t like bike racing and the way of racing anymore. I wasn’t in love with it anymore, so it was easier to stop. I didn’t like fighting for positions from the beginning, I had more of a defensive approach. But I was more and more defensive, while the peloton was less and less defensive. Our paths gradually moved apart.
“I learned from my crashes”
It had nothing to do with your first years in the sport?
Of course, it was completely different in my early years. I think I was lucky enough to experience years that suited me. I wouldn’t have been able to perform well if it hadn’t been like that. Others are not fortunate enough to get a style of racing that suits them in the time they’re pro. Personally, I noticed a change after the Covid. At first, I was surprised, and after thinking over it, I asked myself if this was what I was looking for. I soon found my answer.
Your decision isn’t connected with the sacrifices of a pro cycling rider?
Absolutely not, I’ve always liked sacrifices, and still do. That’s my mentality. Everyone who knows will say so. I have always done things the hard way. I’m not passionate about the two-hour rides, but with the super long, super hard 8-hour rides with lots of climbs, even if I’m not a climber. I love suffering in sport. That’s not the reason I stopped. I like to do things 100%. At home, if I need to clean, I don’t just do the kitchen, I do the whole house. It’s the same with cycling.
So crashes are a very important part of your decision.
They are, but paradoxically, I have never regretted my crashes, because they have always led me to make good decisions. They say you learn from your mistakes. I also learned from my crashes. I know that my career could have been different without them, but the 2-3 big crashes I suffered also acted as triggers, both in my career and in my personal life. In 2011, I broke two vertebrae, and I came very close to the wheelchair. It took me a long time to get back to my level, but I had time to think. I told my wife that maybe it was time to have a kid, that I should enjoy life, not just cycling. In the last few years, I’ve had other painful crashes which made me realize that a few years more wouldn’t make much difference. I said to myself: “if you can’t do it anymore, don’t push it”. Throughout my career, the crashes made me make good decisions.
“I think I did everything I could”
Isn’t there a touch of bitterness?
I really don’t take anything negative away, only positive. Cycling has really made me evolve. I am 35 years old, but I may be 50 mentally. If I hadn’t been cycling, I might be 20 today. I have learned so much and gained so much experience. High-level sport makes you live special, exceptional things. You can only evolve in this environment. I have known everything. I won some great races, which gave me extreme joy and emotion. With my crashes, I came close to terrifying things that could have been more serious, but that also made the man I am today. I met a lot of people inside and outside the team who made me learn things about life in general. Without cycling, I would never have had all that. It was great. I am proud and happy to have done all these years within the pros.
From a sporting point of view, what do you make of your career?
Considering what happened to me (several health problems due to crashes, editor’s note), considering my mindset, I think I did everything I could. I could have done better, but without crashes and with a different mindset. I think I’ve gotten to the bottom of things and that is why I am satisfied. I don’t have the level of Thibaut Pinot, I could not have done crazy things. But I am not a bad rider either. I managed to perform at a high level, to win races, to get a French champion title, a stage win in the Vuelta. I am very satisfied with that, and I have no regrets. You always want to do more, but I have achieved what was possible for me to achieve.
Looking back, what are you most proud of?
The French championship is my last great happiness. I won a stage in the Vuelta, but I was very young and I saw things differently. My French championship title is that special because I was on the podium already in my second year professional and came close many times. It was a relief, quite simply. The beautiful thing about this title was not the performance, rather the process and the path. I’d always done everything to be there on D-Day, but it had never worked. So, the day it does, after ten attempts, it’s such a huge feeling. Emotionally, I have never experienced anything like it in my sporting life.
“The French championship title did not come overnight”
Would you look at your career completely differently without this title?
I would, because it is something I have always been chasing. In the young categories, I was already on the podium. Very early on in the pros, I had great performances, and I was always there. Every time I was in the peloton and saw the guy wearing the French champion’s jersey, it made me want the same. In August, you don’t notice a rider who won a stage in the Tour. In cycling, we are lucky enough to wear the jersey for 365 days, including in training. It’s huge, it’s a dream. You keep the stripes on your shoulders all your career. It stays. If I hadn’t had that, I would have had a big regret. It didn’t come overnight, and that’s why it’s so important to me. It could also not have happened. When you finish on the podium in the championship, you’re really upset. Then, when you come back to racing and you see the guy with the jersey, it does affect you, you are a bit jealous. But it makes you want to go back to work and get it. That was pretty much my reasoning every year.
Did you feel at peace after that title?
I think I had a different career after that. I continued my momentum on San Sebastian (3rd) and then on the Tour du Limousin, where I managed to win with the jersey. I had a very good season, but then 2019 wasn’t the same even though I hadn’t changed anything. I think I had fulfilled a big achievement, and although I did not rest on my laurels, I think my motivations were different afterwards. Perhaps I didn’t have that big quest anymore. I always dreamed of winning on the three Grand Tours, that’s what kept me going at the back of my mind. I thought I was capable of doing it. Eventually, I slowly realized that I didn’t necessarily have the level to do it and that the Grand Tours had changed. The breakaways didn’t often go all the way, and the ones that were fighting for the victory were made up of great champions. There is not much room for average riders anymore.
What would be your greatest performance, athletically speaking?
I don’t think there is just one, but if we talk about physical performance, it also implies that there are the world’s best. So, it can only be on WorldTour races, and I personally performed on the Clasica San Sebastian and the Grand Prix de Québec. For me, these two podiums remain big performances. In the Vuelta, it was a breakaway, and it was not something I had prepared. For San Sebastian and Quebec, on the other hand, it was months of sacrifices paying off. These two results are significant for me, also because I think I’m quite realistic. After a few years, I realized that I wasn’t able to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège, that the Flemish Classics weren’t made for me or that the Tour of Lombardy was too hard. These intermediate classics were more suited to the rider I was. Even if these races are secondary for some people, they are still WorldTour races. Even if they are not Monuments, the startlist is almost the same. I was smart enough to know my limits, and I didn’t get carried away thinking I was capable of getting a podium in Liège. But I knew that my way of getting over the climbs and doing sprints at the end of a hard race could allow me to make a result in these races. I proved it.
“The hard times with Thibaut were always very hard”
After going back on the good memories, what are the worst?
The crashes didn’t affect me that much, especially as I always got something positive out of them. There are obviously tough days on the bike when it snows or rains, but you forget about them quickly. In the end, the things that really affected are linked to Thibaut. He is a great friend I’ve made on the bike, but he made me live through some extreme moments. There are obviously a lot of positive things, but his abandon on the penultimate day of the Giro really sticks in my mind. I remember a lot of that stage, which was very long and very hard to live with. When he withdrew from the Tour as well, it was very hard to finish. We cried a lot with William during the whole stage. I always committed a lot for Thibaut, I put a lot of love on the bike for him. Therefore, I also lived the negative moments 100%, and the hard times with him were always very hard. I have always taken the positive out of tough personal times. However, I never did for those with Thibaut, because I would just tell myself that he didn’t deserve that at all. This unfairness makes these memories painful, but it also reinforced the things we experienced together and the closeness we have today.
Speaking of closeness, you have spent all your fifteen professional years in the Groupama-FDJ organization.
I even started with the Fondation Française des Jeux when I was Under-23. I’ve always had a foot in this team, and I then became a stagiaire and turned professional. Each time the opportunity to leave arose, I always decided to stay. When I needed the team to be there for me, they always decided to keep me. It’s been a logical way of going. You can always say to yourself “should I have left and see something else?”. I had this thought, even if I didn’t really want to because I’m someone who needs reassurance, points of reference, and that’s why I’ve always stayed in the team. In the end, I’m happy to have spent fifteen years in the same organization with people who were there for me and who also taught me a lot about myself and about life in general. These fifteen years were pretty full.
So the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side of the fence?
I needed to know what I was getting into. I think I was also afraid of the unknown. Changing teams without knowing where I was heading while things were going well with the team was undoubtedly one of the reasons I never left. I’m not someone who likes to take risks. Leaving would have been one, from the point of view of training, the environment, the equipment, which are things that are very important to me. Not having any guarantees has always been a barrier for me. I am someone for whom the human relationship has always been important too. I needed friends in the team, like Arthur [Vichot], Thibaut [Pinot], or like Julien [Pinot], who has been there for me for ten years. He is a shoulder I have always leaned on. Julien is one of the reasons why I stayed in the team. The same goes for Jacky Maillot, who has helped me a lot during my career. I needed them, and that’s why I’ve always stayed. In 2020, it was very hard to wait for an answer from the team, which I got in mid-November. I suffered from it, I won’t hide it. Nevertheless, it made me think about what I wanted, and it led me to take the decision to stop this year. That’s why I only take the positive away. If I decide to stop, it’s because I don’t want to do bike racing anymore.
“I give myself two years to find out how far I can go”
Yet, you still have a thirst for competition, especially for Ironman triathlon.
It comes from my teenage years. When I was in a sports study program in Nancy, I was at the Youth Cycling Pole, and there was also a Youth Triathlon Pole. All the friends I made at that time, and that I still have now, are triathletes. I always followed triathlon, and every winter I also trained a bit in running and swimming. I always told myself that at the end of my career, I had to take advantage of my physical shape to have fun in long distance triathlon. It is the natural way of going forward. That’s why it was important to choose the right moment to stop and choose it early enough to ensure the transition. Since April-May, I was almost more motivated to go swimming and running than to go riding. It was now or never. I give myself two years to find out how far I can go. I’m taking a complete leap of faith because I don’t come from that background. I’m not getting carried away, but I have the will and the pleasure. I have made sacrifices for fifteen years, but these are not sacrifices. Adding running and swimming to 20-25 hours of cycling a week is total fun for me. I want to do things 100%, even if I won’t be a professional. The dream would be to go to Hawaii, but will I be able to qualify and make it financially speaking? We’ll see when the time comes, but it’s the race I dream about the most.