with Bruno Armirail

“I’m never satisfied”

The great events follow one another for Bruno Armirail. After an unforgettable Giro, the rider from Occitanie is about to get back to proper business on Thursday, in the French time trial championship. Determined to keep his title, the 29-year-old looks back on the past year in the tricolour jersey and on his two days in pink with happiness, but without nostalgia. He also takes the opportunity to reveal a little more about himself and some trade secrets.

Bruno, how are you a bit more than three weeks after the Giro?

I’m doing well! I think I recovered well from the Giro. You also recover more easily when you are in good shape, and that was the case over there. In the first week following the Giro, I took four rest days and did three easy rides. I then resumed normal training, but with a focus on the time trial, in particular to work on the position. I also did 6-7 days of altitude, near home, at the Pic du Midi. I had the French time trial championship in mind for quite a while, so I haven’t eased off at all since the Giro.

“The Giro was great, but the season is not over”

Have you come back “on earth”, or are you still living the Giro euphoria?

I did come back, but actually, I never really left earth. I was always realistic. It was nice to have the pink jersey, but I also knew that I would not keep it until the end. However, I did realize a bit more when I got home than when I was there, by the number of people who congratulated me, followed me, with all the messages, calls. I also received a lot of congratulations when I was on the Giro, but I was more focused on the race, on the next day, and I didn’t pay that much attention. Back here, I got congratulations as soon as I met someone. That’s really when I realized what I had done.

Do you think about this pink adventure every day?

If others don’t talk about it, no. I am now fully focused on the French time trial championship because I want to defend my title. What’s done is done, and I can’t rest on my laurels because I wore the pink jersey. It was obviously great, but the season is not over. There are other races to come, and I hope to be able to participate in the Vuelta to finally get a victory. The pink jersey was great, but apart from the French championship last year, I have never won a race. I’m never satisfied. If I had had the pink jersey for three days instead of two, I would have been disappointed that it wasn’t four. I look ahead rather than behind, and I am not satisfied with what I have achieved. I always want to go further, as far as I can go.

“There is an obvious difference between before and after the jersey”

Do you feel like you fully enjoyed this experience?

I think I did. It was obviously very nice to see the public cheering for me, whereas it was not particularly so before. I made the most of that moment, but I was also very focused on the race because I couldn’t relax. The first night, everyone told me “Try to sleep well”. Well, I managed to sleep well because I put things in perspective and thought very little about it. I’d rather have a good night’s sleep and try to defend the jersey the next day than thinking about it too much and not being in good shape when I wake up. It is also for this reason that I looked at my phone very little and answered just a few people.

Have you felt any difference from before and after the pink jersey?

Quite significantly. I have many more requests now, especially in my area. There is media interest, but I also have a few official appointments where I take the pink jersey with me. It’s not unpleasant. On the contrary, it’s quite nice for a domestique like me. There is an obvious difference between before and after. This was already the case last year with my French title, but it was not that big. Today, it is huge and impressive.

Personally, did you come out of the Giro with more confidence?

For sure. In particular, my fifth place in the second time trial gave me confidence. However, paradoxically, if I must have one regret about the Giro, it may well be on that stage. I am disappointed to have finished eight seconds from the win. Over thirty-five kilometres, it is nothing at all. A guy like me who finishes eight seconds behind Evenepoel, seven seconds behind Thomas and four seconds behind Stefan, that’s not insignificant. Beyond that, I finished just outside the top-15 overall, I fought for my pink jersey against the best. It was a great Giro, but because I haven’t raced since, it’s hard to say if that changed my approach in any way. It is too early to know. It is also easier to be confident when the shape is there. This was the case on the Giro. Anyway, like in the 2020 Vuelta, I proved that I could be consistent at a high level for three weeks, and that gives confidence.

“Deep down I’m self-confident, but I rather not express it”

Speaking of confidence… You often seem dissatisfied with your feelings, your legs, during interviews. How do you explain it?

It’s more about being demanding with myself. I know it can be a flaw, and that some can sometimes be less transparent about their sensations. Yet, it’s not a lack of confidence. I’m just eternally dissatisfied. Sometimes I feel good, but if I get second, I can’t say the legs were very good. I have a high demand for myself, and I’m not the type to jump for joy either. I am not someone who puts himself forward, who brags. Deep down I’m self-confident, but I rather not express it. Sometimes I know I can absolutely fight for the win, but I’m not going to say it.

Have you ever been fully satisfied with your “legs”?

I have already felt the perfect day, but it can be counted on the fingers of one hand. For example, there was the last stage of the 2021 Tour du Haut Var, where I was in the break and rode all day for Valentin and Rudy. Yes, that’s the kind of day I’m always looking for. I would like to feel great all the time, but even if I did, I wouldn’t say I was great. I would say I was fine. After the second Giro time trial, Remco said he was not in top shape, and yet he won. This is a champion spirit. I can’t say I was great if I’m fifth. If I say that, then this is over. If I say that, then I no longer have the ambition of going further, higher and looking for the small details that will make me win. We can always do and hope for something better.

Last year, how did you feel at the French championship?

I felt good (laughs). If I had won by a margin of 1’30, I might have answered very good. In short, I was fine. I find it hard to say “I felt very good”.

“I pray to be as bad as possible in the warm-up”

Before a time trial, do you have any physical or psychological points of reference that make you think you’ll do a great performance?

The day before, I must have rubbish feelings. When I do my waking-up ride in the morning, the sensations must not be good. During the warm-up, I need to find it hard and not feel good at all. And there, I can say that I will usually do a pretty good time trial. It’s strange, but that’s the way it is. If I manage to produce good watts in my small sprints during the warm-up, I know that I will do a poor time trial… Every time, I pray to be as bad as possible during the warm-up (laughs). I’m weird, I know.

Has this pattern often been proven?

Very often. For example, when I took fifth on the Giro. During the warm-up, I felt bad, very, very bad. I even messaged David Han during the warm-up to tell him that I was stuck. I was really not confident that day, because I was really not good in the warm-up. This is a bit of a mystery, but I also think that I push too much on the rollers when I feel too good. We talked about it together with Thibaut on the Giro. He told me that he also sometimes did very good warm-ups but that he was not good on the time trial after. On the last time trial of the Giro, he told me that he did a light warm-up, with two little sprints, and that he eventually felt really good. Sometimes, unconsciously, we may push too much on the rollers. When I was doing mountainbike years ago, I would also go too deep on the rollers during the warm-up, and I would be rubbish in the race. When I joined the team, I would also warm up on the road for the time trial, to avoid going too strong.

During a time trial, do you rather have someone who talks a lot or little on the radio?

I want to be talked to a lot. The person behind me has to push me so that I don’t ease off. It’s often David Han, but when the sports directors follow me, they also know that I need a lot of encouragement. I also want to know the real times at the intermediates, they know that. They also know that we often look at the times later. If the reality is different from what we heard, we’ll still trust him the second time around, but if it happens again, we will doubt the next time. I prefer the person behind me to be frank and to give the real time. If I’m not going well at all and I’m thirtieth or fortieth, I prefer to be told so that I can finish easy. It is useless to push hard to finish fortieth.

“I was very proud to wear the tricolour jersey”

There are a lot of questions about the mental approach to the time trial. Do you look closely at the list of opponents? Do you prefer to start before or after another favorite? Does having reference times made by teammates really help? What do you make of all that?

It depends. It’s good to have some reference times. It’s obviously better to leave after, but if you’re at your limit, you’re just at your limit. It is not because you start behind your rival that you will win. You can have all the time references in the world, if you don’t have good legs, you won’t win. As for the teammates… If it’s Stefan Küng and I have his split times, it’s useful. And if I’m in front of him, like on the Giro when he started a minute after me, that surely motivates me. If it’s a rider who does it easy or who isn’t a specialist, and I’m in his time or barely in front, I just think I’m doing bad. Regarding the course, I always do a recon myself. A teammate can always give me 2-3 tips, if a barrier has been installed, about a manhole cover, a wet corner, but in general, I enter in my bubble for the time trial.

So you are about to defend your jersey. How did you experience the past year?

Time flew, but I still had the chance to do the Vuelta and the Giro with it. It was really great. I also did other time trials, in Poland, at Bessèges… It gives a little extra motivation, but as I’ve already said, whether it’s with the tricolour jersey or the team jersey, I give my best every time I start a time trial. I was still very proud to wear it, and it was even more beautiful in this team because there are no sponsors on the jersey. It’s like being dressed in the flag. It was a great experience, but I hope I will extend it for another twelve months.

Are you happy with what you have done with this jersey?

Overall, I’m quite satisfied. Sometimes, there are obviously criticisms on social networks, it may be frustrating, but you get over it. Anyway, they don’t have the jersey, I do. And to get it, you have to be good on D-Day. The only disappointment is the fifth place in the Giro. Winning a time trial on a Grand Tour with the jersey could have been the icing on the cake.

“Now, only the first place matters”

Do you imagine yourself giving up the jersey on Thursday night?

Absolutely not. Besides, I already have it. The other teams do not need to order it. I already have the jersey in the suitcase, I can keep it on Thursday night, and that way they won’t have to spend money to conceive a jersey for their rider (smiles). Don’t worry, leave it to me. It saves money, and you also have to think about the planet. Making a jersey keeps the factories running (smiles).

Any other result than first place would be disappointing?

If I fail and am disappointed, I’ll need to get over it anyway. And if I then happen to contest a time trial against the new French champion, that will give me even more motivation to beat him. If I am not French champion, I’ll be very disappointed because I can no longer be satisfied with second or third place. I was third, I was second and I was first. Now, only the first place matters.

In 2021, when I asked you if you were proud of your career, you said: “What I’ve done so far is okay, and I’m happy with the start of my career, but I haven’t won anything yet”. Two years later, are you proud?

Not yet. As I said before, I’m not content with what I am currently doing, I always want to go further. I think I will never be satisfied, or maybe at the end of my career. For now, I’m not. The goal remains to win time trials, to win races, to support my leaders even better. I’m not satisfied, and luckily so, otherwise I couldn’t progress. I don’t want to stagnate. What I have done is good, but you must try to go further and always do better.

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