Just outside Milan, on Monday, Matthieu Ladagnous’ eighteen years of good and loyal service will definitely come to an end. The Coppa Bernocchi will be the last race for the French rider, who has remained faithful to the same team since his jump to the professionals in 2006. At 38 years old, and after a final busy season, it is now time for him to retire. On the eve of his final bib, he agreed to talk about some of the key moments of his career.
Matthieu, do you remember your first moments with the team?
Yes, it was in November 2006. We had a training camp in Renazé, where we used to do cyclo-cross and road cycling. It was cold. At the end of the camp, I was dead, and I remember saying to my coach: “If it’s like that in the pros, I won’t be able to have a long career” (laughs). It was educational. A dream came true, I was a little shy and impressed.
“I wanted to find a new path”
How were your first years in the professional peloton?
I took my first victory in the Tour Med after only five days of racing. It’s something that will remain engraved in my memory. Then, I won the overall of the 4 Jours de Dunkerque, as well as one stage. I was still doing track at that time and competed in the Beijing Olympic Games, before focusing fully on road racing. For ten years or so, I was a Classics rider. I scored top-10 finishes in almost every race except Paris-Roubaix. I liked this kind of race, but it became too much of a routine, I always had the same program. I wanted to change, find a new path and I decided to support the climbers, mainly Thibaut at the time. It changed my career and I think that’s why I lasted so long.
Can we talk about the 2012 Paris-Roubaix?
It’s a deep regret. I came very close to the podium. Tom Boonen was alone in front, and I was in a small chasing group of four. On paper, I was the fastest in the sprint. I felt great, but I punctured in the last cobbled sector, in the Carrefour de l’Arbre. I stopped immediately… There was a motorbike with wheels, but it took a long time to change them, while there was one of our mechanics a hundred metres further on. That’s how it is. Then, I came back 20 metres from the group, but I was never able to get back. Eventually, I finished twelfth, after being caught by a group of seven just before the velodrome. That was hugely disappointing.
Have you experienced any other disillusions?
Of course! That’s also what makes high-level sport. On the Tour, I was caught 200 metres from the finish twice. For a rider like me, who doesn’t win a lot, winning a stage of the Tour would have definitely changed my track record. And as a domestique, I can’t not talk about the 2019 Tour… Thibaut was the strongest. I think we could have won the Tour that year. We were all there for him, we talked about it for months. It was such a powerful moment: even today, we can’t put it into words.
“You need to know when it’s time to stop”
You’ve also experienced some great moments: which ones will remain?
I’ll remember all my victories, but also my top-5 in the Tour of Flanders. As a domestique, there are also many: especially the victory on Il Lombardia with Thibaut, and the one on Milan-San Remo with Arnaud. I’ll also remember the Tour podium in 2014: it was the start of the Thibaut Pinot journey.
Are you happy to stop now?
Yes, maybe because I know it’s the last one. The more I get closer to it, the more I tell myself: “It’s the right time”. Physically, I feel like I could continue but you need to know when it’s time to stop. At the beginning, I imagined that a nice career would be to reach the age of 35. Now, I’m almost 39, so that’s pretty good. I want to give more time to my family, to my children. To perform well, we must think about ourselves, our training, our recovery, etc. So now, I want to be able to do things with my family, like playing football with my children, without thinking about my concerns as a pro rider. For the first time since I was twenty, I will also celebrate my birthday at home. On December 19, I was always in training camp, I always paid my round (laughs).
What will you miss?
Adrenaline on the bike. I don’t like taking risks, but we go through a lot during a race. Paradoxically, even though I find it hard to go deep in training, to do interval work-out, I’m sure I’ll miss it too. I will also miss the sharing moments on the bus. It’s really a special job. It’s not a real job.
“I hope to come back from time to time”
How do you approach your last race?
I didn’t really think about it. Above all, I wanted to do a full year. The team asked me which race I wanted to finish in, and I said it wasn’t important. It will be Monday, in the Coppa Bernocchi. I want to finish my final race, and it would have been difficult on Il Lombardia: I only finished it once in seven participations, and I finished very far away. I haven’t already thought about the last bib, about the finish… We’ll see.
Do you already have plans for your post-career?
I would like to be a professional firefighter. It’s a job that has similarities with that of a cyclist. We do sports, we never do the same things, we serve others. I always wanted to become a firefighter. As a child, I dreamed of cycling, but I had a good head on my shoulders. I said to myself: “You’re strong but there is a greater chance that you won’t become a pro cyclist than the other way around. » So I dreamed of becoming a firefighter… I even took the Paris firefighter exam at 18.
Would you like to add something?
I thank all the riders and all the staff members I was able to meet. A big thank you to Marc Madiot who trusted me from start to finish. I spent the best part of my life here. I hope to come back to see them from time to time. I am grateful for everything they have done for me and everything they have given me. I’ve had a good life thanks to cycling and thanks to the team, and now let’s move on!