with Laurence Pithie

“It’s time to step up”

On the night of Friday to Saturday, the 2024 season will unofficially start for Groupama-FDJ on the Down Under Classic, a criterium contested prior to the Tour Down Under. In the streets of Adelaide, Laurence Pithie will have the opportunity to test himself for the first time, on the eve of his second season in the WorldTour which he hopes will be as successful as the first one. As he’s also about to take on more responsibilities, the 21-year-old New Zealander sat down for an in-length interview ahead of his return to racing.

Laurence, how are you and what have you been up to the past three months?

I’m very good. I’ve been in New Zealand the past three months and spent most of my time in Christchurch. I did some travelling in the South to watch some of my friends race, then I came home and spent a lot of time with friends, catching up with everyone. After eight months of being in Europe, it’s good to see the old faces again. I did some running as well in the off-season, and it was good to do something different. I did one race of 26 kilometres around the mountains. It was really fun and a good experience. I enjoyed it. I ended up winning that race, but it wasn’t super official.

“A seamless transition from the Conti to the WorldTour”

Have you had time to reflect on the 2023 season?

For sure, I definitely had some time to reflect. Of course, everyone over here was asking how the season went and congratulated me for my first season in the WorldTour. I think this is a season I can be happy with. It was my first year in the WorldTour and I managed to get a win. It was really nice, and I could get some other cool results like 5th in the Hamburg Classic. I also had only one bad crash that took me out of competition for a month. Other than that, it was quite a smooth year for me. A successful one, with opportunities as well.

Do you feel like you coped well with the very high level?

The racing was definitely a step up. I could really see the strength of the competitors, especially at the Tour Down Under last year. Because I did not have the best preparation after being hit by a car and caught Covid, I got there under prepared. I thought « wow, I’m not sure I can keep up with everyone ». From there, I knew I had to increase my level if I wanted to compete with the best. But from there, it only got better, moving on to the UAE Tour, where my level was a lot better. I still could feel the speed of everyone because the level was super high, especially in the sprints. Moving on to the European racing, in Nokere Koerse, I had a nice result, ending up in the top-10. That week was very good for me, even though I crashed in Denain, but nothing too troubling. Then came my first FDJ French Cup races with Classic Loire-Atlantique then Cholet-Pays de Loire, where I was able to go second and first. It was really cool to get these results early on. Eventually, the team made it really a seamless transition from the Conti to the WorldTour. They helped me really well and gave me a nice program where I could learn and experience the hardest races, but also do some races where I was able to do some nice results like in the FDJ French Cup.

Did you imagine you would win a race in your first season at the top level?

For sure I thought about it. Winning is always in the back of your mind, especially in your first season, just to get that victory out of the way early and take some of the pressure off. Not that there was some pressure anyway, but I was still hoping to get a win. To be able to achieve it was great. I wouldn’t say the win was a bonus, but I think after getting the win, the rest of the season was a bonus.

“Big goals and big motivation”

You also talked about placing 5th in Hamburg. What was it like being up there in a WorldTour Classic?

It’s definitely not something I expected. That was more of a surprise. I wasn’t the leader that day. It was for Jake, but he wasn’t feeling super, so I took my opportunity. I had good placement in the final, and still some speed in the legs. It was quite a chaotic finish with Mads Pedersen attacking late and catching the breakaway on the line. I think with some more experience, I really could have podiumed that race. Still, it’s a really nice result to take, especially with the company I had around me. It was the first time fighting with some big sprinters. It was definitely interesting going from leading Arnaud out to sprinting against him. It’s a result to build on.

You’re now about to start your second season. How do you approach it?

I’m extremely motivated to start the season well, in good form and with some nice results. The team has shown a lot of faith in me, especially on the Tour Down Under, with the leadership in the sprints. I feel prepared and ready to start strong, and then keep the momentum moving into the racing in Europe. I have some big goals and big motivation. I want to be up there from the start.

“To discover the Classics and a Grand Tour”

What have you seen from 2023 that you’d like to improve already this year?

My big goal in the off-season was to work on my peak power for the sprint. I saw in 2023 that I was able to position myself well and that I had the speed, but I really have to work on my peak power for the finish. I’ve been in the gym again, which has done me a lot of good. I used to go there a lot when I raced on the track, but since I joined the Conti team, I hadn’t done anything. I’m now working to improve my sprint power and hopefully it will lead to some good results. 

Considering you’ve already won last year, what are you aiming for in 2024?

Winning again but at a higher level this time. Instead of a .1 race, I’d like to win a Pro Series race or even in the WorldTour. It’s a big goal but I think it’s the target. There’s still some hard work to be done but I think it’s definitely possible this year. I want to discover other races as well. I might do the Classics this year, the spring cobbled Classics, like the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. I didn’t do much of the WorldTour Classics last year, so it would be a big goal this year to learn from someone like Stefan, and progress in these races for the future. The plan for me is to start in Kuurne. From there, I’ll do Paris-Nice to help and use my capabilities for the team time trial, and then move on to the big Classics, with the main goal of helping Stefan or Valentin win and being there to support them in the final of the races. Also, I might discover a Grand Tour. The plan was to do the Vuelta initially, but now I think I’ll be doing the Giro. There will be some nice opportunities there to get good results and get the strength from a Grand Tour.

“I’d like to be a versatile sprinter”

What about your profile as a rider? Is it now clear enough for you?

I think there is still a lot of unknown, but I’m heading more in the direction of sprinting and Classics. You see now that the guys who sprint are also really strong in the Classics. I’d like to be a versatile sprinter who can be there to compete in a bunch sprint, but also be up there on a hard Classic race. For sure, the days of being a pure sprinter are gone. It’s not often that you have a day where it is all flat. You have to be able to be more versatile and that is what I’m trying to do. Yet, I want to have a good sprint at the end, because unless you are solo, that is how you win races. I’m definitely not someone with the Groenewegen profile, more that of Philipsen or De Lie, guys who can compete in any type of finish: slightly uphill flat at the end or when there is a climb close to the finish that you can pass. I would like to be able to do this.

Does the team expect more from you this year in the sprints?

For sure, the team is counting on me now. Now we’ve lost Arnaud, it’s time for myself and Paul to step up. We also have Matt Walls, who has a really fast finish as well. It’s time to step up, and the team is counting on me to progress and take that next level in my sprinting and be able to compete for the win. From that point of view, my role will progress in that I will stay back with the peloton and let others follow the moves. I think it will depend on the race situation and the riders we have in the team, but I would also like to still be an attacking and offensive rider.

After a few years in the team’s environment, have you completely found your bearings here?

Yes, for sure. There is a really nice atmosphere in the team and it’s been great to move to the WorldTour with six of my teammates, who are also my friends, and take the next step together. For sure, when I came to Europe it was a big step, as I couldn’t speak any French or understand. Now, I think I integrated well within the team, I feel very welcomed by all the staff and the riders. I’m really happy here.

“When I’m racing, I think about the people back home”

Do you also feel some excitement for this new generation?

With Thibaut retiring and Arnaud leaving the team, it’s the moment for the young guys to step up. The public and the fans were really excited about it. Everyone had high expectations and I think we lived up to the expectations last year with Romain taking many wins and Lenny being in the red jersey for instance. To be in this team, surrounded by so many talents, it’s really cool. We’re to perform and make sure we keep the team at a high level, especially with the older guys already performing very well. With Lenny and Romain winning, everyone is trying to win, and everyone is motivated. It brings the whole team to a higher level.

Do you also personally feel some attention from the French public?

For sure, I see stuff on Twitter. You can see and feel that there are some expectations. I will try to live up to them as best as I can. When I see stuff like this, it just motivates me more to be at a high level and get good results.

Do you feel like you gained fans over here in the last couple of years?

It’s hard to know, but I hope so! The French are very passionate fans (smiles), and it’s cool to have people behind me, backing me, and following my races. All I can do is try to perform to make them proud. For sure there are also a lot of people following from New Zealand, especially me and Reuben. It’s really easy to forget about the sport when you’re on the other side of the world, but everyone is really supportive. I know a lot of people wake up to watch me race, and when I’m racing, I think about the people back home. It’s a good motivation to keep going.

“The Australian campaign and the Nationals are big goals”

Do you like being “under the radar”?

I think last year there wasn’t so much pressure or expectation, it was more about learning and taking the races as they came, but this year there will be more pressure. For sure, the pressure is good because if no one puts pressure on you or has expectations, that means they don’t believe much in you. So I take the pressure as it comes, set high the bar of expectations and try to live up to it.

Have you prepared this Australian campaign properly?

It’s definitely a goal. I’ve come here with some nice form, I’ve had good training back home in New Zealand, so I’ll do everything I can to get the best results here. I have high hopes to perform well here. I’m not just here to train, I’m here to take the racing as it comes and be on the podium, or on the top step even. I’ll be taking every opportunity in the fast finishes. I’ll try to be there and perform. It’s not a very long campaign, so we’ll try to make the best out of our time here and make every stage an opportunity.

Do you also expect something from the Nationals?

It is a big goal as well. It will be a good chance, the course suits me well, I’ll try to win and bring the jersey back to Europe. It will also be a chance to catch attention… I’d really like to go to the Olympics this year, so winning the Nationals would be a nice result to get a possible selection.

To read in this category…

No comment