On Belgian soil this Sunday, the Groupama-FDJ cycling team and Valentin Madouas completed the 2023 Ardennes Classics’ campaign in a great way. Following mixed results in the Amstel Gold Race and the Flèche Wallonne, the outcome proved much more satisfying in the fourth Monument of the season, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. At the end of a gruelling race, dominated by Remco Evenepoel like last year, Valentin Madouas managed his efforts perfectly and eventually broke away in the last kilometres to secure fifth place on the day. This major performance puts an end to a lively spring, during which he still took a podium on the Strade Bianche. It is now time for a deserved break before starting the preparation for the second part of the season.

Started almost two months ago, the Spring Classics’ campaign was about to come to an end this Sunday. As usual, it was up to Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the oldest of them all, to bring it to a close. For the Groupama-FDJ cycling team, it was also about finishing the Ardennes’ trilogy in style after a few setbacks over the past week. Still far from his real level due to allergies, David Gaudu was nevertheless at the start of Liège, but as a domestique for once. “He didn’t want to go home,” insisted Philippe Mauduit. “He told us that he wanted to stay with the guys, adding: “All year round, they work for me, so I want to do it for them here in Liège”. It was good that he did it. It’s a way to show his gratitude to his teammates.” And so that’s what the French climber did for the first part of the race, while his teammate Lars van den Berg embarked on the day’s breakaway with Johan Meens (Bingoal WB), Ruben Apers (Team Flanders-Baloise), Jason Osborne (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Mathis Le Berre (Arkéa-Samsic), Paul Ourselin (TotalEnergies), Georg Zimmermann (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Fredrik Dversnes (Uno-X), Simone Velasco (Astana Qazaqstan), Alexandre Balmer (Jayco AlUla) and Héctor Carretero (Equipo Kern Pharma). At the head of the race, the young Dutchman enjoyed a maximum lead of four minutes, but despite the abandon of Tadej Pogacar before the halfway point, the pace increased sharply in the bunch with a hundred kilometres left to go.

“We can’t really have any regret”, Valentin Madouas

David Gaudu and Matthieu Ladagnous delivered their last efforts for Valentin Madouas, who then hesitated to open the race from far, with 85 kilometres to go. “I wanted to try to anticipate on the côte de Wanne, but when I saw that the pace was high in the bunch behind, so I sat up”, he explained. “There was no point wasting energy foolishly. I just had to save myself for the final. I focused on staying well positioned and keeping energy for La Roche-aux-Faucons”. The riders covered the Wanne-Stockeu-Haute Levée sequence without major attacks occurring, but the selection proved already important from the back. Valentin Madouas still had three teammates at that point, and even found Lars van den Berg back at the top of the côte du Rosier. Approaching the last fifty kilometres, barely sixty men remained within the bunch, and there were even less after crossing the côte de Desnié, the last climb before heading to la côte de La Redoute. As in the last edition, this is where the victory was decided. Remco Evenepoel attacked as he approached the summit, and soon after got rid of his last rival Tom Pidcock to fly away for a solo victory.

In a good position starting this iconic hill, Valentin Madouas went for a conservative approach. “In La Redoute, I managed my way up so as to never be too far from a large group”, he claims. “We knew that it was going to come back after and that we would have to give everything we had in La Roche-aux-Faucons”. Behind the world champion in the lead, it was therefore a group of around twenty riders that was set to fight for the remaining places on the final climb. Ben Healy and Santiago Buitrago moved on the hardest part of the slope, then were joined by Tom Pidcock on the following false flat. Always in control with his pace, Valentin Madouas hesitated to imitate the Brit. “I almost regret not having jumped across on the last false flat after la Roche-aux-Faucons”, he said at the finish. “I had good feelings and I’m almost a little frustrated with that. It was very tactical for the podium, and everyone was very strong”. Three men then broke away for the podium, but the Breton remained focused. “We then tried in the final with Guillaume [Martin]”, he said. “We waited for the right moment, and we went together”. The duo worked well and were able to get to the final stretch playing for the top-5. In the sprint, Valentin Madouas actually secured the fifth place. “It was a tough race, the Soudal-Quick Step put a high tempo throughout the whole day, and I think we couldn’t do much better,” he added. “We just came across a stronger rider. We rode well, we can’t really have any regret”.

“This fifth place allows us to finish on a good note”, Philippe Mauduit

A year after his podium in the Tour of Flanders, the man from Brest therefore grabbed a top-5 on the other Belgian “Monument”. No Frenchman had achieved this double performance for sixty years. “The balance for this spring is alright”, explained Valentin, who was sick on the Ronde this year. “There have been ups and downs. Unfortunately, I crashed on two of my objectives, the Strade Bianche and the Amstel Gold Race. Every time, I managed nice comebacks, but it is quite frustrating. This top-5 in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, however, is my best result in the race and it is a very good performance to end this Classics campaign”.This fifth place allows us to finish the Ardennes trilogy on a good note and with optimism”, concluded Philippe. “We shouldn’t look for excuses or rewrite the past, but the three crashes on the Amstel, Romain’s illness and David’s illness certainly did not help. In spite of it all, we saw that the guys were combative, and until today, they put all the energy they had to join the fight. This fifth place from Valentin rewards all the work that has been done. Of course, we came here with much higher ambitions than these, but given the circumstances, I would be tempted to say that we have to be satisfied with it”. A large part of the group will now observe a good recovery phase before preparing the summer objectives.

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