Valentin Madouas’ emotions reached their peak this Sunday, on the finish line of the Bretagne Classic, in Plouay. After a long race of 258 kilometres, the French champion came out as the winner of an intense battle to conquer his very first WorldTour Classic, in front of his home crowd. Victorious of a four-man sprint, the Breton puncher also benefited from Stefan Küng’s presence up front, as the Swiss rider first led the race for sixty kilometres before being a crucial ally in the final. He also completed the race just outside the podium.Following this great day, Groupama-FDJ now tallies 19 victories this season. Valentin Madouas will head to Canadian Classics with full confidence.
Around the Plouay, a nice playing ground was set to host the riders for the second French WorldTour Classic of the seasonon Sunday. As usual, the Bretagne Classic’s 258 kilometresincluded a multitude of climbs, for a total elevation gain exceeding 4000 metres. However, the race proved quite calm at first, with only two riders in the lead controlled by the peloton. Aaron Van der Beken (Bingoal WB) and Alessandro Tonelli (Green Project-Bardiani-CSF-Faizenè) led the way for nearly 150 kilometres, but as they approached the “gravel” climb of Le Helles, located 80 kilometres from the finish, tension rose in the peloton and the duo was quickly reeled in. Then, in that same climb, another race started. First accelerations occured, Quentin Pacher gave it a go, but it wasStefan Küng who eventually managed to break away shortly after the summit together with Mick Van Dijke. As the peloton needed to reorganize, the two men quickly took a gap, also taking advantage of the Swiss man’s teammates covering the moves behind. “We thought of this scenario, namely taking a step ahead”, explained Thierry Bricaud. “We knew it could finish in the sprint, but the heat made the race even harder”. “It was not exactly the initial plan to go after the gravel section, but I felt very good and I saw that it was a bit difficultfor some riders”, added Stefan. “I tried, I ended up with Van Dijke, who told me that my pace was too high for him. We still increased the gap, and once you’re up there, you need to go for it. You never know what can happen behind.”
“The best thing is to be one step ahead”, Stefan Küng
At the front of the race, Stefan Küng and his breakaway companion reached the one-minute lead with sixty-five kilometres to go, and even got almost two minutes starting the last hour of racing. However, the chase intensified in the back, the gap fell to 45 seconds, but the Groupama-FDJ rider then got rid of the Dutchman to keep going alone with thirty kilometres to go. His advantage rose again for a bit, Valentin Madouas and Quentin Pacher covered other counterattacks within the bunch and the Swiss rider eventually tackled the Marta-Longeo sequence with a margin of thirty seconds. “I heard it was slowly coming back, but I absolutely wanted to get over Marta and Longeo because I knew I could hold on in the end,” said Stefan. In the Longeo climb, precisely, the peloton exploded due to a big attack which allowed seven riders to join the Swiss leader. Among them: Valentin Madouas. The leading group then grew further to reach fourteen units, including Marc Hirschi, Benoît Cosnefroy, Jai Hindley, Tiesj Benoot, Pavel Sivakov and Alex Aranburu. All of them then crossed the finish line for the first time with a good lead over the main “peloton”. “In such a group, you always have to be attentive, and the best thing is to be one step ahead,” continued Stefan. “As I crossed the finish line, I saw on the big screen that they were letting me go, so I went!”In the final loop, the tireless Swiss rouleur took the lead once again, and was first joined by two men. Valentin Madouas tried to jump across on the climb of Rostervel, but the French champion had to dig deep to make it to the front with Mathieu Burgaudeau. “I was on the limit all day,” he said. “I had good feelings, but not great either. I just hung on, hung on, and hung on”.
It did pay off, as Groupama-FDJ therefore had two cards in a five-man group when entering the last ten kilometers. On the penultimate climb, in Lezot, the Franco-Swiss duo fought hard to keep the pace of Felix Großschartner and Burgaudeau, and once all the difficulties were done, only four were left in the lead. There was just a slight downhill to complete before the last drag to the line in Plouay. “We had to play with the numbers and try to get away,” said Stefan Küng, who unsuccessfully tried to leave a split behind his teammate with two kilometres to go. The four men eventually enteredtogether in the last kilometre. “I knew the sprint by heart”,said Valentin. “It’s a tactical sprint. I needed to ride smart, and I knew I had to come from behind. It was all or nothing. If it worked out so much the better, if not, so much the worse, but I wanted to take the risk. I played with them a bit, Stefan kind of slowed them down, and I came with speed”. With momentum, Valentin Madouas immediately took a few lengths lead and then tried to keep at least one on the line. “I told myself, at worst they will catch me at twenty-five meters,and I will podium”, he added. “I had to distance them right from the start, and once I did, I just had to hold on and look atthe line. I could hear the crowd, it was really amazing. I had cramps, I didn’t do a good sprint, but that’s not the most important thing”.
“What more could you ask for?!”, Valentin Madouas
The most important thing is indeed that the gamble actually paid off. After a hard day on home soil, Valentin Madouas did win the sprint and therefore added the Bretagne Classic on his prize list. On the line, the man from Brest seemed incredulous. “I don’t know what to say,” he said. “I am really moved. To win here, in Plouay, with this jersey, is really extraordinary. It was a dream to win this race. Doing it in these conditions, what more could you ask for?!” Right after the finish, the French champion celebrated his victory with Stefan Küng, fourth of the day. “It makes me really happy that he can win in Brittany with his French champion jersey”, said Stefan. “We did a very good race as a team, and I am proud of the guys”. Thierry Bricaud also emphasized the Swiss man’s role on Sunday: “Valentin gets the win, but he also owes it a lot to Stefan’s work, which was huge today. He allowed us to have this head start and allowed Valentin to still have a bit of energy in the final. Valentin played the sprint to perfection, and if he wins, it means he was the strongest. It’s a very good day for the team and a wonderful day for him, because it’s his first victory in the WorldTour, in Brittany, and with the French champion’s jersey. It means a lot to him.”
The 27-year-old rider grabbed his second victory of the season, the seventh in his career, and allowed Groupama-FDJ to return to the top spot in a WorldTour Classic for the first time since 2018 Il Lombardia. “For me, winning at Plouay is as beautiful as winning a stage in the Tour”, assured Valentin. “I was not successful on the Tour, but I told myself that it would come. I made a lot of sacrifices, and it’s nice when it pays off. My end of the season is already successful, but I will go to Canada with ambition, because there are still beautiful goals to go for and I want to have fun. But first, I have to enjoy.”