Despite the Tuscan dust, the Groupama-FDJ team did not go unnoticed on Saturday afternoon, on the Strade Bianche. In particular, Valentin Madouas and Romain Grégoire delivered a superb final with the main favourites, after having followed the moves when everything blew apart with 50 kilometres to go. The Breton puncher even fought for the podium until Siena, and actually proved to be the strongest chaser of Thomas Pidcock, the eventual winner. On the Piazza del Campo, Valentin Madouas then took another podium in a WorldTour Classic, after his third place in Flanders last year. Romain Grégoire completed the excellent day for the team by entering the top-10 (8th) for his first participation, at just 20 years old.

On Saturday, a brilliant sunshine and dry “dirt roads” made the setting of the 17th edition of Strade Bianche, the third WorldTour Classic of the year, but undoubtedly one of the most anticipated events of the season. The course was in no way different from previous years, with a loop of 184 kilometres around Siena, with 63 of them on the famous “white roads” divided into eleven sectors. The weather, the route, the field, everything was there for a great day of racing. “Our strategy was quite simple”, explained Thierry Bricaud. “We were riding for Valentin and Romain, who were our two leaders because we knew they could be there in the final, while Thibaut had more freedom”. Before the team’s spearheads come into action, a breakaway established itself as usual, although it took nearly thirty kilometres for Sven-Erik Bystrom (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Alessandro De Marchi (Jayco-AlUla) and Ivan Romeo (Movistar) to take the front. The peloton then eased off and even entered the last hundred kilometres with a six-minute gap. In the fifth and sixth sectors, Olivier Le Gac took the lead of the bunch and thus made it possible for his leaders to remain at the front, while reducing the margin of the breakaway.

“When Pidcock attacked, I needed to catch my breath”, Valentin Madouas

Entering the seventh “Strada Bianca” in San Martino di Grania, Valentin Madouas however hit the ground. “I went to the car to get a bottle because I was really thirsty”, he explained. “I found myself in a bad position for the sector and I had a really stupid crash. I found myself very, very far, more than a minute behind the peloton. I had to chase in on my own, make a huge effort, because there were a lot of splits and I had to slalom between the cars”. Thanks to a frantic chase, the Frenchman came back before entering the always decisive sector of Monte Sante Marie, just over fifty kilometres from the finish. “He had a bit of luck in his misfortune as the race did not open up in the sector where he crashed,” said Thierry. “It allowed him to return but it was really close. Actually, he came back, and three kilometres later, he barely made it back up and the race exploded”. Unsurprisingly, the Monte Sante Marie once again blew the race apart. Thomas Pidcock flew into the lead, and a little further on, at the end sector, Valentin Madouas and Romain Grégoire found themselves in a chasing group including around fifteen men. “When Pidcock attacked, I needed to catch my breath, I couldn’t go with him,” explained Valentin. “I just wanted to hang on to the group of favorites. I wanted to manage my effort and keep some energy for the final because I knew it was going to be tough and because I had to recover from the big effort I had just made”.

At the very end of the sector, Romain Grégoire followed an attack of Mathieu van der Poel, then Valentin Madouas tried to take a step ahead for the first time with Andreas Kron and Pello Bilbao. Ten kilometres further, seven men joined this chasing move, including Romain Grégoire, while the gap with the leading man remained of about thirty seconds. The situation stayed the same for a few kilometres before the chase split into two parts. Valentin Madouas followed an attack by Tiesj Benoot and Rui Costa, then Attila Valter, Quinn Simmons and Matej Mohoric bridged across. Very quickly, this group came back to just fifteen seconds from Pidcock, but did not close the gap. “In the end, it was very tactical, there were a lot of attacks”, explained Valentin. “I tried to organize the group as much as possible, but the others didn’t want to work too much. They preferred to attack one after the other. It was important not to be left behind by the Jumbo-Visma, and it was not easy”. “The goal was for the breakaway to ride well in order to have a chance of catching Pidcock, because we never lost sight of the win”, insisted Thierry. “When the breakaway split again, Valentin had that little head start and the freshest guys came out. Pidcock was there, just ten-fifteen seconds in front, and I thought that one of the two Jumbo-Visma was going to sacrifice himself, which would have made it easier for us… That’s how it is, everyone keeps a bit of energy in case it comes back, but in the end, it did not come back”.

“Valentin had the legs to do even better”, Thierry Bricaud

In the last fifteen kilometres, Valentin Madouas had to follow several attacks, but Pidcock always managed to maintain a slight margin in the front. He finally entered Siena with a half-minute lead, enough to take the victory. Right behind, Valentin Madouas went full gas in the climb of Via Santa Caterina to fly to a splendid second place in Piazza del Campo. “I have mixed feelings because I think I had the legs to do better today”, he said. “My crash cost me a better performance. I’m very happy with this podium, it shows the winter work was good, but to come so close to such a big victory is really a shame. I want to thank the team because they did a great job. It is also the team’s first podium in this race, we must not forget that. It’s still a great performance from the whole team, and I’ll be back in future years.” “Valentin knows he missed something big, because he had the legs to do even better than that,” added Thierry. “It’s part of bike racing. Everything has to come together for it to go perfect, and there is a little something missing today. It’s still a great day, we saw a great team, which was into the fight, and which was almost rewarded. Almost, because the goal is always to win.”

As a proof of the collective strength today, Romain Grégoire fought hard to take a very promising eighth place on his first WorldTour Classic ever. “He had responsibilities because we knew he had good legs and that he could be in the final”, said Thierry. “To say it is easy, to meet the expectations is something else, and he met them. He missed a little something in the end, but it’s very encouraging for the future. “I felt good, and when I have good feelings, this type of course suits me very well, so I was able to enjoy it”, said the 20-year-old Frenchman. “It’s a shame that Valentin didn’t come back to Pidcock, because he was really strong. Personally, I came a little bit too short to be in the leading group, but I know it will come. After the recon, I told myself that it was going to be a terrible day, as it was so hard. But actually, I already wanted to go back to it ten minutes after finishing!” At the end of this nice day, where the team also did not suffer any puncture at all, Valentin Madouas looked forward to the next races. “The goal this year is to win a WorldTour Classic”, he claimed. “I was third, second, and I hope the next one will be the right one! As for Romain, I’m not worried. I know that in a few years, or even a few months, he will be able to fight for victory in this kind of race”.

No comment