For a large part of the Groupama-FDJ cycling team, a new episode starts this Monday with the end of the lockdown and their now authorized return to the road. This new episode doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any continuity. This is one of the messages sent by Philippe Mauduit, who also look to the coming weeks and months with full confidence in his riders but also with aspirations he wants to remain unchanged despite the difficulties encountered along the way.
Philippe, what will be the sports directors’ speech to the riders entering this new period?
Firstly, our role is to support the choices that will be made by the coaches in terms of preparation, and then to continue to bring confidence to our riders. At the moment, it is true that we have a less important role than the coaches’, as they must be in contact with the riders daily or so to take stock of what they did, how they felt during their training session, so as to be able to correct or confirm the plan for the week or the days to come. As sports directors, our role is slightly more distant even if we naturally stay in touch with our riders and be attentive to what they need to say.
“It wasn’t that difficult to manage”
Ultimately, will your support evolve with the end of the lockdown?
Not really, since we are in a full preparation period as we would be, for example, in October or November. We are still far from the season’s “restart”, which is scheduled for August 1. For the moment, we are busier working on the basics rebuilding and the season preparation. Now is not the time to put pressure on the riders and to change the speech’s tone. We follow on from what we’ve been saying for two months because the races are still far away. Obviously, as sports directors, we are more focused on the rider’s psychology because we have coaches on the team and we absolutely trust their work and what they put in place with the riders. We may sometimes have slightly different ideas, in which case we talk about it with them first, but as a general rule, we hardly interfere in training matters. It’s not our job. We try to support our riders from a psychological point of view but we are not psychologists either. In addition, through their daily contact with them, the coaches can also know how the riders are feeling, if they have any concerns or if everything is going well. They warn us if they perceive something and that goes the other way around. We then try to put things in place to improve the situation, but we must remain humble about all this.
Have there been any difficult situations to deal with?
There hasn’t been any big trouble. Obviously, it was long for everyone. About two weeks ago, we felt that some riders felt kind of fed up with acting like hamsters on balconies, terraces or inside their home. Approximately at the same time, we luckily received the news about the end of the lockdown planned for May 11 and morale got immediately restored for everyone. There were no special cases to deal with. It wasn’t that difficult to manage eventually. And it will obviously be less and less so because the simple fact that they can now be in open air and ride on the road is enough to make them happy, even in today’s gloomy weather.
Will you need to slow some of the riders down in the first days?
Each rider is different. They all have a different background, education and profile. For some, we know we’ll have to repeat for several days: “Pay attention; You’ve done a little too much today; You shouldn’t gamble that way, the season is still far away.” Others may be a little too cautious and should be encouraged to do a bit more. However, for the most part, we don’t have much to say because they are pros, they know themselves better than anyone and because we all have full confidence in the training program set up by the performance department. We are fortunate to have a stable group of riders, and I also think this is thanks to all the team’s staff. Through their daily contacts with the riders, they’re able to reassure them so that the riders don’t have negatives thoughts. It’s a mixture of work and wisdom.
“The group will always take precedence over individualities”
Will the riders need help at some point to stay involved?
Given the way they lived in lockdown and given their selflessness, their courage, how they questioned themselves and the work they have done in the past two months, I think stimulation will come naturally. We don’t need to push and stimulate them more than they do it themselves. I am confident because they have done admirable things for two months and I don’t see why, now that they can go out on the road, their motivation would crumble. On the opposite, I think it will remain as it was and even get bigger.
Can we still expect some differences depending on the riders, their status and their situation?
In any case, the group will always take precedence over individualities. I think that all the team’s riders have understood it well and know that those who don’t respect it will put themselves on the fringes and therefore in trouble. For sure, some have an expiring contract, others are not sure of finding a new one, but in spite of this, they all know that their best chance of having a new proposal is to work for the group rather than to work for themselves. It should not be forgotten that cycling is certainly an individual sport BUT it also a collective one. Just like football or rugby to me. At the end of the day, our goal scorer also has to raise his arms, but if there is no collective work, we know that he will not put the ball in the nets. Everyone has to make a contribution, and that’s also why I’m not worried. In our team, the guys have understood that the group is more important than the individuals.
“Today, the goal is to be competitive on August 1”
Will this season’s special circumstances justify lower performance than expected?
Of course, and it may well happen, because we can’t deny that it is difficult for a top athlete to stay lock downed between four walls. It’s difficult for everyone, obviously. But the life of a cyclist, like that of a marathon runner, really is outside. He needs space, nature, to feel the wind in his ears, to see the trees grow. Let’s remember that very few cyclists are city dwellers. So, having been blocked for two months like a hamster certainly affects the mind and physiology of some. How are they going to react to that? We are not sure. We will find out in the coming months. We can expect that there will be very good surprises but also bad ones, but we cannot foresee it, we cannot immediately write names down because we don’t have the experience and perspective on the situation. It’s the first time this has happened. That being said, I’m not interested in speculating upon it. Today, the goal is to be competitive on August 1, and to be competitive over the three and a half months of the season that will be left of us. I don’t want to think about what can go wrong, because I only want to think of the good things that we will be able to achieve and look at the positive side of the situation.
What the upcoming weeks will be about for you, sports directors?
Our role is still and always be to support our riders, to support our staff, to stay focused and attentive to what is going on over the days and weeks, to continue to encourage them and to answer their questions, even if there are some that we are unable to answer to. Someone asked me last week, “Do you think we will be able to ride at all?” Well, I don’t know. A month ago, the UCI announced the resumption on July 1. Eventually, a few weeks later, they postponed it to August 1. We are not immune to further postponement. We know nothing. We are in complete unknown because we don’t know what this pandemic’s evolution will be like. This is something new for the world at large, whether scientific or political, and the crisis is being managed as it develops or worsens. Only this will dictate if we’ll be able to put on a bib on August 1, or later… We now have a calendar and we can plan a bit more thanks to it. We hope that it will be maintained, but we don’t have any certainties.
“We will not waste time looking back on the past”
Do you already have an idea of the speech that will be yours when racing will resume?
Right now, I don’t. I haven’t thought about it too much yet because we’re still far from the action, very far even, and we still don’t know what our first race will be. The briefing will depend on the riders I’ll have in front of me, what the race will be, the course, the weather and the team’s goal for this race. We build our briefing according to all this factors. And even if there is a little feedback on the events that we will have experienced, I think it will only be an extremely short part of the briefing, because this will not be very interesting eventually. We will already be in action, planning to win races and not looking to the rear-view mirror telling to ourselves “we had a hard time”. We will be happy to be there, but above all we will have to think: “Alright, it’s done, now let’s move forward.”
Therefore, the current situation is not likely to change your way of doing things, even for a short period of time?
We have a management role. We build the group’s strategy in relation to the elements that we have when it has to be done, and then it’s time to go! We will not waste time looking back on the past and constantly remembering the pandemic and its consequences on our daily lives. From the moment we are racing, we are racing. From that moment, I no longer want to take it into account, especially when you know that you have only three and a half months of racing ahead of you. You have to go for it, you have to go straight to the point! I do not see a good reason to change our way of doing things because of the pandemic. We compete at the highest level. The goal is to represent our Groupama-FDJ team, to bring it as high as possible, to be combative, to show our jersey, to be creative. To be active, in short! And the pandemic won’t change that. I don’t think Didier Deschamps would say something different. We’re here to make it work and to get results. The pandemic does not change anything about this.
Neither does it change the state of mind of the riders you’ll meet again…
Absolutely. I have no doubt about it. Zero. The guys will be back craving for racing; this is their passion, this is their life, this is why they’re here for. The guy who won’t be up mentally should no longer be a rider. The guy who doesn’t have this desire will have to stay at home. That being said, in our team, I don’t see who it could concern. I have no doubt about our riders’ motivation and determination. They’ve proven it enough in the past two months; they’ve done exceptional things. I don’t even think about it. There are and always will be difficulties, it is part of high-level sport, it is inevitable. But generally speaking, I have every reason to be optimistic.