Not only the Groupama-FDJ cycling team’s squad hasexperienced changes over the winter. The sports departmentis also going through a real transformation. Two new sports directors are joining the ranks of the WorldTour organization, while Franck Pineau and Sébastien Joly left the team. At the head of the department, newly retired Yvon Madiot left the command to Philippe Mauduit, who sat down to talk about his new role and the reorganization. 

Philippe, can you first sum up the sports department reorganization?

With Yvon and Franck retiring, the team chose to anticipate the changes of the coming years. It was necessary to find a successor to Yvon as director of the sports department, and I was chosen. It’s a new role for me in the team but it’s something I wanted to do. There are other changes, as Julien takes over from Fred Grappe as head of coaching, and Fred is moving more towards R&D. This represents three important changes in the team’s management, and it brings a little rejuvenation. If we just talk about the sports directors’ pool, the average age goes down from 52 to 46 years old in just onewinter. We don’t intend to make a revolution, but we want to try to implement small changes which can bring renewal, and thus revitalize the group of sports directors, as well as the team overall. We want to do things a little differently from the past few years, without making a revolution because this teamis almost three decades old. It has its own culture, its own identity, and we must not lose that.

I really want to facilitate the projects execution

What is the role of the sports department’s director?

It is mostly about planning the sporting strategy, and the roadmaps towards the sporting goals. My role is also to recruit, organize, measure, as well as build race programs and riders’selections in order to achieve our goals. All this is done in close collaboration with the different executive committee’sdepartments. My role is also to optimize discussions and race preparation with preparatory meetings beforehand, and to organize the entire sporting operation. I am also responsible for race management which will be conducted by the sports directors themselves. I have a team coordinator role. My goal is to do everything before the races so that the teams can work well and with peace of mind. I’m not necessarily going to do more than before; I’m going to do it differently. It is a role which must produce energy, ideas and which must support sports directors in their daily missions and their preparation.

Will you then do fewer races?

If I look at the race program, I will roughly do the same number of race days as in past years. However, I won’t be in charge very often. Rather, my colleagues will be directing inthe races. I will be more in the background, an observer, or a facilitator. Above all, I will follow the projects, try to create a good dynamic, and bring something new when it will be possible. I am also committed to ensuring that sports directors have large freedom of action, because they also have ideas, and we need this commitment to go faster, further, higher.

What would you like to bring to your current position?

I really want to facilitate the projects’ execution. I want to make sure that sports directors have the freedom to think, express themselves and act. Of course, this must be in line with the framework defined upstream by senior management, and towards the objectives which have been set. I really want them to be able to express themselves, because whatever their experience, you realize by working with them every afternoonthat they all have great ideas. We just need to ensure that they can execute them. In a company of 120 people, it is not easy to change things. And then you shouldn’t change just for the sake of changing. We really try to add little things that allow everyone to function better and be more efficient.

“If we want to arrive on time, we have to get on the train right away”

Do you set any goals for yourself as director of the sports department?

Of course we have goals in terms of results, and we must have sporting success, because this is the very essence of a professional team. We are here to win races and rise to the top of the WorldTour rankings. Let’s not forget that we finished seventh this year and won nineteen victories. We also had some thirty podiums, including ten or so in the WorldTour. The goal is to win races, again and again. Transforming a third of the podiums into victories would be pretty nice. So, the sporting goals are well defined, but we have other objectives in terms of team restructuring. It’s a mission that is also important for me because we have to support change. Cycling evolves, the regulations evolve, the other teams evolve, and it is better to be one step ahead than one step behind. If we want to arrive on time, we have to get on the train right away.

Can you tell us about the sports directors’ poolwhich also welcomes two new members?

First, we will continue to rely on the experience of Thierry, who is now our most experienced sports director. Fred, Jussi and Benoît also know the team perfectly, as they rode there for over a decade and have been sports directors for several years now. They want, precisely thanks to all the knowledge they have of the team, to bring their little touch and their energy. To these four cornerstones, we therefore add two new ones. The first of them is Yvon Caër. He is someone who has a lot of technical background, and not just in cycling. He also has the ability to discuss, exchange, implement projects and support them. We feel that his experience as a teacher in a difficult area for more than fifteen years has developed faculties that we – the other sports directors – do not have. With the experience he had at Arkéa-Samsic, it makes him a very complementary profile to that of the other sports directors. The other newcomer is William Green, a young man from New Zealand. His addition to the team comes from a wish of everyone, both senior management and sports management. It’s a desire to open the team and to benefit from an outside perspective. Without changing our own culture, we want to bring other cultural elements, other knowledge, a different perspective which will force us to answer hisquestions, his interrogations, and sometimes to follow the paths he will suggest to us. We have a great group of sports directors, who have already put a lot of things in place at the Calpe training camp.

“It was a great opportunity to bring change”

What pushed the team to move towards these particularprofiles?

Nothing and no one pushed us in this path. It was really a desire, within the team, to expand the group to skills, whether cultural or sporting, that we did not necessarily have. We wanted to provide complementarity to what we had and to push us to question our habits. This team is almost three decades old, habits have been taken, and changes are not often easy to implement in sport, even at a high level. We often do things out of habit without even asking ourselves any more questions. What we wanted was to ask ourselves questions. “Why are we doing it like this?” The answer is often the same. “Because we’ve always done it like this, and it works.” “But can’t we do things differently to make it work even better?” That was kind of the idea. Furthermore, beyond his culture, his youth, and his slightly different curriculum because he studied sports science, our idea in recruiting William was also to have someone who could communicatefluently in English. It should enable us to be even closer to all our Anglo-Saxon riders, and foreigners in general. Even if many of them now speak well-developed French, it’s a real benefit in terms of relationships and confidence when you can express yourself on difficult topics in the rider’s mother tongue. We really wanted to make this effort, because we now have several Anglo-Saxon riders, we are attached to them, and we hope to have them by our side for a long time.

This is the first time since yourself, in 2019, that the sports director’s group welcomes external members. What does this change in terms of stability?

Marc [Madiot] and David [Le Bourdiec] are company leaders who are committed to the long term, to loyalty, who trust people, and this is perhaps also why there aren’t a lot of turnovers. To bring change, we actually had to wait for the retirement of Martial, Yvon and Franck. But I also believe that they are well aware that the world is changing, quickly, and that we must adapt and renew ourselves. It was a great opportunity to bring change with all these departures for “long vacations”. The team wants to be loyal to the people who form it. Now, it is also up to us to honour this trust. As a result, the addition of the two new members must also be a long-term one. We don’t know what our future holds, but we have a very rejuvenated group. With an average age of 46, I think we must be among the youngest at the WorldTour level, a bit like we are with the riders.

“Yvon perfectly passed me the baton

Would you like to share a few words about Yvon and Franck, who are now retired?

I have already had the opportunity to tell Yvon what I had to say to him. I won’t repeat everything here. That said, I had the chance to work with a great person, a passionate man, who always did his best to support the team at the highest level. If the team is here after twenty-seven years of history, it is also and above all thanks to all the work he has accomplished backstage. Yvon is a humble person, who doesn’t like to show off, but he perfectly passed me the baton to complete this grueling 4x400m relay. He gave me a good start and I thank him for that. Like Yvon, Franck will be greatly missed. Even though he was reaching retirement age, he always brought freshness, motivation, sometimes carefreeness, and he always had the right words when times were difficult. We will miss his joy of life. Nature abhors a vacuum, and voids are always filled, but on a personal level, it was great to have been able to work with these two people in my life as a sports director.

What does the sports department’s director expect from 2024?

I am waiting for confirmation of our young talents’ breakthrough, and I hope that I will live up to Marc and David’s confidence. To use a famous phrase from Marc, I’m waiting for the winning counter to run, and for it to run as soon as possible.

No comment