Valentin Madouas is currently making a slight shift in his career plan. A year and a half after his convincing first participation on the Tour of Flanders (14th, editor’s note), the young man from Brittany is now ready to really take aim at the Flemish Classics. His recent performances on the E3 Classic and on Dwars door Vlaanderen proved it. Ahead of the “Ronde”, the 25-year-old puncher told us more about his connection to the Classics, his ambitions, and his development as a rider.
Valentin, how do you feel after your first two Flemish Classics (7th and 11th)?
I’m pretty happy with my physical condition. I think I have moved up a notch this year. I could show it on the Tour of the Alpes Maritimes and the Var, but I came to Belgium with a few doubts. I wasn’t spared with issues: I had Covid before Paris-Nice, I crashed in Paris-Nice, and I suffered from bronchitis after Paris-Nice. Because of all this, I could not be at 100% like I wanted to be, but I managed to refocus properly for the Classics. I knew the shape would come back, but I didn’t know when. And then, three days before my first Flemish race, I felt much better in training, as if I had got back to my level. It went pretty well in the first two races. I think we couldn’t do better in the E3 Classic. On Wednesday, I was a bit disappointed because I had the legs to be with the best. I think it’s only a matter of time. It will come. I’m really satisfied with my feelings and that’s a very good sign. I now hope to perform well on the Tour of Flanders.
“Everyone boosts everyone”
Was it a surprise for you to be in the front right away?
You always hope to be in the front when you had a good winter and good first races. However, the weekend before the E3 Classic, I had no feeling at all in the French Cup races. I had no legs, I couldn’t attack, I was completely blocked. I did not expect to fight for victory a week later. Being able to race up front at E3 gave me a real boost of confidence, and I felt that I had gotten my punch back.
Did you manage to get your bearings back quickly?
For sure, these are special races, but it was quite easy eventually. We have very good riders in the team, and a great coaching staff that make it easier to understand these races. They know the courses perfectly, they know where we must be positioned, where the race will be decided. Having such high-performing people around helps to find your bearings, and it saves time. There are a lot of things to keep in mind on these races, but it mostly has to do with positioning and remembering the climbs. Doing some races before the Tour of Flanders also allows you to evaluate the competition and see where you stand in comparison to others. From this point of view, I got good signals, and I believe that we are in excellent physical condition as a team.
The whole Classics’ group indeed seems to have been riding the wave for a few weeks.
That’s true, we feel a very very good physical level within the team. First of all, we are all very happy to be here, and that is vital in these races. There is a good atmosphere between us, everyone boosts everyone, and we all want to do well, domestiques as well as leaders. Everyone wants to give the best of himself, that’s the best! I have kind of a special place in this group, because I don’t do the whole campaign with them. That being said, I still get to race with Kevin, Stefan and others from time to time. We know each other very well, we know how everyone works and we understand each other perfectly. Personally, I am very happy to be there with them.
“I hope it will become a ritual”
We still consider you a bit of a surprise guest in these races, but do we now have to get used to seeing you there?
I hope it will become a ritual for me in the next few years. In any case, these are races where I would like to perform and where I want to be. I’m still learning, but I like these races, and I hope that they will soon turn out to my advantage. As is the case for Stefan this year. Hopefully I’ll one day be as successful as him in these Classics and we will take a great win together. This is the goal of the team, which I completely share.
Your trial on the 2020 Tour of Flanders turned out to be decisive…
Initially, I just wanted to see, to discover. I just thought that it could lead to a good surprise. I was not afraid that I would have to leave them aside. It eventually turned out in the right way, and good for me. It obviously made me want to come back, especially since I had been quite good (14th). I had missed a little something, but I was there, in the final, and I was happy with my performance. I then told myself that I had to come back because these races could suit me, as they are very open, there is a lot of action, and they start from far. I still make a lot of mistakes, but hopefully I’ll be able to fix them. If everything comes together, I think it will end up with a great performance.
Are you ready to focus your preparation for these races in particular?
That’s kind of what we did this year. Before the season, I clearly asked to do a big block of Classics, to ride them one after the other. I also think that is how I perform the best. We therefore started the preparation with this in mind. We’ll see how I’ll be in the Ardennes. I can’t wait to know in what physical state I will complete this block of Classics, and if I am able to hold my current shape to the end.
“If it works, it can be the basics for future years”
Could it be an issue to maintain a great form over a month?
I think it is possible to hold a long peak, but you really need to recover well and choose your races. I didn’t want to do Ghent-Wevelgem for example, because it was a very long race. Thinking about the Tour of Flanders and the rest of the Classics, I wanted to keep some freshness. If we maximize the recovery between each race, there is no reason for it not to work. Also, I’m not afraid. We made that bet this season. If it doesn’t go well, then it doesn’t. There was anyway a good opportunity to test it this year. I think I’m at the right time in my career to try it. If it goes well, so much the better, I will reproduce it. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go back to more classic things. That being said, my role will also be a little different in the Ardennes as well. David will be there as a leader, I will be more of a teammate by his side. Of course, there is Stefan on the Flemish Classics, but there is more action in these races, and I can have my chance if the racing circumstances go my way. If I am slightly declining when come the Ardennes, it is not so serious as long as I am able to help David to achieve the best possible performance. We will take stock at the end of the season. If it works, it can be the basics for future years.
It can also be very useful for the team if you’re up front in the Flemish Classics…
I am aware of that, and it is very important for me. We have seen in recent years, with Quick Step in particular, that it could make a big difference. If we can now have several riders in front, it is then very interesting for the team. You don’t have to make the effort every time. On the contrary, by having the numbers, we can make the race rather than endure it. It changes a lot.
What can you further improve on these races?
I think positioning is the main area I have to work on. I still lack a bit of experience in these races, I don’t really know when to move back up, but it’s also up to me to stay as much as possible with the guys. It will come with time, I’m not worried about it, but there are obviously details I need to correct. Anyway, I think my profile suits many terrains. Obviously, I like the asphalt hills, I’m used to them, but the cobbled ones don’t bother me either. I am neither too light nor too small to be in real trouble. On the cobbled hills, I think I can be in the front.
“It is probably easier for me to get a result on the Flemish Classics”
At the end of the day, do you think that the Flemish Classics could suit you better than the Ardennes ones?
I obviously asked myself this question, and I indeed think that the Flemish races can suit me better than the Ardennes. You need to be strong on both kinds of races, but on the Flemish ones, many things come under consideration: tactics, luck, reading the race… In the Ardennes, it mostly comes down to legs. I’m still convinced that I can be up there in the Ardennes if I am 100%, but there may be more opportunities and it is probably easier for me to get a result on the Flemish Classics. I like that the race opens up earlier. And then, it’s never over, anything can always happen. I think it suits me better.
Two years ago, you wanted to “discover everything”. Do you have more precise ideas after the past two seasons?
For me, it gets a bit clearer. The whole start of the season is now devoted to the Classics, and from May, we switch to Grand Tour mode. One day, if I achieve the goals I have set for myself in the Classics, I might try to test myself on a Grand Tour’s general classification. But that’s not on the agenda for now. I still have a long way to go on the Classics, and I will stay focused on that matter until I manage to achieve my goals. I know much better where I want to go, I know which races suit me the most, which are made for me, but we will continue to take stock as the seasons go by. I also want to ride the other Monuments. I was set to do Milan-Sanremo this year, but not being 100%, I did not want to participate. There was no point in being there just for being there. I think it’s a race I will discover in coming years, like Paris-Roubaix.
Did your win in the Polynormande last year change anything in your career development?
It’s just really important to win and to put your hands in the air. This is what keeps you on the right momentum and gives confidence. When you don’t have confidence, you ask yourself questions and wonder what’s wrong. Winning keeps you going, and I hope not to have any more blank years for a few seasons.
“We have noticed real progress”
Did you doubt at some point?
I did not perform well in the Classics in 2021. I was not in the mix. When the Classics end and you don’t have anything to be happy with, you go on a break with questions in your heads. It’s not very good, these are complicated times to cope with. You’re in a phase that is more negative than positive, and that’s when you try to go back to things that you know. You then think that you first need to get back to the basics that proved efficient in the past. The difficult part is actually trying to progress in many areas while keeping what works and not straying too far from the fundamentals. It is very complicated to find the right balance, but I think we became aware of all these parameters, and it paid off. Hopefully it will pay off again. I think the current set-up suits me well, I’m completely on board with the program we’ve developed. I see where I’m going, and that’s very important to me.
You said you felt an improvement this winter. How did you notice it?
Just speaking about power, I broke almost all my records this year, whether in training or in the first races. I think I really moved up a notch. Whether on very short or longer efforts, we have noticed real progress. I felt it immediately in the first races, whether in the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var, or in the Classics more recently. I now feel more comfortable, I am less struggling than before in these races.
Has the start of the 2022 season met your expectations?
I’m quite satisfied. It’s not an excellent start to the season because I didn’t win, but I was there in all the races, despite my issues. I will really take stock after the Classics. I’m still in my first block of racing, so it’s very early to judge. In any case, I am satisfied with my shape, and I think that I can achieve great results. I feel more consistent and stronger, it’s really positive.
What would make your start to the season very satisfying?
I will almost only do WorldTour races, so getting a podium in a Classic would already be great. If I could manage to get closer to victory and be consistent in all the races I will take part in, it would really be a very good start to the season.