The Clermont-Ferrand native talked of his fourth year with Deceuninck – Quick-Step and his personal highlights, including the win at the French ITT Championships – one of the team’s best moments of the year.
This year was my fourth as a pro, and if it’s one thing that makes me proud looking behind – apart from the victories I got – is that I continued my development. After Valenciana and La Provence, I remained in France for the Ardèche Classic and Drôme Classic. I was confident I could get a strong result in the latter, but on Saturday I found myself in the breakaway at Ardèche, it was pouring, but I love these conditions and I just kept going, stretching out my lead to the point it became impossible for the peloton to bring me back.
I won my almost three minutes, and it was a very special day, not only because I got my first pro victory in France, but also because winning so early in the season is always a huge confidence-boost and it helps take the pressure away. I was hoping for more in the spring, but then the lockdown came and everything got stopped. After that long period, I felt like coming out of a holiday. As it wasn’t possible to go outside, I trained on my Tacx rollers every day trying to stay fit, but I still wasn’t sure what my condition would be.
Tour de l’Ain and the Critérium du Dauphiné were the first two races I did, but my aim was the French National ITT Championships in Grand-Champ. It was something I had been chasing ever since turning pro, so this year I changed the approach and tried something different. Franck Alaphilippe was of great help, as he came at my house and drove a scooter as I racked up the kilometers in my attempt to be at 100% on race day. I trained for one week and after it I felt incredibly strong, which gave me wings for the Nationals.
There I was able to produce a great ride and finally win the jersey. I know it’s not the biggest race in the world, but to taste victory and know that I would get to wear that special kit for the next twelve months filled me with joy. I have to thank Franck for this, without his help it wouldn’t have been possible.
One week later, I was in Nice for my first ever Tour de France. I got called up just two days before the start and couldn’t believe that I would get to achieve this dream I had since I was a kid, to race in the most important race in the world. It ended up being a fantastic three weeks for our team: Julian took that early victory and I got to ride for the yellow jersey, then Sam stepped in and added two more victories as well as capturing the green jersey, while I could show the French ITT Champion colours on stage 20. The parcours didn’t quite suit me, with La Planche des Belles Filles at the end, but that didn’t stop me from giving everything and I was really proud to finish the day in sixth place.
A few weeks later, I started my second Grand Tour – the Vuelta a España – and I can tell you how delighted I was to have the chance to ride another three-week race. Doing two Grand Tours in a season was incredible and I was happy to help the team every time I could. I felt good throughout the race and went on the attack on multiple occasions, at one point even coming close to victory. You all remember I was caught just two kilometers from the finish, but in the end all this landed me a visit to the podium in Madrid, to collect the most aggressive rider award, which was really nice and a great way to cap off the season.
I am happy with how things went for me this year. Those two victories, making my Tour de France debut, finishing both the European and World ITT Championships in the top 10 – showed that I have developed a lot and I am able to compete against the best riders in the world. There is still a lot of room for improvement and next year I hope to be even better and help the team get more strong results, that’s my main goal heading into the winter.
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