Tro Bro Leon, Sunday
Did you expect to return to the Tro Bro Leon, 18 years later?
Of course not ! Such a long lease between two races, it shouldn’t have happened to me often. As I get along well with the organizer (Jean-Paul Mellouët), that we have a mutual friend (Vincent Wathelet, TV producer) and that the Tro Bro Leon is no longer in competition with the Amstel Gold Race , the opportunity presented itself. Thanks to the coronavirus, if we can say that, I did not have a race this Sunday either. Good thing, I really wanted to come back to you. I always said I would stay there again. Well, we had to wait 18 years …
What memories do you have of your second place obtained in 2003?
Oh, I remember it very well. That year, O’Grady (4th at the finish) was the big favorite. With Samuel Dumoulin and Didier Rous, we escaped in the final. Physically, Rous was much stronger than us. He had done most of the work before he died in the last few kilometers. I can still hear him yelling at us to be expected …
But you hadn’t expected it and you had finished second …
I was young (21 years old), I had made an error of judgment in the sprint, I had thrown too far. I had never won in the pros before, I was too nervous, I lacked composure. Too bad, it could have been my first professional victory.
At the time, what did you think of the race and its famous ribinoù?
Honestly, I was wondering where I was going. With the fdjeux.com team (where he had just turned professional), we had not done any reconnaissance, it was not part of the customs. I had gone blind, I had a surprise each time I entered a sector. Fortunately I had taken the lead in the race.
What did you expect from your nascent career in 2003?
In my head, I said to myself that it would be good to do ten years at this level, ten years is a bit the average. I was also hoping to win a few races. In 2022, it will be my 20th season with the pros and I have had some wonderful victories. All of this is unexpected. At the time, I never thought of becoming a champion. It was another cycling. The high level seemed so inaccessible to me, we understood why a few years later …
How do you see your career which, you announced, will end at the end of next season?
What I like is that I have tasted everything a bit. If one day I am called upon to advise a young person, I will be able to tell him about the approach of a Tour of Lombardy, Liège-Bastogne-Liège or Paris-Roubaix. Unlike Boonen and Cancellara, for example, I didn’t lock myself into one type of race. I followed the classics, the Flandriennes and the Ardennes, the stage races, the Grand Tours… I was a complete rider, which is what allowed me to evolve at the highest level for a long time. Exploring several terrains allowed me to last.
If you had to remember just one of your 78 achievements …
Without hesitation, it would be the 2012 world championship. Because it is a major event and that it took place, that year, on the circuit of Valkenburg (Netherlands), a stone’s throw from the house. Every time I go to Belgium, when I do a 100 km training trip, I can go and ride on the final circuit. My friend Thor Hushovd, who had been crowned two years earlier in Australia, did not have the opportunity to go and show his wife and children where he landed the rainbow jersey. I have already taken all my family and friends to the Valkenburg course. I measure my luck.
What is your victory podium?
Behind these Worlds, I place Liège-Bastogne-Liège (2011) insofar as it is the classic that passes in front of my parents’ house and that it crowned an incredible series (he had won the Flèche brabançonne, the Amstel and the Flèche Wallonne just before). It was madness, there was a huge expectation around me that day. And on the third step of the podium, I put the Tour of Flanders (2017) that I won with the style and with the Belgian champion’s jersey on my back. A Walloon who wins in Flanders with the national champion’s jersey in a country that tends to argue for its regions, it was very symbolic.
Do you have any regrets?
I think I had at least one Milan – San Remo in the legs (it is the only “monument” that it lacks). The facts of the race decided otherwise. I only did 3rd (behind Goss and Cancellara in 2011).
Apart from the Tro Bro Leon, do you have any other racing memories in Brittany?
Yes of course. I was 2nd in the 1st stage of the Tour 2008 (behind Valverde), 2nd stage at Cap Fréhel and 4th at Mûr-de-Bretagne in 2011… In fact, Brittany is not successful for me, here is the conclusion of the ‘interview (he laughs).
It might change on Sunday. Do you think you have the legs to win the Tro Bro Leon?
I am motivated anyway. I really hope for the victory. I haven’t won since my stage victory in the Vuelta in 2019. Last year, it was even the first year that I did not raise my arms since my debut in the youth categories! Obviously, I missed it even if, because of my crash in the Tour de France and the health crisis, I didn’t run much. The motivation is still there, I want to fight to be at the level. Well, it’s more and more complicated with all these young people growing …
Exactly, your take on Remco Evenepoel?
What he has achieved so far is already very, very impressive. The European junior championship won with eleven minutes in advance, the World Cup won after a fall that had made him lose four minutes and debut among the pros… He already has great references among the elite.
Who is the runner who looks the most like you?
Wout Van Aert. But better (he laughs). He is much, much more complete than I am.
Support a professional editorial staff at the service of Brittany and the Bretons: subscribe from € 1 per month.