He’s not quite the Breton Wout van Aert yet, but Valentin Madouas has been one of the most consistent and versatile performers of the 2022 season. He showed that he could mix it on the cobblestones of Flanders and Roubaix, the steep hills of the Ardennes and the high mountains of the Tour de France.
The Groupama-FDJ rider performed a key support role for David Gaudu on the way to finishing tenth overall himself and nearly winning a stage. It was a breakthrough year for the versatile 26-year-old.
“I’ve had real results on a WorldTour level, with big leaders and champions fighting for the top races. I feel that they’re looking at me, seeing me as a favourite,” he told Le Télégramme. “My status has changed and it’s a milestone ticked off.”
After challenging in other Belgian WorldTour cobbled races, he was the revelation of the Tour of Flanders, finishing third. After being distanced by frontrunners Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar on the Paterberg, Madouas and Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) made it back to them as the sprint started.
“I briefly thought about [winning],” he recalled of the frenetic finale. “You see the helicopter above and you’re going 20 kilometres an hour quicker. I got in front but my legs quickly reminded me that I wasn’t fresh, I was totally dead and that was that.”
It was only France’s second podium this century at the Ronde van Vlaanderen after Sylvain Chavanel finished runner-up in 2011.
Madouas had targeted the race since the beginning of the season. Asked to choose between Tour of Flanders triumph and a Tour de France stage win, his affection for Belgium’s great race was clear. “For the connoisseurs of cycling, winning the Tour of Flanders is a step above,” he said.
Madouas came close to both goals this year. At the Tour de France, he finished second from a breakaway on stage 16, as Hugo Houle (Israel-Premier Tech) escaped to victory in Foix.
However, Madouas showed his durability throughout the race as the right-hand man of David Gaudu, who finished fourth. Madouas saved his most valuable help for the last mountain stage to Peyragudes, pacing Gaudu on the two final climbs to help him get the better of challenger Nairo Quintana.
The collective performance of Groupama-FDJ will stay with Madouas. Finishing tenth overall as a worker for Gaudu, did he feel capable of more?
“Yes and no. Personally, I felt capable of doing that well. I felt I progressed in a fair few areas. The experience did me a lot of good, we did a lot of specific preparation at altitude, which I was lacking in before … but it’s the consistency. I was there every day and it was maybe a surprise to do that at this level.”
Meanwhile, Nairo Quintana’s disqualification for positive tramadol tests was upheld by CAS in early November, meaning that Madouas belatedly moved into tenth place overall.
What does the performance change for his career? “It’s a liberation. Now I really believe that I’m capable of doing that. I’ve done it, so it’s a milestone reached.”
“I prepared well for the race, but I didn’t do everything I could,” he added. “There are lots of little things that can be improved for the years to come.”
Having been close to the top step of the podium throughout 2022, Madouas made a spectacular breakthrough in September. In the space of a fortnight, he won the Tour du Doubs and a stage and the overall of the Skoda Tour Luxembourg
Madouas can reasonably expect to share Groupama-FDJ leadership with Stefan Küng at the spring Classics next year. Beyond the 2023 season, the team will likely face overtures for their all-rounder from other squads.
Arkéa-Samsic general manager Emmanuel Hubert has already made no secret of his interest in Madouas, telling Le Télégramme last month: “If I have the chance to sign him, I won’t deprive myself.”
“I know him very well. A Breton team wants Breton riders,” Madouas said, indicating he contractually has an option on a second year with Groupama-FDJ in 2024. “There are lots of parameters to consider. The decisions will be made when they are made and I’ll be very clear with everyone [involved].”