The Ag2r road cap­tain, who is fight­ing back from a crash in Au­gust, talks about his long his­tory in the sport

Procycling - - Contents - SA­MUEL DU­MOULIN Wri ter: Ed­ward Picker ing Pho­tog­ra­phy: Chr is Auld*

When he won stage one of the Tour du Haut Var back in Fe­bru­ary, Sa­muel Du­moulin punched the air, di­rected his bike around a lazy curve which started just af­ter the fin­ish line us­ing just his hips, and shouted a pri­mal yell.

“It was the rage I have to win,” he ex­plained to Pro­cy­cling at the press con­fer­ence, which con­sisted of Du­moulin sit­ting on a plas­tic chair un­der a gazebo while a very small hand­ful of jour­nal­ists crouched at his feet.

He’s quite in­tense, Sa­muel Du­moulin. A com­pact, chippy Ly­on­nais with a heavy, brood­ing brow. In rid­ing style, he’s punchy, though he’s a lot less scrappy off the bike – he saves the shout­ing for when he wins. He’s been a con­stant and vis­i­ble pres­ence in the pelo­ton for years – he turned pro in 2002 and did a small lap of the French teams – two sea­sons with Jean De­la­tour, four with Ag2r, five with Cofidis and since then five, plus at least one more, back with Ag2r. He’s been happy in his teams – Jean De­la­tour was a rag­tag out­fit of ex­pe­ri­enced old hands and young riders, while he’s de­vel­oped very close re­la­tion­ships with the Ag2r man­ager Vin­cent Lavenu, then with Eric Boyer at Cofidis, for whom he won a stage of the Tour de France in 2008. When Cofidis got rid of Boyer, Du­moulin turned back to Lavenu, with whom he’s de­vel­oped into the Ag2r team’s cap­tain. In mat­ters of tac­tics and race knowl­edge, even the DSs oc­ca­sion­ally de­fer to Du­moulin’s vast ex­pe­ri­ence, look­ing to him for ad­vice.

That Haut Var win was his first and last of 2017, which made it a be­low-av­er­age year in terms of re­sults. Du­moulin has won a race ev­ery sea­son since he turned pro in 2002 ex­cept 2007 and 2014. In 2016 he won the sea­son-long Coupe de France for a record third time and in his most pro­lific years, 2010 and 2011, he won six races per year. 2017 has also been chal­leng­ing for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. At the Tour de l’Ain, on the third stage, Du­moulin fainted on the bike, pass­ing out be­fore he even hit the ground, and woke up in the am­bu­lance. He was in and out of hospi­tal quickly enough that he was able to tweet a pic­ture of him­self, face bruised, ar­riv­ing back at the team ho­tel the same evening, but it was longer be­fore he was back on his bike. He had to wait for fur­ther tests and the all-clear from neu­rol­o­gists be­fore re­sum­ing train­ing, by which time the sea­son was over. Pro­cy­cling talked to Du­moulin be­fore his crash, but he as­sured us by email that he would be a pro­fes­sional cyclist in 2018. First he’d be tak­ing a com­plete break from the bike. Then he’d em­bark on his 17th pro­fes­sional sea­son.


Du­moulin doesn’t usu­ally take a win­ter break. Some riders won’t touch their bikes for weeks at the end of the sea­son, but his habit is to ride straight through, al­beit at a more re­laxed pace than dur­ing the sea­son. He does it to stay in shape, but he also does it be­cause he en­joys rid­ing his bike.

“I don’t over­train. I al­ways lis­ten to my body,” he says. “The last few years, I haven’t taken a win­ter break. I ride straight through. The sea­son fin­ishes and I keep train­ing in the nice Oc­to­ber weather.

“It’s mainly for plea­sure, but I like the phys­i­cal ef­fort. I need that, and I’ve no­ticed that when I start train­ing prop­erly again, it’s a lot eas­ier. If you stop for six weeks, you start prac­ti­cally from zero and it takes a lot of en­ergy to get it back.

“I’ve never been ex­treme. I’ve found equi­lib­rium and I never get sat­u­rated, like some riders, who can’t even look at the

“The last few years, I haven’t taken a win­ter break. I ride straight through. The sea­son in­ishes and I keep train­ing in the nice Oc­to­ber weather”

bike at the end of the sea­son. It doesn’t weigh on me, this job. There’s a rea­son I’m still here – it’s a plea­sure.”

Du­moulin’s train­ing sounds quite old school. He says he looked at his time trial po­si­tion for the first time at the start of 2017. That might seem sur­pris­ing in this day and age, but as a one-day spe­cial­ist, he’s never needed to do any­thing other than make the time cut. It’s not all a case of just get­ting the miles in, how­ever. He has de­vel­oped an ex­tremely spe­cialised weight-train­ing rou­tine.

“I’ve cul­ti­vated my power and I do weight train­ing with a coach. I push weights and do work on my legs, backs and stom­ach. It’s given me a lot. I do squats with 140 kilo­grams, for power. I can press 240 kilo­grams with one leg,” Du­moulin says of his regime.

Along with his power, which goes a long way con­sid­er­ing he is 5ft 3in and weighs in well un­der 60 kilo­grams, he’s also got a well-de­vel­oped sense of rac­ing and tac­tics. “I’m less a pure sprinter than the guys now who are su­per pow­er­ful,” he says. “Sprints have changed and are very or­gan­ised. I’m more of an im­pro­viser. I adapt to what is go­ing on and have to be clever and eco­nom­i­cal. I’ve still got a good top speed, but my best sprints are a lit­tle up­hill, where my size comes into play. I don’t have the power for the flat fin­ishes, so I’m bet­ter in more tac­ti­cal races.”

Du­moulin signed for Jean De­la­tour in 2002, af­ter rid­ing as a sta­giaire for Française des Jeux. FDJ man­ager Marc Ma­diot had not taken him on, and no other teams had made him an of­fer. The fit was good, how­ever – Jean De­la­tour was based in the same re­gion as Du­moulin, and the ser­vice course was 15km from where his par­ents lived.

“It was dif­fi­cult to get used to the vol­ume of rac­ing,” he says. “I’d never done lots of en­durance work so it took some time to adapt. I was good enough to ride the Tour in my sec­ond sea­son and that in turn gave me more en­durance. But I’ve never done two grand tours in a year. I pre­fer shorter races and one-day races – it’s where I’m best.”

Du­moulin joined Ag2r in 2004, but got off to a bad start. “I didn’t re­cover well from 2003, and it fin­ished badly be­cause I broke my arm at the Tour and my sea­son stopped in July.

“Those years were dif­fi­cult. 2005 was a lit­tle bet­ter; 2006 wasn’t too bad. 2007, I had a few crashes and bad luck and needed to turn the page. That’s why I signed with Cofidis, so I could re­launch my ca­reer.”

It was with Cofidis that Du­moulin achieved the high point of his ca­reer, a Tour de France stage win in 2008. “It was such a fab­u­lous day,” he re­mem­bers. “I was in the es­cape for 208 kilo­me­tres, and we had a 15-minute lead at one point. It’s one of the last Tour stages where an es­cape has suc­ceeded on a flat day.

“When it was clear we would stay away, af­ter such a hard sea­son the year be­fore, I said to my­self that the worst that was

“I speak a lot with the riders and man­age­ment. The oth­ers lis­ten to me and the man­agers ask my ad­vice. I’ve got re­sults so my role is cred­i­ble”

go­ing to hap­pen was that I’d come fourth in a stage of the Tour.”

Du­moulin stayed with Cofidis for five years, then re-signed with Ag2r La Mon­di­ale in 2013. At the time, the team was just pulling it­self out of a long pe­riod of rel­a­tively medi­ocre re­sults, and was start­ing to reap the ben­e­fits of in­vest­ing in a U23 train­ing fa­cil­ity in the Alps, through which a golden gen­er­a­tion of young French riders was com­ing.

“I spoke with riders on the team, and they said it was go­ing well. By 2014 we sup­ported Jean-Christophe Péraud to the podium and won the teams clas­si­fi­ca­tion of the Tour de France. That made us the best team in the Tour!” he says.

“And we’ve been on the podium three times in four years. Ro­main Bardet is very in­tel­li­gent and de­ter­mined and he learns fast. He’s a good tech­ni­cian and he knows how to han­dle him­self. He’s a good de­scen­der and has huge phys­i­cal abil­ity. We can play for the vic­tory,” he con­tin­ues.

Du­moulin is the team cap­tain at Ag2r. “I share the role a lit­tle with Christophe Ri­blon,” he says. “I speak a lot with the riders and man­age­ment. The oth­ers lis­ten to me and the team man­agers ask my ad­vice. I’ve got re­sults, so my role is cred­i­ble – I’m not just ex­pe­ri­enced, I’ve shown I can still win races, too.”

In 16 pro­fes­sional sea­sons, Du­moulin has seen a lot change. “In the early years, against the dop­ing and EPO, we had prac­ti­cally no chance of win­ning. We were strong, but not on the same level. I wouldn’t say it’s dis­ap­peared now, but it re­ally has changed,” he says. “Teams have changed. There were 16 or 17 riders when I started. Now it’s almost 30, and we have doc­tors, phys­ios, psy­chol­o­gists and nu­tri­tion­ists. When I started I didn’t know how to train – we’ve learned how to struc­ture train­ing plans, in­te­grate them with all the mea­sure­ment of power we have and use that to build form for a race.

“There used to be a huge dif­fer­ence be­tween the strong­est and least strong in the pelo­ton. Now the gap is re­duced, and there are a lot of good riders. A lot more riders can get over the climbs.”

But what has not changed is Du­moulin. “I’m a grafter,” he says. “I’m some­body who works, works, works. That’s the way I’ve al­ways pro­ceeded. I prac­tice and prac­tice, with lots of mo­ti­va­tion, and thanks to that and my speed, I’ve found one chance or an­other to win.”

Du­moulin gets a cheer on stage one of the Tour du Haut Var. He went on to win

De­light for Du­moulin at he wins a Tour de France stage in 2008 from a break

Steven Krui­jswijk was im­pe­ri­ous in the Alpe de Siusi TT, but bad luck killed his race

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