French rider Yoann Offredo was at it again today, pedaling alone on the roads of the Tour de France. But today, he was not off the front animating one of the race’s patented early breakaways, he was off the back, simply trying to stay in the race.
Just yesterday, after riding 218 kilometers in a two-man breakaway with his friend Stephane Rossetto, he climbed on the podium in Chalon-sur-Saone to receive the award for the day’s most aggressive rider. But today, with the first accelerations on stage 8, Offredo was dropped.
In the first week of racing, Offredo jumped into the early break on three occasions, clocking more than 500 kilometers off the front. But today such efforts had taken their toll. “He was up all night vomiting,” said Eric Ramos, Offredo’s father-in-law, who is a familiar face on the Tour de France. And as the time-gap between himself and the pack increased to over 20 minutes, it immediately became clear that his own Tour de France was in danger as he risked finishing outside of the time delay.
But despite not being at his best before the start in Macon today, he was his typically friendly self as he spoke about his motivation for animating the early breaks. “The kilometers in a breakaway, I don’t count. It’s just anecdotic,” the Wanty Gobert rider said. “There is really no interest in getting in the early breakaways like that, not in modern cycling. The teams just don’t give you enough time to have a chance. Things have just changed. I mean sometimes we were only two riders and they only gave us a four-minute gap. You can’t really do anything with that. But I guess I am a bit vintage. I still like going out in the breaks.”
Offredo, who grew up and still lives in the southern suburbs of Paris, first turned professional with the Française des Jeux team in 2008. But it was only three years ago that he rode in his first Tour de France as he preferred the outright excitement of one-day classics to the routine that the three weeks of the Tour de France often becomes. “You know, when I turned professional Philippe Gilbert was our team leader, and I just loved the aggressive way he raced and I fell in love with the classics.”
But ever since riding his first Tour in 2017, he has come to love the Tour too, and he revels in his role as a breakaway player. “Really, I do it for the people, for the public. At the rider’s meeting before the Tour, Christian Prudhomme told us that what really counts in the cycling is the emotion. And you are not contributing to the emotion of the sport by sitting in the peloton. It’s when you are out in front that you give emotion.”
“Really, I do it for the people, for the public.”
Offredo remembers very clearly growing up watching his heroes along the side of the road. Clearly, getting in the breaks today is a way to give something back to the sport, and maybe even provide some inspiration for young cycling fans today. “I’ll never forget, when I was a kid, I was always trying to get a pass to let me inside the start or finish of a bike race. I would even dig in the trash trying to find one and almost never did. No, I could only watch bike racing from the side of the road. I would encourage my heroes like Bradley Wiggins or David Millar. And sometimes when I would cheer them on, they would give me a little wink. It was like 20 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. And that’s why I go out in the breaks today.”
But while he is eager to take his chances, he insists he won’t just go out in a break with anyone. And one of his favorite breakaway companions in fact is Stéphane Rossetto. “Oh, with Stéphane it is more than a friendship. We have known each other for nearly 20 years. He’s the godfather to my daughter. We are very, very close. And what’s more, we have the same spirit. Yesterday (stage seven) it was really his idea to go out on the attack. It was total suicide and I knew it. And if it was any other rider I wouldn’t have gone out with him. Riding in a two-man break with someone for six hours is hard enough. I’m not going to do it with someone I don’t like!”
Unfortunately for Offredo, Rossetto was not there to pace him today. Rossetto’s Cofidis teammate Christophe LaPorte, who was also sick, was with him in the early kilometers. But he soon dropped out of the race and Offredo spent most of the day alone. It was only in the final kilometers that Danish veteran Lars Bak fell back and rode along with him, giving him a pat on the back as the two approached the line. Although they finished 29 minutes and 44 seconds behind the day’s winner Thomas De Gendt, with the help of Bak the two managed to finish safely under the cut-off.
Offredo was visibly empty at the end. “I was sick all night and struggled from the start. In moments like that you can really start to panic. I thought about stopping, but the public encouraged me. The public was enormous!” But while he was wasted at the finish, he was also relieved. “You know, the Tour might drop me. But I will never drop out of the Tour.”