Seventh in Milan-Sanremo, Yoann Offredo is looking like the real deal for a French classics rider. It wasn’t a fluke, you simply can’t appear at the front of the race on the Poggio by accident. He was the first rider to jump on Tom Boonen’s wheel in Het Nieuwsblad a few weeks ago, making the front group then too.
Last year he was third in the GP Plouay, behind Matt Goss and Tyler Farrar and before that I’d tipped him this time last year as one to watch. Now 24 years old, he’s been a pro with FDJ since 2008. His first flash was in Milan-Sanremo last year when he attacked in the late stages of the race, riding solo and only getting caught on the Poggio. He’s from just outside Paris and a big rider at 1.90m tall, although only 67kg.
The Frenchman has proved strong and has a predilection for hard races with long distances and bad weather. In fact he’s known for his hard training sessions, often doing more than 200km at a time in a bid to get himself ready for the big races.
The head and the legs
His problem, if he has one, is mental not physical. I’ve covered it before but to repeat, he doubts his own abilities. He knew the legs were ready for the opening classic in Het Nieuwsblad but he was close to tears before the race with nerves. “I feel as if I’m gambling with my life, like there’s a knife against my throat” he told L’Equipe when describing the pressure. But that’s partly because he’s setting himself some big targets, he identified the Belgian race as important and announced it to his team. In other words he’s not letting others set objectives, he’s making some bold targets. So I admire his courage to announce goals and admit to the nervousness this brings.
Sanremo was another target. “I’m going to shit myself” he said in response to the self-imposed pressure for this race, admitting to training over the winter with this one race in mind. But last Saturday there no sign of brown shorts. Instead, whilst I joined cyclingnews.com for live commentary, I saw a confident and powerful ride, he made the front group and attacked hard knowing his chances against Goss and Van Avermaet were reduced, even if he’s no slouch in the sprint. He later jumped again with 2km to go and it was none other than Cancellara who jumped after him. Seventh was a solid result but he’s since admitted to frustration, wanting a podium.
Sleepless in Savigny
Indeed after Milan-Sanremo he turned off his mobile phone to avoid messages from well-wishes and after a journey home, admitted he couldn’t sleep because he kept replaying moments of the race in his mind. Speaking to RTL radio, he wanted to reflect on what he could have done better and stayed up into the small hours searching for video of the race on the internet so he could see the camera’s view of his exploits.
His next step will be coping with pressure. The French are understandably keen for a rider to take a role as a big leader, on a level superior to Sylvain Chavanel. But Offredo comes across as an articulate straight-talker who is both modest and level-headed. Listening to him so far he doesn’t seem to have problems dealing with the media whatsoever. In fact he’s fast becoming the darling of the French cycling media.