Antoine Duchesne had a disappointing first year on the WorldTour with Europcar in 2014 because of injuries and illness. This season, the young Canadian is hoping to turn his luck around as he heads into Paris-Nice from March 8-15 in France and the Spring Classics.
“I’m ready for Paris-Nice,” Duchesne told Cyclingnews. “I’m healthy at the moment. Even with a tough early season I feel pretty strong. That’s why I was selected to race Paris-Nice. It will be my first big stage race since I’ve been on this team.”
The Quebec-born rider, who now bases himself in southern France with fellow Canadian Hugo Houle from the Ag2r-La Mondiale team, got his start with Europcar after a series of promising results as an under-23 rider, including back-to-back national road titles, second place in a stage at the Tour de Beauce and fifth in a stage at the Tour of Alberta.
Europcar offered him a two-year deal (2014 and 2015) that aligned perfectly with the French team’s upgrade to the WorldTour last year, giving him a dream position on a team that would compete in all of the top races in the world. A series of injuries, however, kept him from starting the bigger stage races.
Not knowing exactly what his strengths were, Europcar added Duchesne to the Spring Classics campaign last year. “I was new to the team and they didn’t really know what I was capable of, so I only did Mallorca and Tour of Langkawi in the early season, and then I jumped into the Classics. Since I was riding the cobbles well, I did the whole season through Paris-Roubaix,” he said.
His spring season ended in injury when he hit a street pole before the Arenberg sector of Paris-Roubaix, injuring his thigh and hip, which sidelined him from racing for almost a month. Recovered and back on the bike in May, Europcar slotted him in for the Critérium du Dauphiné, his first chance at a WorldTour stage race, but as the race grew closer they replaced him with Romain Sicard instead.
He raced the Tour de Picardie before flying home to race in the National Championships in June and then returned to Europe for the Tour de Wallonie. It was all preparation for his next big target at the Eneco Tour in August but his bad luck continued with a crash during stage 2. He hit his knee cap and went on to suffer through three months of acute tendonitis, effectively ending his debut season on the WorldTour.
“I had good fitness for all of last year but a lot of bad luck,” Duchesne said. “I hope everything will go better this year.”
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Canadian to start Paris-Nice and Spring Classics, Tour de France important for team's future
Duchense’s season hasn’t started out on the high that he had hoped for. He caught a stomach illness at the Tour de San Luis in January that lingered with him for 10 days after he returned back to Europe. During February and March, however, his luck has taken a turn upward with strong performances at the Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia and Classica de Almeria.
He recently took top five in the young rider competition at Haut Var and started his classics campaign at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and said he’s back to feeling 100 per cent ahead of his upcoming targets. “It wasn’t really the best start to the season,” he said. “But now I’m feeling pretty good.”
The upward momentum has landed Duchesne a spot on the Paris-Nice team, alongside Sicard, Thomas Voeckler, Bryan Coquard, Cyril Gautier, Yohann Gene, Bryan Nauleau and Angelo Tulik.
“I think we have strong riders with Romain Sicard and Cyril Gautier, who are doing really well at the moment, and with Bryan Coquard our sprinter... and Thomas Voeckler,” Duchesne said. “I think we have a pretty strong team for Paris-Nice. We're looking forward to trying to do some good stuff over there.”
Team management are currently searching for a new financial backer to replace Europcar, which will not renew its title sponsorship at the end of this season. In addition, they were forced to downgrade to a Professional Continental licence this year because of budget problems, making performances at races like Paris-Nice crucial to the team’s future.
They have also received wildcard invitations to Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France, which Duchense said has a special importance for his team in their bid to find sponsor dollars.
“For the team, all the french WorldTour races are really important for us,” Duchesne said. “Paris-Nice is the first main objective for us, for sure. We are in our last year, we don’t have a sponsor for next year yet, and so the Tour is going to be where it is really important for our team to get results.”
Duchesne said that the team’s downgrade to a Professional Continental licence hasn't changed his own racing schedule too much, especially because they got many of the WorldTour invitations that they applied for this year. The only downside for him is that he may not get the chance to compete in a Grand Tour this year.
“The only thing that sucks is that we might only do the Tour de France this year, out of all the Grand Tours,” Duchesne said. “That takes a lot of options away in terms of doing my first Grand Tour. I was hoping to do the Giro but we didn’t get invited and we don’t know yet for the Vuelta. If we only do the Tour it’s going to be hard to get on the team.”
Although he would jump at the opportunity to be on Europcar’s Tour team, he is realistic about this chances of being one of the nine men who are on the start line in Utrecht on July 4.
“Of course, I would love to do the Tour, every cyclist wants to do the Tour in his life,” Duchesne said. “I would love it but I think the chances are pretty small. I would be very surprised if I made the team.”
Time will tell if Duchesne gets a GrandTour debut this year, but in the meantime, he is focused on Paris-Nice and his upcoming spring campaign that includes many of the cobbled classics.
He will be racing at E3 Harelbeke (March 27), Gent - Wevelgem (March 29), Three days of de Panne (March 31 to April 2), Tour of Flanders (April 5), Scheldeprijs (April 8) and Paris - Roubaix (April 12).
Following the classics he will continue racing at the new Tour de Yorkshire (May 1-3), Tour de Picardie (May, 15-17), World Port Classic (May 23-24), Tour de Luxembourg (June 3-7) and possibly the Critérium du Dauphiné (June 7-14). From there, Europcar will solidify the team for the Tour de France.