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From Call of Duty to Giro d'Italia leadership: Introducing Attila Valter

Overall leader Team GroupamaFDJ rider Hungarys Attila Valter poses prior to the start of the seventh stage of the Giro dItalia 2021 cycling race 181 km between Notaresco and Termoli on May 14 2021 Photo by Dario BELINGHERI AFP Photo by DARIO BELINGHERIAFP via Getty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

This time last year, Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ) didn't know where his career was going. The pandemic had left him short of race days and, with CCC Team set to fold, the young Hungarian admits that he had a few nervous moments. 

However, a win in his home tour, coupled with a strong ride in his maiden Giro d'Italia, convinced Groupama-FDJ to give the former mountain biker a chance to develop further on a grand stage. 

Fast forward to May and the 22-year-old has become the first Hungarian ever to wear a leader's jersey in a Grand Tour and, after a highly impressive showing in the opening week of this Giro, looks like a genuine star in the making.

Before pulling on the maglia rosa - and before Cyclingnews' technical outage that meant the site couldn't post any content for 24 hours - we caught up with Valter to talk about being in the best young riders' white jersey, his pathway into the sport, and what makes him tick.

Cyclingnews: Congratulations on your performance so far in the Giro d’Italia. You're in a jersey and in a really good position at this point.  

Attila Valter:  It’s pretty strange. I wasn’t expecting a jersey here but I’ll take it and the ones that I receive on the podium I'll never give to anybody. It’s a super nice feeling and already I’ve had more respect in the peloton. Of course, I try and show the same respect to other riders too, just like before, but being in the white jersey was a hectic day for me. I quite enjoyed it but every day is a different story.

CN: You raced the Giro d’Italia last year, making your Grand Tour debut, and you were in the top-30 – albeit over an hour down. Are you looking at the GC this year and the areas in which you can make big improvements?

AV: I think that if I’m fully focused then for sure it’s better to finish higher than last year but I’m not sure if that’s worth it. As we saw last earlier in the race with other stages it might be better to aim for a stage win than finish in 20th place. I don’t know if that’s worth it but I feel good and I’ve felt in form throughout the first week of the race. That was the same last year but I’m not going to give away any time. In the future of my career, the GC is of course a big focus.

CN: I remember when you won that stage into Tignes at the Tour de l’Avenir in 2019, but what was your background before wining that stage?

AV: I’d already done some road racing and I was already part of the CCC Development Team. So I had experience before l’Avenir but before that my main focus was on the mountain bike. I raced the World Cups and the World Championships, races like that. Slowly I moved onto the road and I was invited by the national team to do more races and I was quite successful. I enjoyed it and when I got the chance to join the CCC team I realized it was time to change completely. That was 2019. I did a few races in MTB that year but the full focus within my training and my planning was geared around the road.

CN: How did you get into cycling?

AV: To be honest it wasn’t that hard for me. My father was a pro cyclist and he raced in Italy. He was a Hungarian champion many times so when he stopped his career he immediately became a coach back home. He’d trained many riders before me but I started when I was 10 and trained with the other kids. He’s still at home, still training people so I hope that I’m not the last one from home to enjoy this feeling.

CN: You’re the first Hungarian to wear a jersey of any note in a Grand Tour. Have you had a huge reaction from back home?

AV: It’s both a happy and sad moment but it’s true that I’m only the first Hungarian in this position. It would be nice if there was more of a tradition of cycling in Hungary but that’s not the case. We had one good rider worth mentioning, Laszlo Bodrogi. He finished on the podium in World Championships but it wasn’t chasing jerseys in Grand Tours because his duties lay in other areas. I’ve had a lot of attention in Hungary with thousands of messages and interviews. I’m really glad that despite not having such a historic cycling culture in Hungary our people still know how hard the sport is and how professional we all are. I'm very proud. 

CN: So when you were a junior and U23 was it hard to receive recognition and attention when you were racing in Hungary?

AV: Racing back home simply wasn’t possible. We only had a few races and you couldn’t really do much with that. It’s a different story now because we have the Tour of Hungary and you can have a good result there and make a name for yourself. When I was coming though I had to travel to the World Cups and other junior races abroad in places likes Switzerland and Luxembourg. I learned a lot about myself as a young rider at that time but I also joined a junior continental team and took part in the Tour of Slovakia, which was a good race for me. I had a podium in one stage, an uphill finish, and that got me through the door at CCC.

CN: So why did you choose Groupama FDJ as your team?

AV: When COVID-19 started last year the CCC Team said that they would be closing. I was pretty afraid of what would come next in my career. I didn’t know if I would have any races to show my potential again so there were a few hard moments. I just focused on my training and hoped for the best and then they called me after the win in Hungary. They showed some real confidence in my and I really liked the project that they had put together over many years. I think joining was a good solution and they’re so professional when it comes to things like the trial and putting all the little details together. I can buy into the team’s philosophy really easily because they simply want the best for each rider. It didn’t take long for them to convince me to join. Now I can say it was a good decision.
CN: Who were your heroes in cycling when you were growing up?

AV: That’s a tough one. When I was younger and still at the age when you still looked up to riders like they were heroes, I was still doing mountain biking, so Peter Sagan was my idol. I was really happy to see a rider like him doing mountain biking and when I was coming up at the age of around 13 he was making the switch to the road. He immediately became one of the best in the world and knowing that he was born so close to me in Budapest, less than two hours from my home, and in a place that has lots of Hungarian ties to it, that was a strange feeling. Generally, I mostly looked up to mountain bikers.

CN: Outside of cycling, what are your hobbies?

AV: These days there isn’t much. I like playing video games, but not too much. In some parts of the year, I get into it and then I switch off and don’t play at all. I don’t have time right now to get online just to have my ass kicked in Call of Duty: Warzone but during quarantine, for sure I played a lot. When I can, I still play single-player mode because it’s easier and it means that I don’t have to put the hours in. Sometimes I play a bit of God of War or Spiderman just to pass the time. Last year, though, I played a lot of Warzone with my cousin. But most of all I like being at home even though most of my time is taken up by the sport. I don’t mind that, though. I’m super happy as it’s a dream and not just a job.  

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Daniel Benson

 Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.