Starting their twentieth season in the pro ranks, French squad FDJ broke their tradition of sending neo pros – like Thibaut Pinot and Arthur Vichot in 2010 – to Australia for the Santos Tour Down Under but following his missed transfer opportunity to Cannondale, 29-year-old Yoann Offredo is making a come-back where his career begun in 2008.
"I've always kept fond memories of Adelaide," Offredo told Cyclingnews ahead of the season opening criterium in the streets of the capital of South Australia. "I've been lucky to come here for my first race as a pro and I did it the year after too. I stayed in town for longer than my team-mates. I was still a student at the time and I envisaged joining a university here but eventually the Tour of Qatar became my regular first race of the year.
"Being a Parisian, I was amazed by people respecting the rules here. They also respect the athletes more than anywhere else I've been. I've found that wonderful atmosphere again this week. Riding a bike on those roads where it smells good, I was telling my team-mate Anthony Roux the other day that we have a fabulous job. In Qatar or Oman, I never met anyone in a street who'd ask me questions about being a professional cyclist."
Interestingly, FDJ isn't going to participate to the Tours of Qatar and Oman next month after Offredo was one of the riders leading the strike to get a stage of the Tour of Oman cancelled last year. The Parisian also made the headlines in August for having reached an agreement with team manager Marc Madiot to nullify his contract as he was willing to join Cannondale in 2016. The American team eventually hired another Frenchman, Pierre Rolland, instead.
"Marc and Yvon Madiot are very dedicated to the sport, I have a great relationship with them and FDJ is a superb team to ride for but I wanted to get out of my routine," Offredo explained. "I've managed to do it without changing team. I've completely modified my training and my mental approach of the racing. I feel like a neo pro again. Physically and mentally, I've finally overcome the effects of my suspension in 2012 [he served a 12-month ban for a whereabouts violation]. I don't personally know Luca Paolini well but I've been touched as I read his words about being depressed [the Italian tested positive for cocaine at the Tour de France]. We're humans. A pro cyclist remains vulnerable even with a big staff around."
A fragile Offredo showed encouraging results in the classics. He was four times in the top 20 of Milan-Sanremo including a seventh place in 2011 but he only won one race up to date [stage 4 of the 2009 Tour de Picardie] and started only one Grand Tour [DNF on stage 10 of the 2010 Vuelta a España].
"I'll focus on the classics again because that's where I express my fighting spirit the best,", he said. "I won't be doing Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico to prepare for them but it doesn't bother me. I'm also no longer afraid of starting a Grand Tour. I'll be happy to line up at any of them. It's not negative to say that I had become a domestique but I'm convinced that I haven't exploited 70% of my capacities yet. I really feel like a neo pro again, ready to catch any opportunity."