Tor Hushovd, Sylvan Dillier, Stéphane Küng… or even Jérôme Pinault, Samuel Dumoulin, Jérôme Cousin or more recently Anthony Delaplace for the French. All of them have won the Tour de Normandie. And in 2022, it was Mathis Le Berr who added his name to the class 2 winners (see rating). A big success for a rider who is still an amateur but will join the Arkéa-Samsic ProTeam in 2023. Côtes d’Armor rider – Marie Morin-Hu set the tone by winning solo on the first day before retaining her yellow jersey until the final arrival six days later in Caen. Inevitably, this week has been a soap opera for Breton N1, which has managed to silence Continentals and others by adding a line of brands to its prize list. Cold, Mathis Le Berre is back in DirectVelo this week in yellow, his Sunday emotions and the moments that defined his adventure in Normandy.
DirectVelo: After such success, you should have celebrated with the team!
Mathis Le Berre: Not much, but it was quiet there. We kept calm because there is still a Coupe de France. (Boucle de l’Artois, this weekend, editor’s note). Today is a normal day that starts. Of course, when you see Tour of Normandy winners with guys like Anthony Delaplace or Stéphane Küng… it’s no coincidence that I’m there. I went to look for her, every day I was mentally exhausted.
You waited to be sure of winning after the line. What was going on in your head at that time?
I tell myself I won’t give myself false hopes. I didn’t know if I won. I said : “Wait guys, we will remain calm, we will wait for the final decision”. And so we remained calm. Then I couldn’t believe it. And so it was. At the age of 20, he won with an amateur team that did not have the same budget as Contis. We don’t have a bus, we come with our own camping chairs. And yet it doesn’t change anything, it’s on the bike that we make the difference.
“WE HAVE TO BRING THE JERSEY”
You mentioned mental fatigue, which is why you burst out laughing when you found out about your victory?
It’s basically like that, yes. There is muscle fatigue, but primarily nervous. I was in a tight spot all the time, we didn’t make mistakes, we controlled the situation. Many riders in the peloton congratulated me. Even during the week it’s fun. Guys from all teams came to me, I think they were also happy with my victory. It’s cool to see this behavior.
You took the jersey on the first day and never gave it back. Did you think about such a scenario on Monday night?
I said to myself, maybe I can save it for two or three days, that I can do it. After I had a mechanical problem (in the third stage, ed.)I said to myself: “it’s really stressful”. I had nothing more to lose, we’ll see from day to day. And every time we said it to each other, and every time it happened again and again the next day. Yesterday morning (Sunday) when I woke up I said to myself “Now there’s one day left, we must secure”. For all the colleagues who did the work, we had to return the jerseys, we had no choice.
“I DON’T HAVE TO STRETCH, THERE IS ALWAYS A SOLUTION”
You are talking about this particular day, when you lost most of the lead gained on the first day. Is that the day you were the most scared?
I had an attack of pressure. My guys were waiting for me to come back, if I didn’t have guys to bring me back it would be over for me. I couldn’t go home alone, everything was going too fast. It was impossible. I kept calm, respected my guys well all week, I’m not a boring leader, in quotes. I manage to talk to them well, I respect their work. I’m not nervous, they know it. I don’t have to stress, there is always a solution. It’s cycling, we can restore the situation. Yesterday afternoon, a large group also went out, we had to hold the steering wheel behind, go again, but there were four of us left in the team.
Also on Friday, a large group of riders who took places in the overall standings dropped out. How did you deal with these critical moments?
This comes out at the top of the bump, which is caused by Yuen (Costiu). There was a slight crosswind, I told him to shift into gear and turn right into the wind. Behind was a hecatomb, we ended up in a group of 25 people, it fell off and then a group of fifteen people came out without me. I said to myself, anyway, I know Koko, he will do everything so that I keep the jersey. And he was still doing his job, he had a damn engine. He takes 3rd place, psychologically it’s good, like last year’s Tour of Britain when he took place in Fougères.
“WAS A LITTLE TENSE”
Were you also not nervous when you saw how the sprinters approached you one by one thanks to bonuses?
Not at all. I told myself that in any case, in a sprint, in a mass race, you need to have a small squad or at least two guys. But the thing is, my guys polished themselves 140 miles before that. I can’t ask them everything. I tried to put myself in my place, but I knew that sprinting with real sprinters is never easy. But of course every day with Kasper (van Uden) was a bit stressful (smiles).
How did you behave in the evening: from those who analyze the ratings?
I often looked at the bonifs, who took them, who approached, in the first fifteen. Even among the guys at 28 seconds there were strong guys like the guys from Lotto-Soudal and so on. Of course, sometimes you see the guys approaching, but you have to lean on four or five guys, no more, and watch them in the race. Otherwise, you can quickly become complicated, you won’t jump on everyone. We have to deal with this.
“THIS IS A TOTAL LACK OF RESPECT”
What marked you in this long experience of yellow?
When you’re in the yellow jersey, you get a little more respect, after that I have to lead it a little. Even if one day… There was a one-day escape. It was four minutes later, behind me I stopped peeing to say it was over and that we were going to hold the thing as we rolled behind. At that moment, I was attacked by a racer from an amateur team. These are things that don’t go through too much and they won’t. This is complete disrespect, he recognizes himself. It was some time of the week (smiles). We are not in the Tour de France, but the yellow jersey is respectable. But I feel like there’s still a lot of respect overall, it’s pretty crazy.
Do you think you learned a lot this week?
I have never experienced such a long time. You have to find patience, never get frustrated, always try to be smart and smart. With guys like Matthieu Jeannès… I had a t-shirt but it helped me a lot, even my DS (Sebastian Cottier, editor’s note), he has a good job, he knows how to take things, he knows how to do it. It was our first tour of Normandy, we will definitely be back without me (laughs). But the team is fine, the staff, mechanics, assistants … everyone was satisfied. This will create a good image of the Côte d’Armor, we will show that we are a team that can also win.
“I DON’T HAVE TOO MUCH PRESSURE”
Are you ready to do it again at the Tour de Brittany!
That’s for sure! Last year I was supposed to do 11, but I did work for Anthony. (Delaplace, he was then an intern at Arkéa-Samsic, editor’s note). There I tell myself… (smiles). Let’s see, it will depend on my current form, if Yuen is strong, I will do the job just like he did for me. But other than that, when I rode the Tour de Brittany, I saw a bit of what it was like, it was a bit of the same configuration. I based it this week, in placement and all. I tried to play, it was a real experience.
Do you feel the need to breathe? You will find elite races in a week at a higher level…
I’m still focused on the Coupe de France, even if the pressure is off a bit. I think I don’t have too much pressure anymore. I have a contract, I won this race. Now I run for the win anyway, I don’t want to do 2 anymore, it’s over. I think for the Coupe de France, Yuen, being a fast guy, if he can win it, that would be great. Then I think I can repay the remaining days.