Paul Hennequin is the youngest rider of the Team Nice Métropole Côte d’Azur this season. The Girondin, born in Bordeaux but lived for six years in Cannes, in the Alpes-Maritimes, made his professional debut with the new Maralpine Continental. Persevering through the particularly demanding month of February, he began a series of competitions and showed the tip of his nose by taking the lead during the classic Loire-Atlantique. DirectVelo sums up with a 19-year-old runner, a former member of the OCC Antibes, ahead of the Adele de Vitré route (1.1).
DirectVelo: How was your professional debut?
Paul Hennekin: Joining this category gives me a big step forward. But I think things are going pretty well, both collectively and from a more personal point of view. I am pleased with the results, although on paper they are nothing extraordinary. I do my work in a team. I am fulfilling my contract. I still hope to perform more and more. For now, I’m still making my mark. I can see the difference compared to the first races, it’s getting better and better. This is positive.
You took part in today’s breakout during the Classic Loire-Atlantique…
It allowed me to see what it’s like to be on the loose. I could study, and that day I had good legs, it was nice. I hope there will be others.
“WE ARE HERE TO PERFORM, NOT TO LOOK AT WHAT THEY DO”
You didn’t do much in February, racing at a very high level. Was it a team choice to keep you in some way?
Yes, that was the idea. The headquarters know that I am young, even the youngest. You must go slowly. It’s better to go step by step. I had to relax a little at the beginning of the season. Also, I am not one of those who go very hard from the very beginning, even among amateurs I was always better at the end of the season than in the first competitions of the year.
How did you approach this coming to the pros and already feel completely in your place in this peloton?
The whole winter was a long journey and a real preparation. It was good pressure. There were concerns, but I was especially happy to reach this level. I was more motivated than anything from the very beginning and I was looking forward to it. There was no particular fear. As for my place in this peloton, of course, at the very beginning, when I saw a guy like (Julian) Alaphilippe next to me at the start, I said to myself: “Blimey! “. But you move on quickly. During the race, you don’t think about it at all and completely change your outlook on things. Everything happens naturally. If you find yourself talking shoulder to shoulder with the big names in the peloton, you don’t ask yourself any questions. They both have two arms and two legs, just like us. We are here to perform, not to watch them do it.
“NO COMPLEXES SHOULD BE CREATED”
What has surprised you the most so far?
Race organization. Compared to amateurs, it is really square. We know who does what, the peloton is much more structured and you feel like everyone has a very specific role in every team. On the climbs, I was struck by the difference between climbers and non-climbers. This is what impressed me most about Drôme Classic. The level was really high. But again, don’t over complicate things. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of the team in the first races. It was nice to see friends walking like that. And to see that we have our place among the pros. We are not funny.
What will be the team’s goal at the Adélie circuit this Friday and at upcoming events?
Personally, I recently got a little sick, and the last few races I was not in the best shape. Let’s see how I recover, but I’m still ambitious. At the group level, we have already shown ourselves well at the start of the season, but now we want to start looking for results. I think this is possible in particular in the Coupe de France. The group is open and homogeneous. In the case of a sprint, several riders can try their luck, for example, Maxim (Urruti), Jonathan (Couanon) or Tristan (Delacroix). We have several opportunities and ambitions.