The 19-year-old French rising star Donavan Grondin is looking to the 2020 UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Berlin (26 February to 1 March) while working to find the perfect balance between track stardom and professional road racing.
Grondin is French Champion in the team pursuit (with Florian Maître of Total Direct Énergie, Louis Pijourlet, Valentin Tabellion and Thomas Denis) and the Madison, also riding with Maître. Already the proud owner of a rainbow jersey – he was crowned Omnium Junior UCI World Champion in 2018 -, he is now looking to the imminent Worlds in Germany and, why not, the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer.
After a year racing in National Division 1 with Vendée U, in 2020 he sports the colours of UCI ProTeam, Arkéa Samsic. His teammates include experienced fellow French athletes Warren Barguil and Nacer Bouhani and the newly signed Colombian contingent: brothers Dayer and Nairo Quintana plus Winner Anacona. Grondin has just tackled his first desert stage race at the team’s successful Saudi Tour. We caught up with the young Frenchman to hear his unique take on how to balance maintaining success on the boards with forging a pro career on the tarmac.
Crossing the codes
“Track and road cycling are really different in the way we race. It's much shorter on the track,” reflects Grondin. “I like both disciplines and I believe they complement each other well. Track helps you on the road and the other way around. A 50km Madison is 200 laps… that's quite something. It's close to the intensity you do on the road. Here, at the end of a stage, we can do 54km in the last hour. On a Madison, it'll be around 58-60kph.”
Grondin is learning as much as he can, as quickly as he can.
“The Saudi Tour was my first pro race on the road, it went really well. I was there to pull the bunch if necessary and to help my leader Nacer Bouhanni position himself, I did my best for him.
“The Sports Directors told me not to put too much pressure on myself. Everybody goes through this, being a neo-pro. We have two experienced guys with us, Laurent Pichon and Florian Vachon, they help me. When I was pulling, they told me where to position myself and it helped a lot.
“I'm finding my role in the team. It also helps me knowing where I'm at with my preparation because I've been working a lot on the track compared to those who only rode on the road.”
A snapshot of Grondin’s February reflects the balancing trick between the two disciplines: after the Saudi Tour he faced a short session on the track in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (the French national velodrome, near Paris) before returning to the road to race two Spanish events: the two-day Vuelta Ciclista a la Región de Murcia "Costa Calida" and the one-day UCI ProSeries event Clasica de Almeria. Then it was back to France for some more road work ahead of a track training camp in the lead-up to the Track Worlds.
“The team is OK with me racing on the track so I enjoy this. From the beginning, they told me, ‘If you want, we're ready to support you with the track.’ I said ‘ok!’. In my first year, it helps not disrupting things too much, I keep my habits.”
Island roots and mountain bikes
“I grew up in La Réunion [picturesque French department on a volcanic island in the Indian Ocean] and came to France when I was 16, to the French cycling centre in Bourges. I moved to Rennes recently, last December, to be closer to Team Arkéa-Samsic.”
Grondin’s cycling career started on mountain bikes, and it was at the age of 13 that he began riding on the road and track, initially alongside mountain bike. However, it became difficult to juggle three disciplines: “Two is already complicated, so if you add a third…”
“I did some MTB competitions,” he recalls. “I won the regional championships and I participated in the National French Championships. In 2015, I was 12th at the Nationals without having done any races before so I was happy. The same year, I won on the road. It was Under 17. Then I did the Chrono des Nations, I also won, and they contacted me in Bourges and I joined them the next year.
“On the road, this season is about seeing how I can help my teammates. That's the first step. On the track, it’s the World Championships at the end of February.”
It’s a mark of Grondin’s growing status and clear ambition that, like a number of track riders heading to the UCI World Championships, he’s already looking beyond the actual racing in Berlin, to what the results mean in terms of qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“Then we'll know the selection for the Olympic Games,” he says. “That's my number one goal – even the team told me the goal is to be selected for the Games. I've always dreamt of participating in the Olympics. It's an opportunity, earlier than expected. If I do it this year, at 20 years old, it's young. Participating in the Olympics at 20, that's something!
“I started watching track events more closely when I started racing myself. I saw Bryan Coquard come second in the Olympics and then my model was Benjamin Thomas. Now I race with him, that's nice. I already have a rainbow jersey, so why not aim for the Olympics now?”