Absent from the inaugural edition due to injury, Victoire Berteau discovered Paris-Roubaix with flying colours last year. The local rider, who grew up near the Troisvilles sector, finished 17th overall and was the best-finishing French rider. In the Top 20, only British rider Pfeiffer Georgi (9th) was younger than her. The 22-year-old Cofidis rider has a status to defend and hopes to do even better on 8 April. After a winter on the tracks, the rider from Picardy returned to road racing at Ghent-Wevelgem on 26 March. She had to withdraw after a crash and a broken derailleur, but three days later, she reassured herself by going on the attack during Dwars door Vlaanderen: “Everything is a go for Roubaix,” she says.
What do you remember most about when you entered the velodrome last year?
It was the happiest moment of my life! There was a crazy crowd. I finished in the top 20 in the greatest race in the world, and my family was waiting for me. Yes, it was a special moment.
Who was there from your family?
There was my mother, my sister, my godmother, her husband, and the president of VC Laon, the club where I have been a member since 2012. Because I knew they were in Camphin-en-Pévèle, I didn’t expect to see them at the velodrome. It’s too close and the cars don’t go as fast as the riders. And then, finally, I heard my mother as I entered the velodrome! They were at the entrance because they weren’t allowed in. I can always hear her when she’s at the race. She screams, and I can only hear her! After the finish, I went to see her straight away.
Did you hear what she said to you?
No, but she often says, “get your bum up” or something like that! Because she knows that I never lift my bum to sprint. I often sprint sitting down, whereas a sprinter is supposed to rise up. Seeing her made me think: “Oh yeah, I mustn’t forget, because I’ll hear about it for two months!
And did that help you?
Well, I am not known for being a top sprinter! Of course, it motivates me even more. Even a top-15 finish in the greatest classic is enough motivation for me. But I couldn’t do better (she finished 17th in a group of seven riders fighting for 13th place).
In any case, it must have meant a lot to you ?
Yes, of course. Especially because I am very close to my older sister and mother. My mother has supported me ever since I was young. She took me to all the races, and she continues to follow me even now. So, the fact that she was there to lend support and was proud of me provided an even stronger emotion.
She was in Civaux in 2016 when you became the French cadet champion ?
Right. When I won the world championship in the American junior event (2018, with Marie Le Net), my mother and sister also came to Aigle (Switzerland). She comes to all the big events.
Is it a source of pride to be the first French rider at the finish?
Yes, it’s always a pleasure. But there are many French women in UCI and World Tour teams, some of which are teammates and could also be in the Top 20. But as a patriot, being the first Frenchwoman always makes me happy!
More people than before will be watching you on 8 April.
Yes, it adds some pressure. Last year was my first time. I didn’t know what to expect. There wasn’t any media pressure. Now there is more press. I get questions about the result. I did a reconnaissance ride last week and felt super good on the cobbles. I am not worried about that. I was also riding strong in Ghent-Wevelgem before I crashed. Given my condition, I think that I could have fought in the lead group. After the Ronde van Vlaanderen (2 April), I will return to Roubaix for some final reconnaissance.
You were aiming for a Top 20 last year. Now is it the Top 10?
No, we’re taking it one step at a time! I’m going to aim for the Top 15. Last year I finished in the Top 20, but I was racing for 13th place. It would be great to end up in the Top 10. However, you are never immune to a fall or a mechanical problem. I want to put in a good race and ride as I did in Ghent-Wevelgem.
That is to say?
I want to be in a position to fight. I struggled a bit with that last year. Especially when I was too close to other riders. I was even a bit scared. That’s something I’m working on.
I’ve been working with my mental trainer for two years on my positioning and the fear I can have in a peloton. It’s something that takes time to develop. It doesn’t happen overnight. My first Roubaix taught me the importance of placement. After discussing it with my coach (Samuel Monnerais), I was supposed to be in the group racing for second place if I hadn’t been in such a poor position before Camphin-en-Pévèle. I made a mistake, and I won’t make it again. I was behind a lot of crashes. I had to make up ground. It took a lot of energy out of me.”
Compared to last year, you have raced much less on the road. Ghent-Wevelgem was your resumption on 26 March.
It is simply linked to the qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games. Cofidis and the French federation agreed that my first three months of the year would be devoted to the track. I did a lot of hard work on the track, I went back to training with Cofidis in January, and we did the European Championships and the two rounds of the Nations Cup. I did a bit less road racing, but I am not worried about it. Track and road racing are very complementary. On an omnium, you do 4h30 of cycling, 1h30 of which is flat out.
Let’s get back to Roubaix. Why do you think it is the greatest race in the world?
It’s not only the physical aspect that counts in Roubaix. I think it’s 50-50 with the mental aspect. If you don’t have the mental strength, don’t bother! It’s also the fact that it’s my local race. The first sector of the men’s race (Troisvilles) is 10 km from my parents’ home in Fesmy-le-Sart. This race has always been a dream of mine. And you can dream of everything in Roubaix. You may not be the best physically, but if you are mentally superior to everyone else, nothing bad can happen to you.
What childhood memories do you have of the race?
I didn’t go to see it that often. But I remember the pain on the riders’ faces, the fight between Cancellara and Boonen. When I wanted to have some fun on the bike, I rode in the sectors close to my parent’s home! Last year, I made a map with the route of Paris-Roubaix Femmes. I added where I was born, where my parents live, where my sister lives, where I live now (in Ardooie, Belgium) and where I went to school. It was amazing to see: my life is centred around Paris-Roubaix!”
Born in Lambres-lez-Douai on 16 August 2000
Team: Dolticni-Van Eyck Sport (2019), Dolticini-Van Eyck-Proximus (2020-2021), Cofidis (2022-2023)
2022: 17th at Paris-Roubaix, 68th at the Tour de France and combativity award on Stage 5, a bronze medal at the World Track Championships in the team pursuit
2020: 3rd at the French U23 road racing championship, 7th in the team pursuit at the Tokyo Olympics (track)
2018: Ghent-Wevelgem Juniors, Stage 3 of the Omloop van Borsele Juniors, World Champion in the American race (track)
2016: French Cadet Champion
Distinguishing Facts: Flandrian at heart, winner of Ghent-Wevelgem in the junior category, Victoire Berteau, started her career in a Belgian team before joining Cofidis. She has lived in Ardooie, near Roeselare, about 40 km from Roubaix for the past three years.