Laurence Pithie is too hard on himself

He might have been disappointed with seventh place, but Laurence Pithie should be proud of his race and his spring.

On the grassy infield of the Roubaix Velodrome, Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ) pulled himself away from the small crowd gathering around him, directed at few hearty F-bombs at himself, then slunk to the ground. His skinsuit was torn in several places, and streaks of blood were drying on his left elbow and right calf. 

As photographers got up close to capture the moment, Pithie took a moment to catch his breath, to decompress, before facing the waiting press.

Most riders wouldn’t be disappointed with a top 10 in their first Paris-Roubaix. Most would be delighted just to finish. But even after aiming for the top 10, and after crossing the line in seventh, the 21-year-old Kiwi was kicking himself.

“I mean, I’ll look back on this and be happy with seventh but I could have been playing for the podium,” Pithie said. “I had really good legs. I made a mistake and yeah, that crash took me out of that group.”

“That crash” happened with around 30 km to go, on a left-hand turn as Pithie was leading a chase group of five, behind eventual winner Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck). Pithie misjudged the corner, lost his front wheel, and clattered heavily to the ground, his body bouncing on the unforgiving cobbles.

“[I was] going too fast into a corner that was covered in gravel,” Pithie explained. “I should know better, but that was just a rookie mistake.”

Pithie was soon back on his bike and moving again, but his four former companions – teammate Stefan Küng, Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceunick), and Nils Politt (UAE Team Emirates) – weren’t waiting around.

“I went full gas to try and come back,” Pithie said. “But when you’ve got Pedersen, Politt chopping off, it’s pretty hard to come back from that.”

Pithie linked up with Gianni Vermeersch (Alpecin-Deceunick) with a touch under 20 km to go, but even with the pair collaborating well, Pithie wouldn’t see his old group again. He and Vermeersch entered the velodrome together where the Belgian ultimately outkicked the Kiwi, leaving Pithie in seventh place.

Pithie and Vermeersch share a moment after their spirited chase.

At just 21, in only his second season as a pro, Pithie has been nothing short of a revelation in 2024. He finished top five on three stages of the Tour Down Under – two flat finishes and one uphill – and then won Cadel’s Race in a reduced bunch sprint. But it was once he got to Europe that Pithie really started turning heads.

In his first European race of the year, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Pithie got in what ended up being the winning move with Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike). At Paris-Nice he took third on a stage and then second, earning himself a day in the leader’s yellow jersey. At Milan-San Remo, his very first Monument, he finished in the main bunch, taking 15th. He was impressive too at Gent-Wevelgem, again getting in the winning move for a time (this one including Pedersen and Van der Poel). He was again at the fore at last week’s Tour of Flanders.

It would have been an impressive start to the year for just about any rider, let alone someone so young and so new to the pro scene.

“I didn’t do the Classics last year so this is my first Classics season,” Pithie said. “I’ve had some really nice results. I’ve also been in front in races with guys like Van der Poel and Wout [van Aert]. So yeah, it’s good for the future. I’ll come back next year in the Classics and really try and fight to win one or be on the podium.”

While Pithie had impressive moments in his neo-pro season last year – a win at the French one-day race, Cholet-Pays de la Loire, being the highlight – he’s stepped up in a big way in 2024. So what does he put that down to?

“Probably just getting older and learning a bit more,” he said. “I came into the season with the mindset of a leader, I guess, so I knew I had to lift my game and really, really take it up a level. And yeah, I’ve done that and I’ve been been in front which is cool.”

Pithie was “in front” again today, on a day where almost everything went according to plan for he and his Groupama-FDJ team. Pithie was well placed throughout the race and was able to get his way into the main chase group not long after Van der Poel made his winning move, 60 km from the finish. It was all looking good for a podium finish, until “that crash”.

“When I rode across to those front guys on Mons-en-Pévèle I saw Stefan [Küng] up there,” Pithie said. “I knew I had to get there as soon as possible and we could play a little bit. Unfortunately, we never got to play the cards because I crashed.

“At that stage in the race we were still establishing a gap [on] the group behind but I think if I hadn’t made this mistake … the plan was to have numbers in front and we executed that. I just, yeah, I let the team down today.”

Given all he’s achieved this year, and how well he rode today, it’s hard not to feel like Pithie is a little hard on himself. His post-race comments, the way he swore at himself today – it’s all very reminiscent of his behavior after missing out on victory on the final stage of this year’s Tour Down Under. A week after that disappointment, though, he took his first WorldTour win. Pithie might be his own harshest critic, but he’s also good at learning from his mistakes and his disappointments.

With that in mind, where to from here? He’ll take a break now before building towards his debut Grand Tour in May – the Giro d’Italia. It would hardly be a surprise to see him in the spotlight there too.

Pithie might be disappointed on missing out on the podium today, but hopefully he can soon look back with pride on all he’s achieved in 2024 so far. Based on his ride today, in his very first Paris-Roubaix, you get the sense that we’re witnessing the start of something very special.

Iain Treloar contributed reporting to this story.

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