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15-02-2023 | Jean-Marie Henckaerts

Interview Loïc Ruffaut: "I just love the mountains"

Loïc Ruffaut is one of the fastest men in the gran fondo peloton. He comes from Saint-Félix, in the Allier department, near Vichy, in France. From there, he started riding and developed his passion for cycling. During the quiet winter months, I had the opportunity to meet Loïc and ask him a few questions.

Loïc rode races at the French federal level up to elite (National Division 1, 2 and 3). After a hip injury, he had to stop competing, but his passion for riding and the mountains led him to continue riding gran fondos. There he found what he was looking for in cycling. His palmares for 2022 include victories in the Gran fondo Vosges, Nove Colli, Mégève Mont Blanc, La Madeleine, Marmotte Pyrénées and Haute Route Davos. In addition, the list of second places is impressive. Second places he would like to turn into wins in the coming years, especially the Sportful Dolomiti Race, Marmotte Alpes and L'Étape du Tour. More often than not, he was beaten by Stefan Kirchmair.

Thanks to training and self-study, he holds a diploma as a trainer, supervisor & sports director, Diplôme DEJEPS* Cyclisme. This solid practical and theoretical background allows him to live today as a trainer and coach. In 2018, he founded Ruffaut Cycling System (RCS) with his brother Pierre (also a former rider in the federal circuit who turned to triathlon). Ruffaut Cycling System provides individual coaching at all levels, organizes training camps and follows riders during gran fondos.

*DEJEPS = Diplôme d'Etat de la Jeunesse, de l'Education Populaire et du Sport

You have participated in competitions at the highest amateur level in France. What is the difference between that level and a gran fondo?

'In amateur (and professional) competition, you have to know how to ride in a peloton and rub shoulders and elbows, as they say. It is a much more nervous kind of race, with many attacks, while in a gran fondo the riding is more regular because the selection of a leading group is usually made early in the race. There's also a difference in pace, in amateur races we rode an average of 40-42 km/h while in a gran fondo we usually ride 38-39 km/h. Having said that, I must immediately add that the course of many gran fondos is more difficult than that of the amateur competition. If you look at the Marmotte Alpes, Ötztaler Radmarathon or Sportful Dolomiti Race, those are super tough races, with serious distances and meters of elevation.'

You have again achieved brilliant results in 2022. What result are you most proud of in your gran fondo career?

'Without a doubt the Haute Route Pyrenees, Alps and Dolomites trilogy in 2015 where I finished second, third and first respectively.'

How do you develop your training program to achieve such results?

'I am my own trainer. I like to train alone and I know that I need a lot of hours on the ride to get my best results. And because of my work as a coach, I have a nice amount of time to be on the bike. I usually divide my day into three parts. I work for a few hours in the morning, mostly on tasks that require concentration. Then I go for a ride, usually about three to six hours a day. And after training, I take some rest, sometimes in the form of a micro-nap and then I work for another two to three hours or sometimes up to four to five hours if I have a lot of work. I make training plans for my clients, but I don't make one for myself! I train according to the season and I train in all seasons and in all weather conditions. I just got a gravel bike with high-profile tires so I can ride safely even on snow and ice. I train different aspects depending on the season and I adapt during training. From experience, I also know how to deal with my fatigue.'

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Can you share a training tip with our readers?

'Becoming a good cyclist takes time and perseverance. It takes time to build a capacity that allows you to progress. You have to be consistent, in training and recovery. It requires regularity over the years. You can't get results in three months; it takes years. And all endurance athletes build a lot of training volume at low intensity. Low intensity remains the foundation for me. Of course, for people with 'regular' jobs, we have to take into account work and the stresses of daily life, but also mental fatigue. Not everyone can spend as much time on the ride as he or she would like.'

What motivates you to get on your bike and train so much?

'My main motivation is to feel happy on the bike, feel good and have fun on my bike. The results I get in races are a good alibi for not feeling guilty for spending so much time on the ride. (laughs) On the other hand, the preparation and training also motivate me tremendously, as do the competition and races. The race is the concretization of the preparation; it confirms my approach to training, so to speak.'

What are your goals for 2023?

'There are many races I would like to ride this year, such as the Nove Colli, Maratona dles Dolomites, Sportful Dolomiti Race, Marmotte Alpes, L'Étape du Tour, Marmotte GF Valais, Haute Route Alpes and KOM Challenge Taiwan. I especially like the gran fondos in Italy because I find them well organized with a good atmosphere, often on closed roads.'

Are you invited to these races or do you have to register yourself?

'No, I am not invited; I pay my registration like everyone else. And that's good, because we have to make the gran fondo system work. We have to pay so the events can stay organized and the organizers can guarantee our safety while we are suffering.'

What goal would you like to have achieved ten years from now?

'There are still several gran fondos I would like to win, especially the Marmotte Alpes, the Maratona dles Dolomites, the L'Étape du Tour, the Ötztaler Radmarathon and the Sportful Dolomiti Race. I will try again this year, but there is still time. And maybe one day I can win the UCI Gran fondo World Championship when it returns to the mountains. It's taking place in Glasgow this year, so that's not the right course for me.'

What is your favorite gran fondo and why?

Without hesitation, the original Marmotte, the Marmotte Alpes. When I first rode it at the age of 20, I finished second. The course matches my desire of the kind of race I would like to participate in as a pro, before I had to change my plans because of the hip injury. The route is fantastic, with mythical mountain passes and cols.'

What region would you like to live in to train? Which region is ideal for bicycle training?

'I generally like the mountains. There are so many beautiful areas. It's hard to choose between the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Dolomites. I could live in any of them. Currently I am spending time in Briançon in the French Alps to prepare for the new season.'

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