Twelve months that saw the 33-year-old sign to three teams and survive a serious health scare before returning to the world’s biggest bike race and showing her metal in epic style on stage 4, it’s a story even the directors of the ‘Unchained’ series on Netflix would have a job unpicking.
We spoke to her throughout the season about a year fraught with trials on and off the bike.
July 31, 2022, La Super Planche des Belles Filles, France
When Cordon-Ragot crested the summit of La Super Planche des Belles Filles it was a historic moment in cycling, the culmination of an incredible week of sport, the return of a true Tour de France for women.
“I was happy at that moment to finish,” she recalls. “It was a stressful week where we got a lot of attention every day, so I was exhausted. It took me one hour to come down from the summit because I had to stop at least 15 times for pictures which was great, but it was a double feeling of ‘we accomplished the same Tour and this is history, but wow I’m really glad it was finished’.”
An exhausting end to a week full of racing, team, media and personal commitments, the experience did however leave the then-French champion in good stead for the rest of the season.
Coming out of July she has one of the best ends to the season of her career, winning the TTT and individual TT at the Postnord Vårgårda WestSweden and finishing second overall at the Simac Ladies Tour. All was good on two wheels with eyes on a leading role as part of Team B&B Hotels in the following season.
September 11, 2022, Brittany, France
Cordon-Ragot wakes up on the second Sunday of September like any other day, but something is very wrong.
“I couldn’t stand up,” she explains. “I realized that my body was not working and when you’re an athlete you know what the normal feelings are. I was sure something was going wrong, my body was not reacting the way it should and this was not normal lightheadedness.”
She would only find out that it was a stroke event – a disease that the World Stroke Organization estimates affects one in four people over the age of 25 in their lifetime – two days afterward when doctors found a small hole in her heart.
“The first thing I asked the doctor was ‘Can I be a cyclist?’ It was more important for me to know if I could still be a cyclist than to know that yes, I was about to die. I had to prove to myself and everyone that I could be a cyclist again.”
Cordon-Ragot dug deep in all of her resolve to keep the dream alive.
“I had to be super gradual in recovery and I had this feeling that I was losing it, but it came to 2023 and I was super strong,” she says. “I thought maybe the stroke was a sign that my body needed to stop and so from then I listen to my body a lot more.”
February 8, 2023, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Winter for professional cyclists is a time when riders can focus on relaxing, as well as putting in some training rides to be ready for the following season. However, Cordon-Ragot was scrambling to find a spot on a new squad with the collapse of Team B&B Hotels swallowing up and spitting out its riders.
Brief hope was found in the form of a new team, with which she traveled with to February’s UAE Tour. It was here that she would receive a fateful favor from Human Powered Health’s women’s performance director, Kenny Latomme.
“I borrowed some Wahoo pedals from Human Powered Health in Spain but forgot to return them,” she said jokingly of her shame at looking like a thief. “I actually still needed the pedals. I saw Kenny the day after on our training ride and I apologized, but he had no clue and went, ‘You know you can keep the pedals because I’m sure we’ll need you this season’.”
“I was thinking about it after and for sure there is a karma that this was written and I would join the team.”
Two months later, the situation she faced in the winter repeated itself.
April 7, 2023, Ennevelin, France
On the eve of the toughest one-day race in the world, Paris-Roubaix Femmes, Cordon-Ragot pulls on the Human Powered Health Cycling adorned French tricolore jersey for the first time. She beams looking at the design, a third start to her 2023 season, the next chapter of her cycling story.
The raw emotion as she embraces ex-teammate Maggie Coles-Lyster in Denain the following morning is palpable. She has come through the collapse of two teams to continue her dream.
“Finally, I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said at the time.
Hammer blow after hammer blow struck Cordon-Ragot but her motivation throughout this tough period was obvious for all to see.
“The sentence I always had in my head was that I am going to be the only one who decides when I am stopping,” she says defiantly. “That’s what pushed me to keep on fighting for myself, my career and for the careers of the others involved in the same story as me. I had it in my head the whole time, just keep fighting Audrey, because it was not fair and I hate unfair situations.”
All this came to a head as she conquered the muddy conditions at Roubaix and sought her own little space of comfort with a can of Coca-Cola, among the hoard of crumpled cyclist bodies, soigneurs, photographers and journalists, all sharing a small patch of artificial turf.
July 2023, Brittany, France
Since crossing the line in Roubaix Velodrome, Cordon-Ragot has quickly integrated herself into the team, racing to fourth on GC in her home Tour of Brittany, third in the Antwerp Port Epic Ladies, a silver medal in the national time trial championships and completing her eighth Giro d’Italia Donne.
Having parted ways in Sardinia, we next catch up a week before the Grand Départ in Clermont Ferrand, with Cordon-Ragot cooking ratatouille as we speak, while her husband Vincent wafts the steam away from their “sensitive” smoke alarms.
“I made sure I had a good recovery after the Giro,” she says. “It has been quite a busy year as you can see and here we go again,” she says chopping zucchini.
Cordon-Ragot is also now keen to shine a light on health issues such as strokes, that may or may not affect athletes in their career, with strokes themselves not just being something the elderly contend with. In fact, in 2019, 63% of stroke events happened in people under the age of 70, a statistic that has been steadily rising over the past 17 years of data collection.
“In France, it’s the first cause of death for women under-40,” she says. “I didn’t realize that before it happened to me because it was out of the blue and with different symptoms, so now I start to learn and understand what they are and you learn that they can happen to anyone, and that is scary.
“People don’t realize that they have them, they do not go to the doctor, and then six months later they have a bigger one and they die,” she warns. “That’s really something that we should embrace more, this problem and definitely something we should talk about and understand more beyond sport, it’s a public problem.”
Cordon-Ragot finishes her food prep, leaving the vegetables to simmer as she talks about the “whole new person” she now is since September.
“I am enjoying what I’m doing more,” she says. “I know how much time I still want to ride and I count more on myself now. I always believe that being a fair person brings good things.”
July 26, 2023, Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift stage 4, Cahors – Radoz
At 177km, stage 4 of the Tour de France Femmes was bound to take the women’s peloton into uncharted territory. Cordon-Ragot was one of nine riders to slip up the road. A strong breakaway packed with talent and engines, the group quickly made up an advantage that almost stretched to 10 minutes and at one point, put Cordon-Ragot into the franchise’s first ever Tour de France virtual yellow jersey.
“We were not so happy after the first three stages,” she explains. “I was standing up and saying we need to change this mindset. We need to go for happiness for whatever is happening in the race. If we give everything we will be happy and I want you to smile after the stage and not cry or be disappointed.”
Tenacious racing combined with an iron-clad will to win, Cordon-Ragot converted her ethos into power.
“It was now like ‘okay, Audrey, you’ve been saying it so you need to also prove it and you need to show them the way’,” she said. “It was good that I could do that and show them that it’s not always talking, acting is always the best. Now I hope it gives them the motivation to do the same.”
The journey from the heights of La Planche des Belles Filles to bossing the break on this year’s Tour has been one of many challenges Cordon-Ragot. With those trials behind her but also informing this new chapter of her career, the French stalwart is now back where she belongs.
Stroke signs and symptoms*
Following Cordon Ragot’s advice, please find some helpful information and resources below.
*From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination.
Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Call 9-1-1 right away if you or someone else has any of these symptoms.
Act F.A.S.T to save a life
If you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T. and do the following test:
F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
T—Time: If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away.
Note the time when any symptoms first appear. This information helps health care providers determine the best treatment for each person.
Do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call 9-1-1 for an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room.