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How the heck did I end up in Paris with two former French Pro cyclists and 19 more passionate amateurs contending to enter Team ŠKODA…?
Lazy? Then scroll down and watch the video
If we go really really way back, we could say that my Kindergarten years and my always riding everywhere would be the beginning… But this isn't an autobiography so, fast forward to July 2015, in the middle of the Tour de France, I finally got myself my long desired road bike. Some of you may know that my return to the cycling World was with my 1st ever Saint James Pilgrimage, crossing Spain with my 30 something kg bike and bags to get home and live a life-changing journey; you can read all the 15 days over here.
With the aim of going further and higher in my cycling goals, after long hours of internet scouting, and the Tour de France making me eager to get a new bike asap, I found one 3rd hand Cannondale Carbon bike which wasn't used more than 2000 km by its previous owners and was in mint condition, what a deal! What else could I ask, well, Serge, the seller (and with coincidentally the same last name as my mother…) was quitting road cycling due to a health condition, so he also sold me his completely new cycling shoes and threw in two free jersey and bib-shorts: what a way to start my road cycling adventure!
I didn't take long to surpass the previous owners kilometric milestones and with just two big rides almost hit a quarter of that. Following goal after goal, my work commutes started to be mostly just on my bike and weekends opened up opportunities of travel and discovery never imagined, like a Col de Turini ride topping 180 km on my Strava (GPS tracking app), to just a week after hitting my still record ride of 330 km from Nice to Hyères (south-east part of Southern France) and back in one single journey; yes, some suffering and lots of food involved and, straight 11 hours sleep.
Another even more ambitious goal was attempted, but technical circumstances postponed it for a future momento… don’t be impatient, it will it will, you will know in time.
Committed to make it my main transport method, today I ride to work 20 km each way, surpassing already the 3k mark for this year, and close to the 10k for my still very young Cannondale. You truly know you love to ride, when you hit days of non-riding and feel that something is missing… or like Remi from Café du Cycliste said: you’re screwed mate, you’ve been bitten by the road bike bug!
True that, and loving it!
So without delaying more the initial question, on the final weekend of the Paris-Nice Pro cycling race, which I talked about here in another blog entry, I went for a pint and chill after one of my best cycling weekends up to that moment. Discovering a contest in CyclingHeroes.com via ŠKODA, I typed in the requested info an Bio and didn’t think much about it. Some kms had to be ridden via the Strava app, where my daily commutes did fulfill the needs more than enough.
I didn’t really think much about it anymore until a few weeks later… Checking the commercial tab in my mailbox, sifting through some electronics shop emails, Groupon discounts, Rouleur stories, photo gear emails, etc. Suddenly one catches my eye with “Congratulations” and signed by ŠKODA France… At first I thought, oh my, again an email where I might have won a car but need to give my details, bank account to some Prince in Africa… or else. But surprise surprise, I was among the 40 finalists to be part of the amateur ŠKODA cycling team!!! I couldn't believe it, I had to recheck what this was all about. The final 10 will win:
- 3 weekends of exclusive coaching from Jérôme Pineau, 13 times Tour de France rider, 2 times climber’s jersey winner, and Florian Rousseau, 10 times track cycling World Champ and 3 times Olympic Gold medallist
- All expenses payed
- To ride a carbon road bike
- Team equipment
- Take part at the Etape du Tour, the most challenging sportive with 143 kms, 4 climbs of more than 1600m, gathering 15000 participants
- ... and boy, this was just the appetizer!
But nothing is set yet, and the first stage was a Skype call with one of the coaches and someone from the organisation, and why not, on a Saturday, the same precise day two of my best friends got married and I was to be their photographer in the lovely town of Antibes. Due to this, I was unable to make it for the first call, so we rescheduled one after lunch… Exactly when we left the restaurant and with a few rosé wine glasses more, call came in and we had one great conversation about my cycling history, motivation, gear and some football chat about Madrid or Barcelona… Yep, the coach I got to talk with was Jérôme :)
If things were to go well, one week later we would have to meet at the famous Paris-Roubaix start. On Monday we would have the results and logistics would have to be deployed or not. No news on that day, so I simply started to think on some alternative weekend ride and was glad to have a nice chat with one of the Pros… But, next day an email came in: Congratulations! I had made it into the last 20 and had to start booking my tickets with destination: Paris! Unbelievable! I didn’t really sleep much that week and during half of it my head was looking forward to one unique weekend. This, bringing our bikes and ourselves, the hotel where to go, and the time we had to meet was all the info we were revealed.
Having to work the day of travel, Friday was a late arrival for me, building up my bike, and some late dinner available at the reception’s microwave… Intrigue, jitters and excitement mixed up with some vague attempts of self control… eventually, sleepiness took over.
Day 1 hit the agenda and as well as during my Saint James Bike Pilgrimage, I praised myself to get one fulfilling breakfast to jumpstart the ‘race’ for a spot in the first ever Skoda Cycling Team. Talking about team, my first acquaintance was Mikael and we started talking about what might expect us, our cycling marks and he also graciously lend me the key to unscrew my pedals, which ended up being the only thing we would need that day. Seeing young Antoine overhearing us, I invited him over so we could meet as well. This started to look very promising already!
After a quick refresh and bag check, the first ride of the weekend was going to be… On a bus. With some very far away photos of the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre, I had enough evidence that I 'was' in Paris. We went direction Compiègne to the starting town of the Paris-Roubaix pro cycling race, also known as the Hell of the North due to its treacherous parcours, on the same day the Pro teams were to be presented. With no clue of what was expecting us, with only pedals in our hands, my dreams of a cobble ride soon vanished. We however arrived to the very cobbly center with one big production film and photo crew awaiting us right from the exit of the bus. Each of us, more or less, was a bit overwhelmed by such attention and amazed when we finally got to face our coaches Jérôme Pineau and Florian Rousseau… After... of course, a few repetitive takes :)
The agenda for the morning ended up being pretty Media oriented and among Paul Barrocas, Skoda France’s Marketing Department Chief welcoming us for the upcoming press conference, interviews, some shootings and little revelations came to light like the fact that not only would the last 10 keep their shirts but also the gorgeous looking Lapierre Carbon bicycles that stood shiny and very desirable over that other pretty looking Skoda they were on... Hmmm... if I were to make into the final 10, I’d be happy to propose some kind of trade offs…
However, as exciting and glamorous this day was being presented, we weren't asked to put on our cycling garments just for the looks. The more challenge relevant task was to assess our power and put the base for further improvement if we were to join the final 10. First, home trainer sessions of 2 min gaps with max bpm (heart-beats per minute) -30, then -20 and -10, to end up in a very intense 10 secs at full speed. Never having done this, I don't really know if my data is worthy or not, however, for the data addicts among you there you go: my max bpm is around 193, at -10 got almost 400W and at the 10s sprint got it up to 720 with max bpm only at 185.
Taking the opportunity of a dream come true, I escaped over to the presentations area and got the cherry on the cake for what was already one unique cycling experience. I saw again one of my favourite riders, Peter Sagan, who was presented together with his mates from the Team Tinkoff Saxxo, and I probably met his biggest, ‘little’, fan too:
We concluded this first long journey with one delicious buffet dinner back at the hotel and some nice mingling with the rest of the contenders was on the table. The best about it? The great camaraderie atmosphere and passion for the same sport, without the competitive mode that could be expected, was among all of us and it rather seemed to be a gathering of cycling friends coming back from a long day ride and share the same table with one big smile each... we were at that moment, the Skoda family!
One last thing was another photo shoot and a very early Saturday night's sleep. The next day was heavier in cycling and my first ever Time Trial was about to happen…
That’s all for now, with episode 1 already available, you will have to wait until episode 2 to discover who will be part of the #TeamSkoda and hit the #RoadToMorzine!
If you wish to see what this all looked like and take the opportunity to revamp your French, then watch the video below and stay tuned for our 2nd and very exciting day!