Since I last checked in two weeks ago, there have been several developments here in the foothills of the Alps. Most importantly, France went into its third national Covid lockdown, this time for the totality of April. For the public, this means continuing the 7pm to 6am curfew, closing nonessential businesses, and now a 10km maximum radius around your home for any travel. Although I had thought that this would end bike racing and sharply limit our training, I soon learned that as Category 1 amateur cyclists in France, our AG2R Citroen U23 team had a lockdown exemption. If our travel is sports-related, the lockdown rules don’t apply. Since this is true for all Category 1 cyclists in France, bike racing remains possible! Though I’m grateful I can still race and train, I hesitate: for why should cyclists potentially endanger others? Thankfully, our team closely follows Covid protocols, significantly lowering the risk we pose to the greater community.
Two weekends ago I raced the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes (the region in which I live) team time trial (TTT) championships, my first-ever competitive team time trial. We covered 42km at nearly 48 kmh. Although the result was nothing to write home about, I learned a massive amount. The next day we raced the 122km Grand Prix de Pouillenay, with a full capacity field of 200 riders. Unfortunately, I woke up heavily congested, and after 30 kilometers working the front for the team, I fell back and hung on till the finish. Later that week I fell sick with a nasty virus, and despite displaying all the symptoms typical of Covid — leading to some concerned family members back in the U.S.! — I tested negative.
After a few days off the bike, then a few more of easy riding, I jumped back into training this week at the Bassin Velodrome in Eybens, on the outskirts of Grenoble, 45 minutes south of me in Chambéry. Twenty months had elapsed since I had last ridden on a velodrome at the junior track cycling world championships in Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany in August 2019. It felt nice to be back home — home being a 250 meter oval with 48 degree bankings in the turns, on a bike with one gear and no brakes. It felt great to whip around the turns again. You can actually feel the G-forces press you down in the turns, and feel a launch when you come out. I’ll train through this weekend, take the weekend off from racing, and jump back into a more typical rhythm next week.
Below you’ll find a video taken by a teammate from our follow car during the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes TTT championships. We all carried small radios during the event, enabling our director in the car behind to guide us, warn us of turns ahead, and provide time checks relative to other teams. The quality isn’t great, but I’m #224.
Celebrity Status (kind of)
When I began training with the AG2R Citroen U23 team, I was surprised at the people cheering on the side of the road as we rode past, and the frequent friendly honks from passing cars. At first I found this bizarre, having never experienced a fan section for my training! Back home in the U.S., I’m happy if cars don’t buzz me as they go past. Because we wear a nearly identical kit (cycling-speak for outfit) to the professional AG2R Citroën team, people all across France recognize us when we ride past. During our March training camps, we often saw people on the roadside taking video or FaceTiming their friends with a live feed. At one point, a man pulled up next to us as we were riding and offered us packets of honey out the window! We declined, but he insisted, and he later handed them to our director in the team car behind. During my first few weeks here, I didn’t know what to make of it. It felt good, and it helped me realize the celebrity status of professional cyclists in France. These days, during my training rides around Chambéry, it’s not uncommon to hear kids shouting “allez!” as I go past. It boosts my morale, especially at the end of a five-hour ride; hearing those words puts a smile on my face.
More practically, being associated with the team name AG2R Citroën has been helpful. In any context. Whether looking for an obscure bike part, scheduling a haircut, or buying car insurance, identifying myself as a rider for the team has made things easier. Once my counterpart finds out I’m a cyclist with the team, an instant willingness to help me soon follows, whatever situation I’m in.
More recently, as I’ve started training at the velodrome in Eybens, I’ve crossed paths with the junior cyclists in the training session before mine. Every time I run into these kids, their eyes light up, they run over to greet me, and pepper me with questions about bike racing, the team, my life, what kit I’m wearing for the weather conditions, and so on. I happily answer every one, knowing that just a few years ago those kids were me. I’ve had a great experience as a cyclist so far here in France, and though I don’t have any top race results yet, the country has welcomed me, as a cyclist, with open arms. For that I am grateful.