Vuelta stage 7: Stybar surprises in Seville

Stage 7: Almendralejo to Mairena de Alijarafe, 195.5km

A throw of the handlebars from Zdenek Stybar was enough to deny world champion Philippe Gilbert his first victory in the rainbow jersey by the narrowest of margins. The two had escaped off the front of the peloton 10km from the finish and benefited from the technical finish to hold off the chasing pack by just a second. Belkin’s Robert Wagner won the bunch sprint for third just ahead of Adrien Petit (Cofidis). Continue reading

AntBanter: The secret of Gallic flair

From Hinault to Chavanel, Anquetil to Voeckler, French cycling is well-known for its colourful and often controversial characters. Playing host to the world’s biggest bike race, it is not difficult to see France’s influence on the sport, and the sport’s influence on France. Cycling heroes permeate French culture in a very big way –  you even get French punks singing about Louison Bobet! Continue reading

Tristan Valentin (image courtesy of Cofidis)

Friday Feature EXCLUSIVE: Up close & personal with Cofidis’s Tristan Valentin

Name: Tristan Valentin

Tristan Valentin (image courtesy of Cofidis)

Tristan Valentin (image courtesy of Cofidis)

Age:  30

Nationality: French

Team: Cofidis

Role: Classics rider and rouleur

Career highlights:

  • 2005 (Auber 93):  1st, Prix de la Ville de Nogent-sur-Oise and Tro-Bro Leon.
  • 2006 (Cofidis): 3rd in Trophee des Grimpeurs.
  • 2011 (Cofidis): 6th French national road race championships.

I’m sitting on the VeloVoices terrace, enjoying the sunshine with another fellow Cote d’Azur resident, Cofidis’s Tristan Valentin. Although his name may not be familiar to some of you, for close observers of the sport, I’m sure it’ll ring a few bells. On the one hand, Tristan is typical of the professional peloton’s rank and file and, on the other hand, he isn’t – when Victor Hugo said “Adversity makes men” he could have been talking about Tristan.

A young Tristan (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)

A young Tristan on the right(image courtesy of Cycling Archives)

Sheree: So Tristan why cycling? There are easier ways of earning a living!

Tristan: My father was a keen amateur cyclist but he didn’t try to influence me and for many years my main sport was judo  [he’s got a black belt – Ed]. Finally, when I was 14, I started riding and took to it straight away. I continued with judo for a few more years but finally gave it up at 17 to concentrate on cycling.

Sheree: It’s amazing how many top athletes are also good at another sport. Judo would have given you fantastic core strength, lightening-quick reactions and a certain serenity, all of which I’m sure has stood you in good stead as a professional rider.

Tristan: That’s true. I turned professional in 2004 with Auber 93 and after some wins joined my dream team Cofidis in 2006. I had offers from other teams but always wanted to join Cofidis. I like the spirit in the team and while the grass often appears to be greener elsewhere all teams have their good and bad points. I’m happy here and the team is becoming more and more “professional” every year. They have also been very supportive of me through the difficult times, particularly team manager Eric Boyer, and it was thanks to them that I moved down here to enjoy optimal training conditions.

Sheree: Let’s talk about your terrible crash in Paris-Roubaix 2008 and your long road back. But go easy on the gory details, I have a weak stomach.

Tristan crashes in Paris-Roubaix 2008 (image courtesy of Cofidis)

Tristan crashes in Paris-Roubaix 2008 (image courtesy of Cofidis)

Tristan: After the crash, I was diagnosed at a local hospital with six fractures of the elbow, a torn tendon, three breaks in the humerus and shoulder. The doctor’s initial assessment was that I would never ride again. But I was fortunately transferred to a specialist hospital in Paris where I underwent a series of operations and three months of rehabilitation just to recover the use of my arm. In November, while I had recovered my mobility, it still wasn’t right and I had to have a further operation. In the following April, the tendon broke again and became infected with bacteria, which had to be cut out. It was a tricky operation which had to be completed in 90 minutes, otherwise I would have lost the use of my arm. Finally, after a really long period off the bike I was able to ride again in Paris-Correze [finishing 17th – Ed]. Although this period in my life was some time ago, it never leaves me, it remains close, in the back of my head. It’s a weird feeling.

Sheree: Having fought so hard to get back in the peloton, wearing the spotted jersey for a couple of days in the Tour of Picardie 2010, you finally had a pretty successful run in 2011, riding largely in support of team mate Rein Taaramae, another Cote d’Azur resident.

Tristan: Yes, we had a good 2011 together. I enjoy working for the team leaders, protecting them for as long as possible and, even though initially I was more of a Classics rider, I have come to enjoy stage races.

Sheree: You rode the Giro in 2007 but missed taking part the following year due to a bronchial infection. You finally rode your first Tour de France last year. What was that like?

Icy baths to aid post-Tour recovery (image courtesy of Cofidis)

Icy baths to aid post-Tour recovery (image courtesy of Cofidis)

Tristan: Finally, after eight years as a professional I ride the Tour! At first you think it’s like any other stage race, but it’s not. Firstly, the pressure from sponsors and team management is enormous to get into a break or to keep up the front. The pace is different too. You have to follow, you can’t go at your own speed. But, it’s still an amazing and beautiful experience.

Readers may remember Tristan animating stages five and eleven in last year’s Tour de France by getting in the day’s early break  – earning valuable airtime for the team’s sponsor – before being pulled back by the sprinters’ teams.

Sheree: How would you characterise your role on the team?

Tristan: I enjoy working with and guiding the younger riders – last year Tony Gallopin, this year Adrien Petit – because I wish someone had done that for me when I started out. I might have progressed more quickly. Of course, I would advise anyone to move down here to train – it’s perfect.

While 2011 was spent largely riding in support of others, the team have encouraged me, particularly in French Cup races, to ride more for myself. I need to do this to earn points for the team. All the teams want riders with points and they value less and less those of us who make sacrifices for others and finish the season with nul points.

This is a tricky point and one which we discussed at some length with Geoffroy Lequatre. More and more riders find themselves between a rock and a hard place: dammed if they don’t ride for the team and dammed if they do. It’s certainly not conducive to good team work.

Sheree: I saw that you were on the team’s short-list for this year’s Tour, but you’re still having issues with your form.

Tristan: It’s frustrating to find myself this season teetering all the time between finding form and being sick. I was sick during Paris-Nice, took a break, trained well and was in form for the Tour of Picardie but crashed and injured my knee. I couldn’t train for 10 days and then found the going tough at both Plumelec and the Tour of Luxembourg. But that’s the life of a professional cyclist – when you’re in top form, you’re just on the edge of being unwell. It’s 90% certain I won’t be at the Tour this year. Sure I’m disappointed but you shouldn’t go unless you’re in top form. But this might give me an opportunity to ride the Vuelta later in the year, then I’ll have ridden all the Grand Tours and been enriched by the experience.

Sheree: Tristan I know you have something much bigger than the Tour to look forward too. You’re about to become a Dad.

TristanIt’s true, I’m looking forward to being able to spend the first few important weeks with my baby.

At this point, I have to mention that no camera would be able to adequately capture the size of Tristan’s smile as he ponders impending fatherhood.

Sheree: Now, here’s a question I ask everyone. How do you maintain your shape, do you have any diet tips for me?

Tristan: This is something I really struggle with, I love food. I’m naturally pretty heavy and weighed as much as 75-78kg when I was doing judo. We have a nutritionist at Cofidis to help us make good choices and, when my form’s good, it’s not an issue but when morale’s low, it’s more difficult. I try and eat sensibly and maybe have the odd “cheat” day though I could easily eat two pizzas in one sitting!

Sheree: I can empathise with that, Tristan! Don’t Cofidis have their own chef? [I think I can hear Sheree’s cv and job application winging its way to Cofidis HQ – Ed].

Tristan: No, some teams have chefs with them for the stage races, others, like Europcar, have them just for the Tour. The team’s doctor normally advises the hotels what we should eat but, I have to say this, most of the French hotel chains don’t know how to cook pasta properly.

Sheree: Ah, the glamorous life of a professional cyclist. Nights spent in bedrooms marginally larger than the bed and overcooked pasta!

Looking good in spots (image courtesy of Cofidis)

Looking good in spots (image courtesy of Cofidis)

Tristan: Exactly!

Sheree: On a more positive note, it’s good news that Cofidis have renewed their sponsorship until 2016.

Tristan: Although I would like to still be riding then, I have recently started to think more about what I might do when my career finishes. I’m not getting any younger and I’ve already spent a lot of time away from home. I’m thinking that I might like to be a physiotherapist. But I need to look into it more. Although I love living down here, my family, including my twin brother and older sisters, are in Paris so I’ll probably move back there.

Sheree: Tristan, thank you for sharing with us some of the highs, lows, and frustrations of your exacting career and can I just compliment you on your English, you speak it really well. How come?

Tristan: When I first moved down here, there weren’t as many cyclists living here as there are now, so I spent a lot of time with the Australians [Matt Goss, Simon Gerrans, Stuart O’Grady, Brad McGee based in Monaco] and Tyler Farrar. They helped me a lot. Also, my partner Maya is Danish and it was initially our common language.

Sheree: Keep us posted on the baby front and maybe we can have a catch-up during the Vuelta.

Tristan: Okay!