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Le Grimpeur de Hereford: Simon Carr interview

The young Anglo-French on how he got into cycling, being bi-cultural, his breakout 2019 season, his stagiaire contract and his readiness to turn pro

Many fans of British cycling will be familiar with three of the four British riders who have recently been announced as stagiaires for various World Tour and Pro Contintental teams. Matt Walls (stagiaire for EF Education First), Fred Wright (CCC Team stagiaire) and Charlie Quarterman (Trek-Segafredo trainee) are all riders we have trailed on this blog as young riders with big futures.

Simon Carr though, who will be a stagiaire at Pro Continental team Delko – Marseille Provence for the rest of the season, is much less well-known. He is curiosity of sorts. A rider we regularly see flash up on the results pages of races in France and Spain. But with no presence on our beloved Twitter, and next-to-zero features on him in English-speaking press and blogosphere, he is a rider we know very little about.

After watching him rack up some very impressive results this season, and then clocking he had earned a stagiaire contract, we decided it was about time we addressed this knowledge gap.

Born in the UK, Carr has spent most of his life living in France. And, despite a chance transition into road cycling, he’s now gradually carving out a name for himself as one of the top young climbing talents racing in France.

Riding for top french amateur team AVC Aix-en-Provence, this season has been his best yet. Stage wins in the tough Spanish amateur races the Vuelta Al Bidasoa and the Vuelta a Navarra were followed by success in France. First a stage win in the Tour du Beaujolais, then 10th overall in the Le Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc (2.2).

We caught up with him to find out how he got into cycling, being bi-cultural, his breakout 2019 season, his stagiaire contract and his readiness to turn pro.

In all honesty I think I’m ready for the next step now 

Photo: Coraline M. Photographie

So, you were born in Hereford but have pretty much lived in France all your life, is that right?

Yes, my parents were already living most of the time in France before I was born but decided to have my birth in the UK to be closer to family. Since then I have probably only spent a few months in total in the UK although we have always spoken English at home so I consider myself bi-cultural.

And you are applying for French nationality. Do you see yourself as French, having lived so long out there?

Coming from an extended family that has taken full advantage of freedom of movement, I consider myself to be European. In truth I can appear completely French or British at will, however on balance I feel more at home in France because the older I get the more I have come to realise that I love the French culture and way of life best of all.

I borrowed an ex-hire fully rigid steel bike that was older than me and I was practically last in the downhill and trials events

Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into cycling. I understand it was in part a consequence of having one leg longer than the other?

My first taste of high level sport was kart racing from when I was aged 7 until 11. I was quite successful, winning some French national championships. Unfortunately my parents’ pockets weren’t deep enough for me to progress to the next level, where the costs become eye watering.    So subsequently I started athletics and cross country running. I was able to win at regional level, although this was hampered by a recurring achilles injury, in hindsight caused by the difference in leg length.

I found cycling through a regional school mountain bike race that I signed up for, just for fun. I borrowed an ex-hire fully rigid steel bike that was older than me and I was practically last in the downhill and trials events, meaning I started at the very back of the large cross country grid. However to everyone’s and my surprise I discovered I had good climbing legs, going on to finish 3rd. Consequently a school friend with a little racing experience encouraged me to take up cycling as a sport and thanks to a chance meeting in the local post office, my dad already had the contact details of a local youth road cycling club. If not for this meeting I think I would have probably ended up as a mountain biker.

Winning stage Stage 4 of the Vuelta a Navarra. Photo: Vuelta Navarra

Have you had much to do with the British cycling scene at all? Has British Cycling ever shown an interest in you representing Great Britain for example?

Other than doing the Junior Tour of Wales where unfortunately I was seriously off form I have never had much to do with cycling in the UK. Being not quite French or British, I think I have stayed under the radar of both federations.

You seem to do well when the road rises. Is it fair to say you see yourself as a climber?

Yes and no. I think I’m a natural climber due to my physique and the area I come from. However my time trialling is equally as big a strength. I have Chris Georgas, the president of my first club in Limoux, to thank for this. Originally from Canada, he installed in me a passion for this discipline from the start and this also helped me to become something of a solo breakaway specialist in the U16 races, that otherwise tend to favour sprinters. This fed and maintained my desire to win.

You are in your third year now as an U23 rider. How have you developed over the last three years?

In many ways much stems from the 2017 Tour of Martinique, but not directly because of my 3 stage wins. I had already suspected for some time that my inconsistent performance, particularly during the junior years, was caused by allergies and it was only in the pollen free air of the Caribbean that it really became clear by how much. But even then it was only once I was integrated into the French elite program that I was able to make the contacts to sort it out during the 2018 season and the good results soon started to come.

You switched teams at the beginning of the year. What was behind that switch?

The decision was purely based on the calendar. While Occitane Cyclisme Formation gave me my first break at high level racing, the mostly flat National Division 1 races didn’t really suit me. All my best results came in the relatively few hilly stage races I got to do. So when AVC Aix came knocking it was a no brainer with the race schedule they proposed for me.

Stage races, the harder the better, are what I love and seem to excel at

Looking at the results sheets, this season seems to have been your most successful to date. Would you agree? 

Clearly yes, but as I said before, along with getting a handle on allergies, the strength in depth at Aix has allowed me to do races that suit me. Stage races, the harder the better, are what I love and seem to excel at.

What have been the highlights in particular, and why?

My first win of the season at the Vuelta al Bidasoa seemed like a conscious turning point for all concerned, but then being 3rd on GC after the penultimate stage of the Tour de Savoie Mont-Blanc convinced me I have what it takes to progress, even if the final stage didn’t go quite to plan.

Photo: Simon Carr

You’ve bagged a stagiaire contract with Delko – Provence Marseille. How did that come about?

My recent results put me in their sights and they called my team manager, who took it from there. I think they were a little surprised that despite my licence saying Great Britain I am fluent French.

Have you been told what races you might do with them?

I should be starting with the Artic Race of Norway, where I am told there is a tough summit finish on one stage. Then a stage race in China in October, most likely the Tour of Taihu Lake. There may be some other opportunities as the season progresses, although they already have a relatively strong team for the end of the season.  

I hear from other riders that you are one of the most dedicated riders they know and that you live an almost monastic lifestyle, eating cleanly, rarely watching TV or using social media. To what extent would you say this is true?

[Laughs out loud] I’d love to know who said it. I guess to me my lifestyle is normal but I can see how others would think that. In some ways I probably have my parents to thank, or blame for this. They chose to live and bring me up in in the foothills of the Pyrenees in one of the most sparsely populated areas of a relatively sparsely populated country. So yes I eat well and I enjoy cooking but I’m not fanatical about it. I’m just as partial to the occasional burger or pizza as a ‘normal’ person, which can be an amusing surprise for some visiting British riders.

I can’t expect to race all year long without a  proper rest and reboot at some point

What’s your approach to training? I am told you that you race a lot, so barely train in between races. Is that true? And if so, what’s the thinking behind this approach? 

This was something of an experiment based on having such a full calendar. With nearly 50 days racing under me this year already it was all about making sure I did just enough for maintenance without adding to the fatigue. Furthermore being able to speak both French and English I’ve been able to cherry pick the best of both countries’ approach to training. To a great extent this has worked for this season and allowed me to get good results over quite an extended period. Although a part of me wishes that I had aimed more for specific races, especially the Giro Valle d’Aosta, where despite (and also because of) a 7th place on Stage 2, it was clear that I can’t expect to race all year long without a  proper rest and reboot at some point.

Photo: Guy Dagot, SudGirondeCyclisme

Finally, you’ve clearly made an impression with pro teams with the stagiaire contract. Could a pro contract be on the cards next season?

So perhaps this is a classic head and heart decision; I’ve enjoyed immensely this seasons racing with Aix, the organisation, the team spirit and of course the calendar have all been amazing. And now my heart says,  ‘I just want to do it all over again, but even better next year’. 
But my head says if I were offered a pro contract I’d be crazy not to accept it. My approach to racing has always been one step at a time. I consider my cycling career as a marathon not a sprint, but in all honesty I think I’m ready for the next step now.  

Featured photo: Guy Dagot, SudGirondeCyclisme