Joe Laverick and five other cyclists are keeping rider journals for The British Continental this season. Based in France for 2020 and supported by the Rayner Foundation, 19-year-old Joe rides for Chambéry CF, AG2R La Mondiale’s development team. This is Joe’s second journal entry…
Heading out of the terminal it finally hit me: I was alone in France
Just over three weeks ago I pulled out of my drive in Grimsby after a tough goodbye to my girlfriend. With tears in my eyes and a mammoth drive ahead, it was a new chapter. Before I knew it, I was in Chambéry. My Dad and I drove over together and then my Mum flew in. We spent the weekend getting my new home sorted (think university hall of residence). Before I knew it, the weekend was over, and I was dropping them at the airport.
Slight tangent; airports are weird places. You have people going through all the emotions. The holidaymakers. Those who haven’t seen family for weeks, months or years. Then there are those who are saying the emotional goodbye. For the first time in my life I was that person. Heading out of the terminal it finally hit me: I was alone in France. Since I signed for the team in September the move was always on the horizon, but it was months away. By Christmas it was weeks away and then it was a matter of days. Before I knew it, I was all alone in a new country.
My weeks follow a pretty similar routine out here. We have the same structure every week until the season starts. Every weekday we leave the apartments at around 08.45 and head to school for the day. The three of us ‘foreigners’ on the team are enrolled in the Accents programme at the University Savoie Mont Blanc and for three hours each day we’re in the classroom learning French. We then rush back for lunch as we’re catered for Monday to Friday. Straight from lunch we start our training:
- Monday is rest day one, for meetings and exploring my new home
- Tuesday brings a road trip to Geneva for a 2 hour session on the velodrome
- Wednesday we have a road ride of between 4 and 5 hours
- Thursday it’s cross-country skiing (!)
- Friday is a split day with a gym session and then 90 minutes on the TT bikes
- Saturday is another long group ride with the team
- Sunday,we go out training solo and have a choice on our ride.
This sort of schedule keeps us all pretty busy which is a very good thing when moving to a new place. I think it’s widely agreed that the less time sitting in your room alone, the less likely you are to ‘crack’. The training out here is different to what I’m used to. For a start I’ve never ridden on a velodrome. It’s safe to say I was thrown in at the deep end in Geneva; the track is only 166m long and at 56 degrees I believe it’s the steepest in Europe. In my first session I found out what happens when you ride too slow at the top of a 56 degree banking but I’ll leave that one to your imagination.
The road riding around here is incredible. It is without doubt a hidden gem of the cycling world. It is bloody cold in the winter but the roads are some of the best I’ve ridden and as a rule the French are considerate drivers (bar the dude whose car I ran into the back of after he brake-checked me on a roundabout). There’s also a bit of ice on the higher climbs this time of year which we found out when we went skating down the road on ‘verglas’. As the roads are constantly rolling, they have a different style of riding out here. Up any climb (there’s a lot) we ride like any other group in the world, two-a-breast. However, the second it goes downhill or on the flat we ride through and off in zone 2. It takes a bit of getting used to but it means on the long descents you’re not just sitting there in the wheels doing nothing.
Living here has changed my perspective on ‘flat’ rides as well. As a Lincolnshire boy I’m not really used to mountains. We did a ride the other morning which was 164km with 1550m of climbing. We completed it in 4 hours ad 40 minutes (35.5kph average) and when we got in at the end, I was thinking it was a nice flat, slightly rolling loop!
Cross-country skiing is another beast. Before joining the team, I’d skied once in my life. Out here we go crosscountry skiing every week. I’ve done two sessions to date and I was equally bad both times. I make Bambi look stable. The first week I broke a ski after one of many crashes. Then the second week I ended up getting completely lost on the slopes, skiing to a separate resort and having to get picked up in the car because I’m not skilled enough to get back on the black slope. It was an embarrassing experience to say the least.
I’ve realised it’s the simplest little things that you miss most
You’ve probably figured this entry is a bit a ramble. To bring it all together I’ll end on what it’s been like mentally. I have up and down days, some are better than others. I think about home every day and I’ve realised it’s the simplest little things that you miss most. It’s true to say you don’t appreciate things until you don’t have them. The toughest thing is not knowing the language. While I’m trying to learn as quickly as possible it’s hard not knowing what the dinner table banter is and only being able to hold the simplest conversations with my teammates when on the bike. I’ll also shamelessly admit I’ve got a countdown app on my phone which has a timer to the day my family visit for the first time. I think this year is going to be the hardest experience of my life. But I’m going to have a bloody good time as well.
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