Joe Laverick and five other cyclists have been keeping rider journals for The British Continental this season. Supported by the Rayner Foundation, Joe rode for Chambéry Cyclisme Foundation (CCF) this year. In his final journal entry, he reflects on the lessons he learnt from his experience in France…
When I moved to France in January of this year, I had no clue what 2020 would bring. Do you remember that pre-COVID naivety where we could do as we please? When I look back at my personal journey throughout the year, it’s been a positive one, but difficult at times. While it was a poor year from an athletic point of view, it was my biggest year for personal development. Reflecting on 2020, I hardly recognise the guy from January.
It’s been reported that I’m moving on to Hagens Axeon Berman next season. While I won’t be in France for 2021, I learned a lot, and I hope this article helps a few prospective riders along the way. Here’s my guide to living in France.
Featured photo: Chambéry CF
1. Learn the language
A mon avis, c’est super important pour parler en français quand tu habites en France. Now, excuse me if that French wasn’t perfect; I can speak it half-decently, but my writing isn’t the best. When I moved to France, I barely knew a word. I had a few sessions with a tutor before I left and thought I’d be okay. I was wrong.
If you’re racing in France next year and haven’t started learning French yet, download Duolingo, and then research tutors
A requirement of my team was that we attended the local university for three hours of French lessons per day. When this stopped for Covid, I got in touch with a tutor and had lessons via Skype. Now, I’m not saying my French is great, but I could have meetings with the DS and kind of hold my own in team briefings by the end of the year.
If you’re racing in France next year and haven’t started learning French yet, download Duolingo, and then research tutors. It’s not always cheap to hire a tutor, but it’s worth its weight in gold.
2. Make your house (or apartment or room) a home
This one sounds silly but hear me out. When you arrive in your new place for the year, it may need a spring clean and it’s well worth taking things out to make it feel like home.
This room will be your home for the year, and the more comforts, the better. I split my time in Chambéry into two parts – pre-lockdown (Jan-March) and the second half of the season (July-October). Pre-lockdown, I had no photos for the wall or anything of the kind, it was practically a bare box. When I returned post-lockdown #1, I brought some flags and photos to put on the wall. It sounds silly, but it’s these simple things which make your time in France easier.
3. Plan ahead
If you’re a home bird and aren’t used to living away from your family, then always have the trip ahead planned. In the early stages, it’s going to be tough, but there’s nothing worse than not knowing when the next time you’ll see your loved ones or be home. Having that next flight home, or their next trip out planned in advance, really makes a difference.
It’s worth noting that if you’re in a position to take your car with you, then do it, 110%. Every European-based rider I’ve spoken to has said that taking their car is the little bit of freedom that they need. Whether that is going to pick loved ones up from the airport, meeting friends who live close by or going to the local city for a change of scenery, it opens lots of doors. Just be aware that you’ll probably have to get specialist insurance though as most ‘normal’ insurers only cover for a limited number of days out of the UK. My car was a godsend at times. While expensive to take over and insure, it was worth the investment.
4. Have a life outside cycling
It’s easy to get caught in a bubble. Eat, train, sleep, repeat. It’s even easier to get caught in this bubble when in a foreign country. I cannot stress enough that this is the wrong thing to do. This might sound unprofessional, but you’ve got to have a life away from cycling. If it’s all that is on your mind, 24/7, you’ll crack.
It’s pointless being ridiculously fit if you’re not happy
I definitely made this mistake at times, but towards the end of the year I started to get my balance a little better. It’s pointless being ridiculously fit if you’re not happy. A happy bike rider is a good bike rider.
Simple things for me helped. I’d make day trips to Annecy (big up to Dave Everett from CyclingTips who lives there), and I tried to make friends outside of my team bubble. While it was hard for a while, towards the end of my time in Chambéry, I found a group of British foreign exchange students via Facebook who were based at the local uni. It was the mental break I needed, and those guys were a massive help.
It never hurts to try and get a part-time job too. They’re awkward to find given that we travel a lot and have weird ‘work’ hours but it’s worth looking into. It gives the mind something different to focus on, and it has the added bonus of alleviating some of the financial stress that often occurs at the lower levels.
5. Adapt to the culture – at your own pace
Be prepared for a culture shock. Whether it’s a differing opinion on training, nutrition or simply the way of life, somewhere along the line you’ll be faced with a moment where you and your team disagree on something. French culture is very different to the UK, it’s hard to put your finger on what exactly, it just is.
Changing too many things at once can hurt
My top tip is not to change everything at once. When I moved, I changed my whole diet and my training to fit in. While on paper, it might seem necessary to integrate on all fronts, you have to do what is right for yourself at times. You’re there for a reason: you’re a good bike racer. Changing too many things at once can hurt. This is where knowing the language helps. If you can explain your reasoning, more often than not people are understanding.
6. Apply to the Rayner Foundation
Each team has its own arrangements. My agreement with the team was that we received accommodation and two meals a day, so our food bill was never huge. I’d say in most cases there’s some form of team housing, and then a monthly allowance for food. While applications have already closed for 2021, the Rayner Foundation is the gateway to Europe for many aspiring pros. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible.
There were only a couple of races all year that didn’t have a Rayner rider on the start list
With the Rayner Foundation also comes a great network of people. Nothing beats turning up to a start line, seeing a friendly face and hearing a British accent. There were only a couple of races all year that didn’t have a Rayner rider on the start list. Add into this the countless number of people who get in touch via social media and offer to help you out. If you’re struggling with something, the chances are that someone has gone through it before you.
The Rayner Foundation isn’t just the X amount of euros that you get per month to help you live abroad. It’s the network of people that come with it and support the group. Those people in my life will know who they are reading this and thank you – it really does mean a lot. I was dug out of more than one hole by friendly people who I’ve never met and have no direct association with the foundation.
So, that brings an end to my year of journals for The British Continental. Thank you all for coming with me on this journey in this crazy year. A massive thanks goes to Denny, the founder and editor of The British Continental. Denny, don’t you dare edit this out. It’s worth saying that the impact he’s had on the domestic cycling scene over the past couple of years is massive. I’m personally thankful to him for giving me this opportunity in the first place. It’s allowed me to grow in confidence with my writing and has opened doors for me along the way.
I hope you all have a great Christmas. It’s goodbye for now, but I’m sure you’ll hear from me soon.
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