We are lucky enough to have ten riders contributing to our rider journal series in 2021. Our latest recruit, 21-year-old Scot Joe Reilly, rides for ASPTT Nancy this season, supported by the Rayner Foundation. In his second post, he tells us about his experience in France so far, from A to Z…
I’m now six weeks and ten races into my time here in France, enough time for a croissant-fuelled reflection on what has been so far. Though only 14 miles across the channel from the UK, the races, culture and people couldn’t be more different. With that view and the greatest admiration in mind, I’ve written my personal A-Z of living and racing in France.
A is for Aerodynamics. It would appear it’s yet to be invented in the French racing scene. Skinsuits, aero bikes, aero socks have all been heard of but are not in use. Anyone who dons an aerodynamic garment is received with a questionable raised eyebrow.
Pastry and bread may not be the fuel of champions, but boy does it taste nice
B is for Boulangerie. A French patisserie. Often a saviour on rides. Pastry and bread may not be the fuel of champions, but boy does it taste nice.
C is for Ça Va. Ça Va is how the French say, “how are you?”. It’s also how they say “good” when they are asked how they are. Meaning the first few seconds of a casual conversation goes, “Ça va?”, “Ça va”. Multiplied twice for a two-person conversation, times by eight riders at the start of the race, it can often sound like the start of an 80’s pop song. Ça va, ça va, ça va, ça va, ça va.
D is for Daniel, my English teammate. A veteran of French racing and living, speaks like a local and has the tan to match. He doesn’t believe in social media – sorry ladies – but is outrageously quick-witted. An aspiring French farmer and father to your children. Life is never dull when Daniel is around.
E is for Erratic. That’s the French way of racing. Fast then slow, fast then slow. Hard then easy, hard then easy. Consistency is not key in the land of croissants and Foucault. If you don’t have a good 1-5 minute power, you can say goodbye to any thoughts of post-race champagne.
F is for France 2. The television channel that carried Le Tour de France coverage. In July, many hours were spent watching the tour with French commentary and attempting to decipher what they were saying—rejoicing when an interview was in English but turning to sorrow when it was then dubbed to French.
G is for Gassy. Three blokes living together, fuelled by sports gels and coffee and only one toilet. I need say no more.
H is for Help. Help given by the wonderful Rayner Foundation. They financially support around 50 young UK cyclists across the continent to pursue their cycling goals. Without them, there would have been fewer British pros in the peloton in the past, present, and future.
I is for Ice Pops. Essential snacks to have in the freezer after a long ride in the French sunshine. After eating all of the cola, strawberry and blue ones, you’ll be left with a draw full of yellow lemon flavour. No one likes yellow lemon flavour.
He once had raw Heinz beans for dinner as he didn’t want to cook anything. Gordon Ramsay he isn’t
J is for James, my other flatmate. James is from the Isle of Man. For that, he has our sympathies. A riding style like Julian Alaphillipe and the watts to match. He once had raw Heinz beans for dinner as he didn’t want to cook anything. Gordon Ramsay he isn’t, but James will probably win Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the future or become an NBA superstar, whichever he chooses.
K is for Kettle. The flat we live in is utterly superb compared to some of the horror stories you hear about team accommodation. However, upon arrival, there was just one thing missing – a kettle. No kettle means no cup of tea, something this British bloke can’t go without. I lasted 24 hours before going to the shop and purchasing the cheapest one I could find. Best 17 euros I ever spent.
L is for Loved Ones. Those who we leave at home whilst we travel to the continent to pursue our cycling dreams. Boyfriends, girlfriends, family. Their understanding and support are essential in the life of an aspiring cyclist while we miss key events like birthdays and family gatherings. To that, we say thank you.
M is for MacAdams Cowboys, our rival team in Nancy. Quality is not their strategy, but quantity. Entering 8-12 riders in each race, making it nearly impossible to beat and forever fuelling our inter-team rivalry. At the start of each race, it feels like we’re the Spartan 300 about to engage in battle with the Persian army.
N is for Napoleon. A hero of France. From revolution and empire to reforming the education system and creating thousands of new roads, his imprint is for all to see in this modern age. I read and researched Napoleon before I travelled out to France, just in case it would help. It hasn’t.
O is for Oui. Whilst it means yes in French, it is also your fail-safe response to any questions posed. The French speak is so fast that no amount of hours on Duolingo could be enough preparation. Often leading to panic, realising you’ve been asked something and then, under extreme duress, crumbling and saying, “Oui”. What did I say yes to? I have no idea. “Joe, what pressure would you like in your tyres for the race?” – “Oui”. “Joe, how are you feeling?” – “Oui”. “Joe, what is the meaning of life?” – “Oui”.
P is for Politics. Something the French never talk about. Ever. Unlike in the UK, any mention of Macron, Brexit, or elections will instantly receive daggers and condemnation. However pressing the issue, the French do not appreciate or find funny any comment on politics or religion. Or sister jokes. Something Daniel had to learn the hard way.
Q is for Quadrireacteur. French translation for a four-engine jet. Something which you could board to travel to France. (Okay, I was struggling for Q).
Rollers are a stationary piece of equipment that you can place your bike on and ride, often used to warm up in Britain. But not out here
R is for Rollers. Rollers are a stationary piece of equipment that you can place your bike on and ride, often used to warm up in Britain. But not out here. People will fire quizzical glances your way as you set about your 20-minute warm-up. After a few races, we all crack, leaving them in the van, joining the others and ride up and down the same road instead.
S is for Speed Cameras. With Brexit being the gift that keeps on giving, the topic of speed cameras is beautifully wrapped with a bow on top. Due to being outside the EU jurisdiction, any fines or penalties for speeding cannot be enforced on UK cars or drivers. Are you running late to a bike race? Do the shops close in five minutes? Or want to get somewhere fast? Put your foot down with no fear of repercussions. Or so I’ve heard…
T is for Trees. Nora Wain once said that “trees give peace to the soul of men”. Many of the roads of France are adorned on either side by beech trees planted spaciously, like a leafy guard of honour that guides and calms your soul. Oh yeah, just like what Nora said.
U is for U-Turn. Something the French race organisers like to add to any given course. Get your positioning wrong, and you’ll be slowing into a 180-degree turn as those ahead sprints away on the other side, leaving you with a heck of a job to catch up.
V is for Visas. Or lack thereof. Good luck trying to get one. Neither government wishes to negotiate in goodwill, resulting in hundreds of cyclists being unable to stay in France for more than 90 days at a time.
W is for War. Being on the French-German border, the region of Lorraine saw huge numbers of battles during both world wars. Almost every town has a cemetery with rows and rows of white crosses. We’re not the first young Brits to come here, but without those who preceded us over a century ago – whose fate was so much worse – we wouldn’t be able to do what we do today.
As a lad from Scotland, I thought I had all the weather boxes ticked; my goodness was I wrong
X is for e(X)treme. Depending on where you live, the weather out in France is very extreme. My first race started at 28 degrees, began raining, then hailing, then thundering, then lightning-ing. As a lad from Scotland, I thought I had all the weather boxes ticked; my goodness was I wrong.
Y is for YOLO. As the old acronym suggests, you do only live once. Why not spend a year of your life living in France to ride and race your bike across the country? To soak in the culture and meet new people. I couldn’t recommend it more.
Z is for Zeal. The dictionary says zeal is “great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an object”. Which, in a way, is how I look at my time out here. With great zeal that I get to live and race in France, it is with great zeal that I look at the French people and their way of life, and it will be with great zeal that I look back at my time spent in this great country.
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