Last July Jérémy Roy (FDJ) was becoming well-known to followers of the Tour de France, his attacking style gathering him lots of attention and admiration in this, his fourth participation, despite the big win in the biggest race eluding him thus far.
In his ninth year as a pro, but not a regular winner, Jérémy was one of the heroes of Friday’s Stage 12 from Cugneaux to Luz Ardiden, having been in the break of six riders which escaped soon after the start and remained in front most of the day. Jérémy’s total of “escape kilometres” in the race after that day reached 560!
When the 28-year-old passed us near the summit of the Col du Tourmalet that day, just in front of the only rider from the break left in the lead, Sky’s Geraint Thomas, he looked like he was “running on fumes”, using only pure determination, his energy almost spent.
Despite that, he held onto the lead over the top and collected the “Souvenir de Jacques Goddet” for crossing the Tourmalet first – along with it’s 5,000 euros prize, and together with Thomas, stayed in front until being passed by the pursuers with only 8km to go, losing nearly nine minutes to stage winner Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel) on the final climb.
A very worthwhile day then. “Great ride by Roy” Ed and I agreed as we sifted through our photos on the laptops later that evening in the hotel. “Aye, but he had to dig deep today, he’ll be invisible tomorrow.”
The following day’s Stage 13 took the riders from Pau to Lourdes, with three middle mountain climbs on the way.
We decided that we’d spend a bit of time in the Village Départ, chat to a few folk and grab a relaxed breakfast once the race had left, then hightail it to Lourdes to take in the finalé.
As we suspected, Jérémy was ‘in the bucket’ as we say in Scotland, commenting to a French journalist that morning; “I feel so tired today, I doubt I will even finish the stage“.
In the car on the way to Lourdes, as we listened to snippets of race radio, we were a tad surprised to once again hear Jérémy’s name being mentioned in the list of riders in the nine-man break, which went clear on the first of the day’s climbs.
Incredibly, he had the energy to not only drive the break but also to get away from the rest and try for the stage win…
In front and on his own with the finish line in Lourdes in sight, he must have imagined that the solo victory was on – until first the World Champion Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo), riding an incredibly savvy race came thundering past, followed by David Moncoutie (Cofidis) a few seconds later, pushing an exasperated Jérémy down to third place on the stage.
Despite becoming the leader of the Mountains Classification that evening, Jérémy struggled to hide his disappointment, stating later; “maybe in a few weeks or months I will think that this was a super stage, but right now my disillusion is too great. I’m not a champion so I have to use my own methods with the peloton to try for a stage win. But today I failed again“.
Jérémy stepped onto the podium at the end of the Tour to accept the prize for most combative rider, having spent over 700 kilometres in breaks over the three weeks, from the first day in the Vendee to the last into Paris.
With FDJ granted World Tour status for next season, the pressure is on, and Jérémy is already working hard for the early races of the year. We caught up with him just after the team presentation last weekend in Othis to find out how things are going, and began by asking him why he was so hard on himself in Lourdes.
Third on the stage and taking the KoM lead, why did you say that you felt the day ‘was a failure’?
“Ah well, it’s normal when you start a stage that you hope to win, and if things go well or to plan you realise that you could win, so when something doesn’t happen – when it was so close – it does feel like a failure, even if the KoM jersey was a good thing to come out of it.”
So how do you feel about that day now? Has the disappointment faded over the months?
“It’s certainly true to say that this day changed my life.
“I’ve become very well-known in France because of it, and I’ve also noticed that riders from outside of France know me and talk to me much more too.
“Of course, I always have some regrets about how that day into Lourdes turned out, but at the same time I’m proud of my escape.”
When you dropped Thor on the ascent of the Aubisque and went over the summit alone with a two minute lead – and only 24, mostly downhill, miles to go – did you think that was enough to stay clear and take the stage?
“I thought I had done the hard part!
“However, despite there being a lot of downhill on the way to the finish the headwind in the last 15kms just made it so hard – too hard for one rider (unless your name is Thor of course!).”
You won the prize for the most combative rider in the Tour this year, attacking on the first, last, and several other stages too. Was that your target before the race?
“We didn’t have a clear leader in the team going into the Tour this year, or even a sprinter to set up during stages or at the end of the stages, so I wanted to get something from the race on a personal level, for sure.
“Last year the Tour wasn’t a particularly happy time for me – I crashed on the second day, damaged my knee and rode the entire race in a lot of pain.
“So this year I didn’t actually plan very much, so I didn’t get too disappointed – I decided to take the race one day at a time, and it worked very well for me.”
You turned pro for FDJ when you were only 21, but you spent the first few years also working towards a master’s degree in Mechanical and Automotive Engineering – why did you stick with the studying, when life as a pro bike rider is hard enough?
“It is a hard life as a bike rider! But I love it…
“When I turned Pro with Francaise des Jeux I did a deal with them, I wanted to complete my degree, so that I had something to fall back on if anything went wrong and for when I finished my career, and so the team accepted that and during my studies they only raced me on the weekends, which was perfect.”
I’ve heard that at Paris-Nice in 2009 Marc Madiot felt that his riders needed some “motivation” and he gave his riders a “verbal kick up the backside”, but it worked – you went out and won the stage the next day, your first Pro win.
“Yes, that’s true!
“I’m very self-motivated anyway, but when Marc gives you one of his ‘verbal kicks’, as he does from time to time, it does give you an extra boost!
“With some riders, it can backfire a little, but for me it only adds to my own desire to do well.”
With the Bio-Passport maturing and other anti-doping initiatives becoming part of the sport’s structure, do you feel that things are changing in the sport for the better?
“Yes I do, I certainly hope so.
“Despite all the discussion around the politics in cycling, I do believe that the sport is very actively trying to find the guys who are cheating, and I hope we finally rid the sport of them.”
Would you like to see longer bans for those riders (and others) who do continue to break the doping rules?
“But it should be on a case by case basis: where there is evidence that the person accidentally had PEDs in their system, that’s one thing…
However, when we are talking about the big cheaters – the guys who do transfusions, take EPO, that kind of thing, then that’s not a ‘mistake’ – that’s a planned action, a real desire to cheat, and these people should be given long bans.”
You described yourself in the past as “not a great climber and not a great sprinter” – do you work in the winter to specifically improve on either of these things?
“I do admit to not being the best climber of sprinter, even in my team, but I’m forever trying to improve myself.
“I build specific training programmes to bring certain elements up a level, and I head up into the Jura mountains and the Massif Central for training camps in order to become stronger in the hills.”
You love to use your mountain bike in the winter, and you usually race part of the cyclo-cross season (second at Moussy-le-Vieux, home of FDJ, last week – congratulations!). It’s great training for the early season, but also an alternative to the dreaded home-trainer…
“I do like MTB and cyclo-cross, yes, and they do provide a great change to the normal routine.
“Actually, I ride my MTB during the road season too, you know. You’re normally using lower gears, spinning the legs quite a lot, so I find that it’s very good training for the first races of the season, I seem to find my rhythm more quickly.”
Jérémy rode with a helmet-cam for the cyclo-cross in Notre Dame D’Oe last month.
Do you do much running training for your ‘cross? Does it not affect your “cycling legs”?
“Ha! No, as a cyclist it’s very hard for my legs to run.
“I do so many miles on the road during the season that I’m not accustomed to running, and this causes the my quadriceps to have lots of ‘contractures’, DOMS – muscle soreness.
“I’m sure my legs forget all about running once the first races are underway!”
Last year you were very keen to improve on your time trialling, particularly in stage races. Given that there are two longer time trials in the Tour next year, will you continue to work on this aspect over the coming months?
“I like time trialling, and I enjoy the solitary effort, so I don’t mind a solo escape, for example.
“So yes, I will continue working towards improving my TT – I do a lot of work behind a motorcycle for this, which is a great way to become accustomed to the road and leg speed you need to attain.”
You love to use your own initiative, your instinct, when you’re racing, so were you disappointed when the two-way race radios were not banned, as the UCI were proposing?
“It’s true, I learn the Road Book inside-out, then I go out and do my own race so I don’t feel I personally need a radio.
“Having said that, I understand that for the leaders in the race, when situations hang in the balance, it’s probably better for them to have the radio.”
You became a dad just before the Tour this year, it must have been hard to be away from your new family for a few weeks?
“I’m not alone in this, plenty riders have young families…
“But yes, it was hard for me to leave my wife and new baby just a few days after the birth – but even though I was off riding the Tour de France, I reckon it was actually harder for my wife, she was left alone at home with the baby to look after.
“Fortunately now there is the internet, so we could keep in touch via video, and sending photos and so on.”
How do you relax?
“I actually find it quite hard to just ‘relax’, I’m always needing to be doing something.
“So I relax by doing things I enjoy, like cooking.
“I also potter in my garden – but not too much, and spend time on the computer with my photography, working on my personal website, that kind of thing.”
Your team presentation last weekend looked like good fun!
“Yes, it was a really good event. It was organised specially with the team’s fan club in mind, and many of the team’s friends and fans took part.
“It was a fun day, we had a little group ride with everybody in the afternoon – the fans got a chance to ride alongside and chat to the riders and staff, and then in the evening we had a nice dinner, some speeches and presentations, followed by some dancing.
“It was good for everybody, fans got the chance to get up close and get to know us – and us them – and we all had great fun together. This kind of thing just isn’t possible during the season.”
Everyone involved must be pleased that the team has been granted ProTour status for next year?
“This was the major goal of the team this year.
“So now we are in World Tour, superb.
“But what that means is we have a new team goal – to stay there!”
What will the five new recruits bring to the team? And were they made to sing or dance at the team camp, as is the FDJ tradition?
“We have these five great riders joining the team, solid guys.
“We’ve got two guys coming from Lotto, Jussi Veikkannen, who’s returning to the team after one year away, is a strong man, he can win everywhere. David Boucher is also coming back into the team. He’s a good classics rider, and a model teammate too.
“Gabriel Rasch is coming in from Garmin. He was recommended to Marc by none other than Thor, and is a very experienced classics rider.
“We also have two powerful néo-pros, climber Kenny Ellissonde won the Ronde de l’Isard d’Ariège this year, and sprinter Arnaud Démare – the newly crowned U23 Road World Champion in Copenhagen.
“Yeah, to celebrate their coming into the team, each new rider had to sing or tell a funny story on the stage at the launch.”
It’s great that there will be ten French Pro teams for the upcoming season. Do you see a great season in 2012 for French cycling?
“Yes, it’s fantastic – lots of riders and team staff have jobs! It’s a very good state of affairs.
“And for the French cycling it’s good to have teams that will be able to bring on the young riders properly.
“France needs to have top riders, but you can’t have that without grassroots.”
You’re starting your 2012 season early, at the Tour Down Under?
“Yes, I will start my season in Australia, it’s my choice because I love to find the sun. Also, in early January I’ll have a training camp on the Cote d’Azur which I’ll take my wife and daughter to.
“After all that I’ll ride the stage races in the World Tour calendar, such as Paris-Nice, Catalonia, Pays Basque, Romandie…”
Are you planning a break in the early part of the season to arrive at the Tour in the best possible shape?
“Yes, I’ll take a break just after Romandie, just to recharge the batteries, take a breath, review things and refocus on the middle of the year.”
Some of the high mountain stages in next year’s Tour parcours have been replaced with middle mountain or rolling stages, that’ll suit you better.
“For sure, there we are going to have a show!
“The middle mountains in the Tour will be so favourable for attacks, lots of riders will be trying to escape, including me!
“The high mountains are too hard, but this middle mountain terrain is much better for me.”
The 2012 season will be a success for you if…
“I win the French Road Championship.
“Or a stage of the Tour de France…”