Here at VeloVeritas we try to keep our eye out for young men who are ‘doing it’ – getting themselves over to Europe and trying to make the grade. Take 22 year-old American Joshua Berry, it’s a long way from his home town of Ketchum, Idaho to the French Mediterranean coast – but that’s where he’s riding, for La Pomme Marseille.
It’s a famous club, formed in 1974 which has had the likes of Daryl Impey, Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin on the books at one time or another.
The club is now registered as an UCI Continental team and got season 2013 off to a flying start with Justin Jules winning the hotly contested UCI 1.1 GP d’Ouverture Marseille against many of the World Tour teams.
It’s a week or two since we last spoke to Joshua – the Vuelta got in the way – here’s what he had to say.
La Pomme, how did you get the ride, Joshua?
“Alex Howes was the first US guy to ride for La Pomme in 2008 – I wanted to follow the same route as he did, learn the craft and the language.
“When I took third in the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege last year that proved I had the ability.”
How’s the programme been?
“I’ve had an awesome programme for 2013 but I’ve had constant injury stemming from being hit by a truck during the early season of 2010. I was hurt pretty badly and I’ve had constant issues since.
“Last winter past was compromised by injury too, I was at the team training camp but had to fly back to the US for treatment and then I was off to the Tour of Taiwan. I had all sorts of mechanicals there and my knee was giving me problems so I was DNF – that was very frustrating.
“But the team was great with me, very supportive all through it. I almost had my knee sorted out and was on course for a good season, doing my job for the team – but then an injury I sustained when I crashed in 2012 Baby Giro flared up and it looked like the season was going to be a disaster.
“Then I had family issues and had to fly home, but I managed to get my head together and wanted to do well at the Qinghai Lakes. I had ambitions of a good ride there but crashed out on Stage Seven which meant more rehab.
“I wasn’t sure if I could come back from that but rode a mountain bike race in my home town to see how I was going. I was really nervous at the start but won it and went straight out and bought my plane ticket back to France, that day.
“When I think back, I’ve done OK – in five years I’ve gone from being a junior MTB rider to a pro.”
What’s your role on the team?
“They gave me a perfect schedule with opportunities for me to take my chances in the breakaways.
“But you have to help the team when you can – taking our sprinters up for the finale, for instance.
“Justin Jules is one of our sprinters and he got us off to a great start by winning the GP d’Ouverture Marseille – that’s a UCI 1.1 and gave us huge momentum to start the season with.
“Benjamin Giraud, Yannick Martinez, Yoann Paillot and Julien Antomarchi have all had wins, too.”
The US of A v. la Belle France?
“It’s very different, but that’s what you come here for – cycling is part of life and the culture; when you’re on a team like la Pomme you’re part of that.
“I was very pleasantly surprised at the team’s attitude when I told them that I had to go home to deal with my family issues.
“They said to go home, sort it out and come back when it was dealt with; my place would still be there – I felt like I wasn’t just ‘some American.’”
Where’s your ‘Euro home?’
“If I’m with the team I stay at the team house in Marseille but between races I rent a place in the little town of Cassis – it’s an unbelievable place.”
We’ve interviewed Chris Jennings in the past; he left Rapha Condor to go to La Pomme.
“Yeah, I’ve trained with Chris a few time; he’s a good guy – but I tend to train on my own, mostly.”
Some say that French racing isn’t as tough as Belgian . . .
“I’d dispute that, perhaps if it’s a sprinters’ day then you can have an easy day.
“But in races like the Tour du Limousin it’s very hard, even when one of the big teams is controlling it.”
I’ve heard that your 2010 crash was a bad one?
“A truck hit me head on and as I said, that crash is the source of my injury problems.
“I feel good now and was happy to make it through Limousin; but I’ve not had a lot of race days.”
You rode alongside Francisco Mancebo at Real Cyclist in 2011 . . .
“He was a great inspiration, a wonderful person to learn from with all of his Grand Tour experience.
“I was only 19/20 years-old and it was a great year for me – the team won a lot of races.
“Francisco never gives up and just loves the sport.”
You were with the Chipotle squad in 2012, but it folded.
“I wanted to be part of the Garmin team ever since the Slipstream days – when I got the offer to join Chipotle as the Garmin ‘feeder’ team, it was huge for me, I had other offers but I wanted to be with Chipotle as it was part of the Garmin organisation.
“Jonathan Vaughters and Chann McRae have had a great influence on me – I’d have loved to have been part of the Garmin programme . . .”
You had a strong Euro 2012 – third in the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
“In the spring of 2012 I was going really well but then I got sick and was out for a month but I trained for two weeks in the mountains near Toulouse and started to find some form.
“I was selected for the Tour of Liege and Chann McRae (Chipotle DS) said to me that if I went top 10 then he’s get me on the roster for Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
“I got ninth and was so excited at the prospect of riding Liege – but it’s the stage racing which sets you for the Classics.
“The course is tough; it just misses out the first part of the pro race – but the final 120 K is exactly the same.”
But then came another crash?
“I’d prepared really well for the Baby Giro, at altitude but on Stage One, before the first kilometre was even in, I crashed and a chainring cut into my kneecap – season over!
“I was so disappointed because I was highly motivated to help Joe Dombrowski – who won the race after being second in 2012.”
What’s still to ride?
“Poitou Charentes, the Tour du Jura, Tour de Doubs, GP Somme, GP Isbergues.”
“It’s not decided yet, my agent is hard at work – but I believe I’ve helped the team so . . .
“This year has been a true challenge, I separated my shoulder then injured my knee and had crashes – but I’m still here, doing my job and like I said; not just ‘some American.’”
We’re happy to report that Joshua has been riding well in his late season races – 15th and winner of the ‘hot spots’ in the GP Somme and 20th in the Tour du Jura – nice results.
Let’s hope that they help him get a nice crisp 2014 contract.