For the first time in many a year VeloVeritas didn’t make it down to Grenoble for the Four Days on the battle scarred boards of the winter track where Post, Merckx, Sercu, Clark, Moser and Thevent have all lifted the laurels.
How I miss Bar Clémenceau, Pizza Natalie and the wee bakers where the baker always give me extra croissants ‘for luck.’
‘New Wave’ French strong men and World Madison Champions Morgan Kneisky and Vivien Brisse took the honours from tough Spaniards Muntaner & Torres with Iljo Keisse limbering up for Gent in third spot with countryman De Buyst.
Grenoble ‘record man’ with six wins in 2001, ‘03, ‘04, ‘06, ‘09 and ’10 Franco Marvulli took fourth spot – but this is his last season and he doesn’t have the same fire inside him that Bruno Risi did which made him want to go out on top.
VeloVeritas still had a spy in the French camp; as well as the professionals in the Elite event there are races for youngsters.
One of the coureurs is actually English; Tom England by name, he raced there last year and in our absence his dad, Rob kept us in the picture about what’s been happening in the ‘Capital of the Alps.’
What took you and the family to France, Tom?
“We’re from Cornwall, but wanted to try a different lifestyle while the children were young.
“We intended to stay for three or four years but would now find it hard to move back to the UK after 12 years.”
Tell us about Tom’s cycling career.
“We went to see the Tour de France and they were holding some kids races.
“Tom was just 12 and rode his mum’s bike – he won it easily in front of a big crowd and was hooked.”
What’s the French track scene like – did Kneisky & Brisse winning the Worlds madison give it a boost?
“We mostly train and race in winter in Switzerland at Aigle and Geneva – then in summer in Lyon and Grenoble on the outdoor tracks.
“We are not part of the cycling scene, and have no cycling background.
“Tom was next to Kneisky and some top guys, including all the Belgians at Aigle but we didn’t talk to them.”
Tell us about how Tom faired in Three Days of Aigle – what was the field like?
“He won at Aigle.
“The category was U17 (he was 15, he’s just turned 16) so included some juniors and also the Swiss U16 champion, and a French U16 national champion.”
And Grenoble – what was the format for his racing?
“There is a qualifier in early September for Grenoble with the top 10 selected to race.
“The U16 riders race on three nights; each night they do a 70 lap points and an eight lap scratch – Tom won it overall.”
Has British Cycling shown any interest in him?
[That figures, if BC can’t boast about bringing a rider up through their system then they don’t want to know, EH]
Grenoble – how was the crowd compared to last year?
“Similar – the stade was pretty much full every night; even though there’s almost zero publicity or promotion.”
What was the band and cabaret like?
“The same – good fun!”
[It was never the same for me since the days of the curvy chanteuse in the sparkly mini dress – she couldn’t sing but it didn’t really matter. EH]
And was the track centre restaurant as busy as usual?
“Yep, lots of lobsters being consumed!”
What’s next for Tom – and does he see himself as a track or road rider?
“He finished first in the French South East Regional road championships.
“He’s small (55kg) and comparatively young so road will suit him best – but he loves track, and produces ridiculously good times for his size.
“Another five or six kilograms of muscle will help a lot as he matures.”
French cycling; they’ve lost Sojasun – but Bouhanni, Coquard, Demare, Pinot are all on the way up, what’s your take on the scene?
“As I say we are simply not part of the track ‘scene’ and have no cycling history. The French system is very dated; it’s mostly dads and their kids, and some enthusiastic amateurs.
“The organisation is a joke, and there is little to no coaching. Selection is last minute on results.
“Tom trains on his own, apart from at Aigle where he trains with the Swiss riders.
“But we live in a beautiful region, traffic friendly, near the Alps, and Tom just loves riding his bike.”
Loving the bike is at the heart of it all; Rob asked if we’d name check Tom’s sponsors:
- Bush Healthcare
- VC Annemasse
- Velotechservices UK (Rotor)
One of these days I’ll get myself down to Grenoble in October and sit in the track centre restaurant – drink red wine, watch the racing, eat too much and remember the days when I used to have to seek out the best blue cheese for Franco to have for his breakfast.
One of these days…
With thanks to Tom and Rob.