What's Cool In Road Cycling

How to Race for Cofidis In 1 Year

Hi, my name is David and I race for Cofidis…sort of. Actually, I ride for Cofidis’s development team. Cofidis is one of only two ProTour teams with an amateur team and I’m on the roster. Did I mention this is only my second year of racing? How did this happen? I must admit that luck played a larger role than talent. Here is my story.

Step One: Have Existential Crisis. Move to Europe.
After graduating from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. The only thing I had going for me was my French girlfriend, Elodie. So, I followed her to Aix En Provence, France, where she was in grad school. I found a job teaching high school English to a room full of half-asleep teenagers who usually evolved into fully asleep teenagers by the time I had finished with them.

Our hero in the green kit: struggling to stay in contact with the elite bunch.

When I realized I wasn’t going to be teacher of the year, I started looking for a hobby. I had purchased my first road bike three months before coming to France, so I flipped through the yellow pages and called up the local club: L’Amical Velo Club Aixois. I learned that they were the defending national club champions and that riders were recruited from all over France and Europe to be on the team. Just as I started thinking this team was way over my head, they explained that they had teams at all experience levels and I could join the lowest level.

Step Two: Baby Steps
Any delusions of grandeur I had were quickly crushed during my first race. Five kilometers in, an impatient local farmer decided the gap between myself and the peloton was large enough for his tractor. I held his wheel, which took up half the road, for a few hundred meters and then, after getting dropped by the tractor, I abandoned.

Fearless leaders: Jean-Michel Borgouin and Eric Drubay consult with Bart Oegema after a race. Oegema is good example of how developed the amateur system is in France. He was actually a Division III pro in Holland who was attracted to France and the bigger budget amateur teams. He’s had a lot of top ten finishes this year and seems right on the brink of pulling off something big.

Between my dismal performance and the afro-puffs sticking out of my twenty-dollar helmet, I am pretty sure I was the laughing stock of the club. I set a goal of finishing for my second race. After 80 kilometers of battling to stay in contact with the peloton, I found myself hurtling towards an electrical tower. Temporarily unable to move, I was rushed to the local hospital by the good people from the Red Cross.

By my third race I had managed to finish. To my surprise, a few weeks later, I actually won a race with a 20km solo breakaway. After the race one of the older guys from the club came up to me. “I knew you could do it. When everyone else was making fun of you, I told them you had potential.” Well, there was confirmation of the laughing stock hypothesis. Three months later I had won six races.

The Elite Team
Soon after my sixth win, Jean-Michel Bourgouin and Eric Drubay, the directeur sportifs for my club’s elite division, told me that I was going to start a short, three-race trial period with the elite team. They said, they weren’t making any promises, but, if I raced well, I would be considered for a spot on next year’s squad.

My first race with the team was meant to be a lower-level elite race but when it was cancelled, I raced Paris-Auxerre instead, one of the toughest amateur races in France. Fifty kilometers into the two hundred kilometer race, I learned what an echelon was, as I watched one ride away from me. Shortly after losing contact, I abandoned.

My second elite race was more my style with lots of climbing and I was extremely motivated. Especially since one of my friends from home was visiting and would be in the follow car. The start was given and before I even crossed the line, something jammed and I flew over the handlebars. Other riders were laughing as they went past. I got up and tried to figure out what had happened while the directeur sportifs in the traffic jam behind me honked and screamed.

Suddenly, someone grabbed my bike and changed my rear wheel, assuming I had punctured. I took off again, unsure the problem was solved. I didn’t make it far because my new wheel was rubbing against the frame. After I had straightened it and gotten going again, my team car pulled along side me. Eric Drubay yelled at me to grab onto the car. “The peloton is at thirty kilometers an hour. If we are going to catch them before they start the descent we need to go seventy-five!”

In addition to some good luck, a healthy sense of humor should also be included in any ex-pat’s survival kit.

I had never before held onto a moving vehicle while on a bike and the idea of doing it uphill at such a high speed frightened me to death. Unfortunately, there was no time for a tutorial and I latched on to the passenger-side door. As the car accelerated, my eyes momentarily drifted away from the road and towards my friend in the car. He was leaning away from me, a look of fear on his face, as if I might crash into him at any moment. Soon after this lapse of concentration, I was rolling on the asphalt again. Humiliated, I rode back to the start, missing several patches of skin, and handed my race number to the surprised officials.

Things were looking pretty bad for my chances of getting a spot on this team. In the first race I proved that I can’t stay with the pack and in the second I had shown that I don’t know how to handle a bicycle. I had just one race left, the Tour d’Alsace. If I didn’t do well there, I was going to have to start packing my bags for the US and get a real job.

Read part 1 of this story and find out how Dave gets outta this pickle.

You can reach Dave at [email protected]

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