Star Finder: Christophe Andre Gets PEZ’d!
Rider Scout Interview: Becoming a professional cyclist is not easy, apart from the long training rides, hard racing and living the life of an athlete, you need that big break. Christophe Andre has been helping many riders from Britain and his home country of France with a step up to the pro ranks – Ed Hood has a word with the man who helped Adam Yates, amongst others.
Christophe Andre and the Yates Brothers
When you see riders ‘making the grade’ in France do you ever wonder how the connection was made, how they came to have a ride and a roof over their head in La Belle France? A man who’s been responsible for more than a few British riders getting their chance in The Republic is Monsieur Christophe Andre. Christophe very kindly agreed to talk to us about his roles as a ‘scout’ on the French Cycling scene.
PEZ: How did you get into cycling originally, Christophe?
Christophe Andre: My father was a rider in the era of Anquetil and Poulidor – he was very friendly with the English rider Vin Denson (the first English speaking rider to win a stage in the Giro, ed.) that’s how I came to have an affinity with the British riders. I raced a little but wasn’t serious; my favourite parcours was the disco.
Christophe Andre – helped many a Pro
PEZ: How did you get into the ‘scouting’ game?
My father was coach with the UCVA Troyes cycling club and English riders came there; Piers Hewitt (a strong sprinter, Hewitt was British Junior Sprint Champion and went on to win the historic Paris-Chauny Classic in 1983, ed.), Simeon Hempsall (British Amateur Champion and winner of the Paris-Troyes Classic, ed.) Dave Spencer (Tour of Britain Milk Race stage winner, ed.). My father also coached the famous Simon brothers who were team mates of Robert Millar at Peugeot and that’s how I came to know him. As I said before, we have a long tradition with the British riders. But my ‘day job’ is with Orange France; the scouting I do for the love of the sport.
John Herety, GB Pro champion – Helped by Andre
PEZ: And you coach too?
When my father stopped coaching I did it for two years, one rider I especially remember working with is Rod Ellingworth (who is best known for his management work with the Great Britain and Sky teams but was a good rider in his own right in the 90’s and early 2000’s, ed.) he was a good guy. I also helped John Herety (ex-Mercier professional and British pro champion, ed.) Kieran Page (British Champion on road and track, ed.) and Russell Downing (legendary ‘hard man’ British professional who’s still racing after a career spanning 20 years including Team Sky’s first race win by a British rider in a stage of the 2010 Criterium International, ed.). Russell was a big rider. I have my diploma for coaching but don’t have the time to coach these days.
PEZ: But you left UCVA Troyes to go to CC Etupes?
The management changed at Troyes so I went to Besancon and CC Etupes which was set up in 1974 and has won the Coupe de France for clubs seven times. Alexis Vuillermoz (AG2R-La Mondiale), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Kenny Ellisonde (Sky), Petr Vakoc (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Warren Barguill (Arkea-Samsic) are all riders who came up through CC Etupes. I’ve helped English riders here too, Daniel Lloyd (ex Cervelo pro and winner of the Vuelta a Extremadura, ed.) and Jez Hunt (another legendary British pro and winner of the British Professional Championships twice and the GP Plouay in his days with French Team, Big Mat, ed.). Jez rang me and asked if I could find his brother Joshua a ride, so I placed him at UCVA Troyes. Then Josh asked me if I could help his friend to find a place – Adam Yates. Adam Yates didn’t win a lot with Troyes but they could see he had potential and we took him on at CC Etupes – and now he’s a classic winner. Tom Findlay the New Zealand rider was with us too, a good rider – he was New Zealand u23 Champion and at Troyes I had Wayne Bennington who was Robert Millar’s team mate at Z Peugeot and as an amateur he won the Paris-Mantes classic.
Adam Yates – A winner now
PEZ: What do you look for in a rider?
There’s no common recipe, every guy is different but you listen to what they say, what their mentality is like and do they live the life of a serious cyclist? Between the ages of 17 to 21 is the best time to start to develop a rider.
PEZ: And the pro teams approach you?
They come to me and say perhaps they need a climber or a time trial guy or a sprinter. The best sprinters come from the track – but of course they must be able to get over the hills – but there’s not so much track racing in France anymore. I like to speak to a lot of guys to keep in touch with the scene.
Thibout Pinot – Lombardia winner
PEZ: You have good French riders but you take on ‘Anglos’?
Thibaut Pinot was with CC Etupes and so was Kenny Ellisonde so we have very good riders in France but they are like artists, not as professional as the British guys. The British, Irish and East European guys set a good example to the French guys who are not as disciplined. Pinot and Bardet are good riders but none of the coaches work on the time trial, which is so important if you wish to win stage races; in England they have the Manchester track and that’s a great centre from which to organise your coaching and training programmes – we need this in France.
Andre still rides
PEZ: Why do you think so many riders are looking for a contract this year?
Economics, money – there’s not a lot of it in cycling. World-wide it’s soccer, F1, tennis, golf, tennis where the money is, not cycling. As a cyclist you don’t make the same kind of money as other top sports stars.
PEZ: And the future for French cycling?
We have good riders – Pinot and Bardet are among the best. For 2019 you should watch for the two 22 year-old Groupama-FDJ riders; David Gaudu who won the Tour de l’Avenir in 2016 and was very good in the late season Italian semi-classics in 2018 – and also Valentin Madouas, in 2018 he was eighth at Plouay, sixth at Isbergues, fifth at Paris-Tours and won Paris-Bourges.
Grand Prix Isbergues 2018 Résumé
PEZ: Will the loss of Sky halt the progress of cycle sport in Britain?
If Mr. Brailsford and Mr. Ellingworh decide to continue the adventure, they will always do a great job, it is their culture, I hope that their experience gained can greatly benefit the development of our sport.
PEZ: How do you see the future of professional cycling?
I am very worried, very few countries work the base (youth). Big dormant potentials in Africa sleep… the economic potential is fragile, plays a lot and our sport has arrived at a point that requires a lot of resources.
Looking to the future
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,700 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.