Cedric Vasseur Interview: Talking career, teams and politics
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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Cedric Vasseur Interview: Talking career, teams and politics

by Ed Hood at 5:50 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
Former Tour Maillot Jaune and CPA chief speaks

Cedric VasseurCedric Vasseur’s pro career spanned some 15 seasons, from racing under the stewardship of the legendary Peter Post at Novemail in 1993 to being a ‘QuickStep man’ under Patrick Lefevre in 2007, via Gan, Credit Agricole, US Postal and Cofidis.

His palmares include stage wins in the Tour de l’Avenir, Circuit de la Sarthe, Quatre Jours de Dunkerque, Dauphine Libere, Tour du Limousin, Paris Correze and Tour de France.

In addition to his two stages in the Tour, he wore the yellow jersey of race leadership in 1997. He also took the overall in Paris-Correze and twice won the tough, late season GP Isbergues.

After his days in the peloton he was president of the Professional Cyclists Association (CPA) for two years.

VeloNation spoke recently to the 40 year-old Frenchman to get his views on ‘Mondialisation,’ doping, ten month seasons and the hot topic of the moment, radios.

VeloNation: You had 15 seasons in the pro ranks, Cedric.

Cedric Vasseur: I became a stagiaire with Novemail late in 1993 and finished my career with QuickStep at the end of 2007.

I witnessed some major changes during that time - firstly, cycling became more and more worldwide. At Novemail we had the Australian Patrick Jonker on the team and there were other Aussies - guys like Stuey O’Grady and Henk Vogels in the peloton – but it was as if they were from another planet. Now there are Kazakhs, Slovenians and a whole host of Aussies in the bunch.

Secondly, the level of racing has become much more intensive, the Grand Tours and Classics were always hard but now it’s 100% from the Tour Down Under right to the end of the season.

There are no longer ‘relaxed’ races which you can use as training; every race is a big fight – look at Qatar, it was split all over the place.

I think that pro careers will be shorter; you can’t maintain that level of intensity for year after year. Finally, teams are more structured, now. When I started there were 21 riders in a typical team, now there are 25 to 30 – but I guess that’s evolution?

VN: You rode at Novemail, under the legend that was Peter Post.

CV:
When I started it was on the same team as men like Ekimov, Mottet, Nelissen and Pensec – world class riders.

When Peter Post arrived at a race he was always immaculately dressed and stepped out of his beautiful Mercedes – he had real presence; you always wanted to give your best for him.

I remember that one of my first good performances with the team was when I was tenth or eleventh in Paris-Brussels…I fought hard in the finale against the likes of Armstrong and Sciandri.

After the race Post put his hands on my shoulders and congratulated me on a good ride – I was a happy man, that evening!

VN: You were in Dutch, French, US and Belgian teams – how do they compare?

CV: The mentalities are different, like in life – the US teams are becoming more and more important. Now you have Garmin, HTC and Radio Shack.

There’s more freedom in the US teams, they trust the riders to do what they have to do to in terms of training. The French teams are more casual, old fashioned.

As for QuickStep, that just happened - I live 25 kilometres from Patrick Lefevre, we would see each other often and always say, ’hello.’

He’s a gentleman, I respect him a lot. I met him on the plane on the way back from the Madrid Worlds [in 2005], my contract with Cofidis was at an end and he said to me; ‘what are you doing -I need a Frenchman to replace Virenque, why not come and ride for me?’ And I replied; ‘why not?’

VN: What was the highlight of your pro career?

CV: I enjoyed all of my victories but the most special one was my Tour stage in 1997. I was away for 150 kilometres and took the yellow jersey as well as the stage victory.

My dad (Alain) had won a Tour stage 25 years before, so to take the jersey was a dream come true. It was a wonderful day in my life.

VN: Why quit when you did? You were still very competitive…

CV: I was 37 when I stopped. I always saw cycling as a young man’s sport – I didn’t see myself at 40 as ‘the oldest rider in the peloton,’ I didn’t want that trophy!

I chose when I stopped, a lot of riders don’t get that luxury; they stop because they can’t get a new contract. I went out with a stage win for QuickStep in the Tour. Ten years after my first; that was a good note to finish upon.

VN: Tell us a little about your time at the CPA, the Association of Professional Cyclists.

CV: That was a little like joining QuickStep; I hadn’t planned it, it was just a random thing. I felt I wasn’t ready to be a DS. It was suggested to me that I stand for the CPA presidency, and I was elected.

I was the link between the UCI, ASO and the teams; I knew how to deal with climbing mountains and cross winds – but not about business and politics; it was like going back to school.

I’m happy I stopped when I did; there are something like 865 riders to represent – that’s 865 different opinions to take into account. There’s the biological passport issue; the ear piece situation and the Contador situation, which has really divided the peloton.

But when it comes down to it, the riders must go with the teams because that’s where their money comes from.

VN: What about the radio issue?

CV: I’ve been following the polemic closely but it’s hard to give a definite answer. There are plusses and minuses to both sides of the argument.

On the one hand with pelotons of 200 riders and 22 team cars behind it’s very hard for a DS to get up to instruct his riders – and of course there’s the safety issue. But even with radios, there are still crashes.

On the other hand the UCI and ASO want a better show, more spontaneous, better for the sponsors, better for the fans. The trouble is that you can’t give something then take it away – initially it was a toy but now it has become so important.

VN: What do you think about the season starting so early with the likes of the Tour Down Under and San Luis?

CV: It’s good for the sport but bad for the riders to be riding 200 kilometres at that time of the season. It’s not tennis or Formula One - the riders can’t maintain that, it’s physically not possible. You can be good for a total of maybe three months in a season but not from January until the end of October.

VN: What about ‘Mondialisation?’

CV: It’s good for cycling, but it needs a big structure within the teams to deal with it. The riders go from Argentina to Qatar to Paris-Nice to the Classic to the Tour; after two seasons of that you’d be dead.

When I flew back from the Worlds in Melbourne - where I was commentating for TV - I still hadn’t recovered after a week. I think that if you rode the Tour Down Under you’d need three or four weeks to recover properly, but of course the riders can’t get that, they’re into the next part of their programme.

VN: What do you think about the UCI’s ‘secret’ Pro Team classification criteria?

CV: The teams are very angry; the UCI makes these decisions with no consultation – you must have rules and know what they are before you start.

Take the Geox situation where their Pro Team application was rejected. I feel very afraid for the riders in that team (Geox have been accepted for the Giro since this interview took place, Ed.). But the teams must get organised in their approach to the UCI.

VN: And what about the drugs scandals?

CV:
It’s totally disappointing that the sport is touched by scandal after scandal – but it’s not new, we had the Festina Affair in 1998. There seems to have been a scandal every two weeks since the Landis Affair – outsiders think it’s a dirty, corrupt world; ‘civilians’ don’t know what’s going on, they’re convinced that you can’t win the Tour without drugs.

The introduction of the Biological Passport was a good thing but I’m not sure that it’s having an effect – the rules aren’t clear; there needs to be more communication from the UCI back to the teams about what’s happening.

In the cycling world people are always talking about doping, it’s not good for promoting the sport. Oscar Freire sums it up; he says that cyclists used to be treated like champions – great athletes, courageous. Now, they’re looked on as garbage.

VN: Do you still ride your bike?

CV: I try to ride three or four times each week, a total of eight or 10 hours - I can tell you that I notice the difference in respect we receive from other road users.

When I won my Tour stage in 1997 I would often be out training and people would stop me to get my autograph or chat to me – for sure, it’s not like that now!

VN: What are you doing now?

CV:
I’m involved in various race organisation projects; I want to help develop cycling worldwide. But if an opportunity with a team came along, I’d grab it but it’s not easy, there aren’t that many opportunities.

VN:
And what does your dad think of cycling in 2011?

CV: We talk about that every week; he raced in the era of Anquetil then Merckx. He has his bike shop now but watches cycling on TV and keeps in touch with the sport. He thinks there’s less of the ‘warrior spirit’ now, in his day they just kept racing if it snowed, for example.

And thinks that the riders are very well looked after, these days. But he still respects them because he knows how hard it is – he marvels at all of the jumping on and off planes.

In his day you drove everywhere – he never imagined that the sport would become worldwide like it has…

 

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