All around France, cyclists have reclaimed their training roads since Monday, May 11. In the Doubs, Hautes-Pyrénées and Finistère departments, that’s respectively what Romain Seigle, Bruno Armirail and Olivier Le Gac have done. Despite quite diverse weather conditions, every one of them has been able to enjoy the return to the open air and on his proper playground. We went to sound them out after a week of “freedom”.
In France, the long-awaited end of the lockdown was preceded by eight long weeks of quarantine. Over these eight weeks, cyclists were denied access to their main zone of activity, the road, and like any citizen, had to restrict their travels to the bare minimum. Despite all this, Romain Seigle, Bruno Armirail and Olivier Le Gac actually went through this period in quite a decent way. “It was not very complicated for me,” starts Romain. “I was in a house with a garden. I bought it recently, so there was a lot of work to do. I always had something to take care of, and it’s not over! If we had had 2-3 more weeks of quarantine, I could have done even more”. Also in the countryside, Bruno Armirail helped his parents in the family farm. “I was not locked in an apartment, he says. Going out in nature, in the fields, with the tractor, being with animals, it’s completely different and time passes much faster”. Olivier Le Gac was also able to step back from the situation, especially since he was coming out of a big start to the season. “I told myself that there were certainly some people in a worse place than myself,” he confirms. “When I got home after Paris-Nice, I said to myself: “I have raced a lot, I’m pretty happy with my start to the season”. I really put things into perspective. We also had a very good weather in the Finistère; that helped. I have a house and a garden, there was nothing to complain about, and I took the opportunity to do things that I don’t usually do, like gardening”. As unpleasant as the situation was, it was far from enough to get depressed.
“I preferred the rain than yet another indoor session” Bruno Armirail
“I had an accident a few years ago,” recalls Bruno. “I spent several months without being able to move, without being able to do anything actually, while seeing everyone racing. Of course, it was a shame not to be able to ride and race during these two months, but we could at least ride indoors, and above all we don’t start from scratch, as it is the case after an accident”. Like all of their colleagues, riding indoors was mostly a means to “stay a bit fit and do a little sport, because it always feels good mentally”, explains Olivier. The latter only did “a month or so” on the rollers, having taken a two weeks break at the beginning of the quarantine and having eased a little before it ended. “I was particularly careful not to gain weight”, he says, “but I preferred not to do high intensity, racing or exercise. It was more physical activity”. “I was riding indoors according to my will”, says Romain. “I went on the rollers with the time trial bike, I went on the stationary trainers with the road bike, I tasted a bit of both but I didn’t try to plan anything, I didn’t bother too much about it. I really did it depending on the current feelings”. Bruno for his part is “not a fan” of the practice in normal times. He even “hates it”, but since he had to deal with it, he got down to it. “At first I wasn’t going too bad, so it was fine,” he says. “But the more time passed, the worse I was, and that’s normal when you can’t go on long rides or do intensities. Riding indoors again and again, even on Zwift and in a group, it’s good for some time but it’s not the same. So I was really looking forward to getting back on the road.”
For weeks, everyone had therefore underlined the ‘’saving’’ date, planned for May 11. Anticipating his colleagues’ state of mind, Tobias Ludvigsson compared it to Christmas few days prior. “Definitively”, confirms Olivier. “I was more excited than in November when we resume after the winter break. That was it; we had the authorization! It was a special feeling. On Sunday evening, I felt pretty excited to return to the open air. I had even already prepared the bike, it was impeccable, the tires were inflated, and I was ready to go”. So that’s what he did, despite good gusts of wind. But from this point of view, he was more fortunate than many of his teammates. “Christmas? So-so. Because I knew that Monday was the day we could go out, but we wouldn’t actually go out, jokes Romain, settled in East of France. For days, they were forecasting a really huge rain, and that’s what happened, so I had to postpone my return by one day. I thought it would be stupid to resume, get sick and stay at home for two weeks”. Same story with Bruno near the Pyrénées. “I think the weather was good only in Brittany,” smiles the former French U23 time trial champion, who also postponed his come back to the next day. Unluckily, the clouds had not disappeared by then. “Frankly, when I got up and saw that it was still raining, I told myself ‘it’s a pity, but you have to go’, and it still made me happy to go outside”, he says. “Luckily, it was only the recovery, and I did not have to do a 5 hours-ride, because I already came back soaked. Going to ride in the rain when you just start again is not the most pleasant thing. I don’t like it, but I preferred this to yet another indoor session, which I couldn’t stand anymore!” In Besançon, Romain got a sullen but decent weather on Tuesday. He was then also able to enjoy “the opening of the prison gates,” he laughs. “It feels weird to get back on the bike, put the helmet on, get back on the road, but it feels good. It’s a relief.”
“I spent a third of my ride standing up on the pedals” Romain Seigle
But it is also a proper operational mode to get used to again, if only in preparing the ride. “I was really happy to go out, but on the other hand, I was lost”, confesses Romain. “I took 15 minutes more than usual to get dressed, I left without my inner tube, nothing (laughs). Basically, I got dressed and I left. I didn’t think about anything, as if I was going to ride indoors actually”. Excitement, no doubt. But Bruno, who was less enthusiastic about getting soaked, was looking for his bearings as well. “The first time I went riding, I didn’t know how to dress, and I don’t think I was the only one,” he admits. “It was a little cold, it was lightly raining, and I didn’t want to be too hot or too cold … It was a reflex that I had lost”. “It took me a bit of time before I left,” says Olivier. “I went several times to the garage, to the house, to check that I had everything, that everything was in order. I kind of lost the habit. I don’t normally hang around that long; as soon as I’m ready, I leave”. For their first ride, all three went out for approximately an hour and half, and all three felt the same weird sensation when they stood up on the pedals again. “It really feels good,” sighs Romain. “I’m used to do it a lot and that’s what I can’t stand with riding indoors. So, I think I spent a third of my first ride standing up on the pedals (laughs)!” “It’s really fun to ride outside, and it gives a completely different feeling, especially when you get out of the saddle,” confirms Bruno. “Swinging the bike right to left is a feeling that we had forgotten a little.” Olivier, also admits that it took him a minute or two to “find the right balance and the usual sensations” while, “curious”, he was watching “everywhere”, noticing that “nature, as far as it’s concerned had not stopped for two months”.
More than standing up on the pedals, “the feeling of speed” surprised the Breton. “It was really nice,” he says. “I came in a downhill and sprinted to go as fast as possible. I tried to reach a burst of speed during this first ride because I missed it so much”. The concept of speed also seemed a bit less clear after two months indoors for Bruno: “So I had to be careful in curves, turns, descents, especially as it was wet. I had fewer bearings in terms of sliding”. Therefore, even if everyone makes it clear that the first rides were clearly not trainings, increased vigilance was necessary. “Falling in a roundabout or making a tiny fault happen quickly, especially when you no longer have the same feelings,” continues Bruno. “It would be a shame to crash on the first ride and to break something. And then we had to pay even more attention than usual to the car drivers who came out after two months”. Prudence also expressed itself by simply respecting the rules. “I’m not used to riding alone,” explains Olivier. “I often ride with Laurent Pichon, but as we’re already very happy to be able to go out again, we do things in the good way and we go our own way. Besides, if you have to leave 10 meters between one another, you may as well go alone. As professional cyclists, we have to be irreproachable. We did not spend two months in lockdown to return to that point in two or three weeks”. This is another reason why performance was absolutely not an objective in this first week. “It was more to take up our old habits again and, above all, a big breath of fresh air,” continues Romain. “I didn’t go out like ‘I’m going to empty myself’. It was completely driven by will, feelings and weather.” The former European junior mountain bike champion even took the opportunity to reconnect with his first discipline.
“We must not get too enthusiastic” Olivier Le Gac
“We need to take it easy,” adds Bruno. “There is as much time between today and the first race as when we resume in the winter. It is mid-May and the races are only on August 1st. We are not going to make big rides now while there is still time to gradually build up”. “It’s a bit like coming out of the winter break, yes, except that the weather is good and it is 20°C more,” says Romain with a smile. After his first rides, Olivier was also tempted to make a comparison between the two periods. “When I saw my average speeds for the week, I noticed that they were still much better than in November,” he explains. He seems to have benefited from his big block or racing at the start of the year but his shape obviously decreased since Paris-Nice. “As soon as you get to the hills, it’s a good reminder that you’re not ready; some of them seemed to be climbs of many kilometers,” he laughs. “But I felt over the week that it was getting better and better. In 10 days, I think the legs will already be pretty good”. Anyway, losing the physical condition is an issue that nobody escapes from. “When you get back on the bike and you don’t go very fast, it is annoying”, agrees Bruno. “We expected it, but it’s weird to see the heartbeat going super high when you feel like you’re not moving an inch”. Also going for the self-depreciation mode, Romain adds: “After my first ride of an hour and a half, I felt like I had done four. I felt like I had a terrible endurance ride … but actually not.” At the end of this first sequence, leaned towards “pleasure of getting back in the open air” and the simple fact of finding its bearings, a slightly more serious preparation is about to begin.
“There is a basic outline that everyone is going to follow, more or less”, says Romain. “We’re going to build up endurance little by little, add more hours and then, after a while, we’ll start putting on exercises here and there. We are going back to the basics of a winter recovery”. “It will be very gradual,” says Olivier. “Last week, I only did ten hours of cycling. Maybe I’ll do fifteen or so this week, with maybe a few sprints… It’s only from June that we will really work on the first intensities, with exercises at the threshold, on strength. For the moment, we have to get the body used to do cycling six days a week.” Above all, there is now a target in sight: early August. “We rode two months indoors and we didn’t know when we would resume, if we would even resume,” adds Bruno. “Training ok, but for what? Now we have a date. We resume on August 1st. We will have to be ready by that time and it gives a lot more motivation to train when you have a deadline”. “We can only be mentally fresh”, agrees Romain. “On the other hand, it could be hard for those who rode a lot – maybe too much – indoors, because it’s mentally tiring. But I’m not part of them, so I only have one desire: to get back to the big workloads sessions and get kilometers into my legs”. With a pitfall to avoid, which Olivier raises to conclude: “We must not get too enthusiastic. When you think about it, August is still far away, that leaves us time. The most important thing is to get the good feeling back without hurting yourself. And you might as well take advantage of having a long preparation to go ‘crescendo’. The motivation is there, for sure, but I prefer to take it easy, also because if the races take place as imagined, it will be both hard and intense. Now is not the time to burn the candle.”