Alpe d'Huez - Part 1 - A future world champion
Many people in the triathlon world know Cyrille Neveu as the race director of the Triathlon festival held each year at the famous Alpe d'Huez. In France Cyrille is also known as a champion long distance athlete who had a career spanning over 15 years, winning some of France's most famous races, including the World Championship in Nice in 2002. In ole doc's squad he was known as the boy that had a dream and the guts and determination to make it happen. Alpe d'Huez is the home of Cyrille. Every couple of years the Tour de France pits its athletes against the 21 switchbacks, but each year Cyrille runs the triathlon, and believe me, it's no race for the faint-hearted. Yes, everyone knows the hellish spectacle of the switchbacks, but this is only part of the race. The race director believes this should not be the only challenge. So when resurrecting the long course race, Cyrille decided it should be like the Tour de France and that means there must be 2 climbs before arriving at the famed killer 13km finale. Of course this is followed by a 20km run at 1860m altitude. By now you're getting the picture, Cyrille and softness should not be spoken in the same breath. How true this is will become evident later in our little story but this is no ordinary chapter. This is about a young kid with a dream and maybe not having the talent to fulfil it. This is also a love story, the first of many within the Trisutto squad, and last but not least, the mentality and toughness that had to be seen to be believed when Cyrille was not famous, but sometimes the butt of the more talented French athletes jokes.
So let's start out on this trilogy of stories about the boy I met, then the squad member, and the man he became. Through all 3 stages of development I've been proud to call Cyrille my friend. Cyrille started triathlon in his home town of Dinan, a small village in the region of Brittany. Took some swim lessons, and had a father and uncle who like many French spent their one day off from work each week doing what they loved best, getting out on a bike and riding for hours through the fields and back country roads of Brittany. The region is famous for many things but when it comes to cycling it's got to be 5 time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault along with his beloved mistral winds. They blow with frightening power, and the breed of bike rider in Brittany likes nothing better to pit themselves against the howling wind scrawls. Hinault once told me himself, it was what made him a great rider. In the space of the next 5 hours he also told me they made him a great mountain climber and also later in the conversation a great time trialist. Hinault, I was predicting, was going to tell me they made him a great swimmer too, as he had also in that insightful meeting told me that it made him a great runner.
'Look it up Mr Triathlon man, I would have been the world's best triathlete if there was such a thing in my younger day. Not only was I Brittanys best bike rider by far, but also the 3000m champion for running and the best 150m swimmer during the same time'. Bernard Hinault, even a 10 year retired Bernard Hinault, gave you the impression that confidence was not his weak point, or humility one of his strong ones. What I can say is I did look it up, as I thought he was full of shit. However, sure enough Bernard Hinault was indeed a champion swimmer and runner at the same time he was signed to his first pro bike team. He may well have been Frances and the world's best triathlete had there been such a thing back then. The point is, the Brittany bike tradition, the mistrals had the young Cyrille fascinated and it wasn't long before he joined the Rennes Triathlon Club. He could ride, he could swim, and surely someone at the tri club would teach him to run. It was at the Rennes Triathlon Club that I was introduced to Cyrille, by his then sponsor Louis Le Duff. It was a strange kind of meeting as Louis was a ruthless and very successful businessman but also had this endearing human side. He said to me, 'I would like you to try and help Cyrille. He is a good boy, our coaches here think he has not much talent, but the boy is very well brought up by his parents and he tries so hard. Can you overlook his slowness, and let him join you with my son for training?' As Cyrille didn't speak a word of English, I could not judge him at all, he had a big goofy grin and it sort of infected you from the start. We gave him a test and Louis was not kidding - he was not up to team sutto standard, but he insisted through an interpreter that he would always try his best and would be no trouble. Louis nodded, the boy is as good as his word, will never be a trouble to you, and so it proved.
Cyrille joined our group and while it was hard for him to join in with his lack of English, he trained like his life depended on it; he would sit on until he could do no more. He started to improve much faster athletically than his English skills, but as I had not tried to learn French, it didn't bother me. Discussing perceived effort was not on the agenda as Cyrille just went all out every session just to keep up with the rest of the group. Sometimes he would tire so much that I would give him a day off and say with hand signals 'bed', and he would instantly know my meaning and go hibernate for a day or two. His work ethic was fantastic, and so, despite his limited English, I went back to his sponsor and said, I would be happy if he joined my group in Australia for a season's training, as then I think he could develop further and have a chance at representing France at the junior level. Louis was a little perplexed at first - 'Brett' he would say, 'the boy has no money and is not that good, you have some form of magic out there in Australia that will turn him from this level to be a pro? I don't think so'.
So we had our first disagreement -'Louis, if he goes, and he can handle being out of France, he will come back a real athlete. I promise.' Louis was quick to point out that he spoke little English and he didn't think he would learn much more before he would leave. I promised I would board him with one of our team athletes and we would look after him. Within 10 seconds Louis thought on it, threw his tie over his shoulder (which was always a good sign he was about to make a decision) then rang Cyrille, they talked for about 10 more seconds, and Louis hung up, turned to me and said - 'Ok I will fund his trip. He wants to go, and you seem to want to help him. So of course shall I'. And with a wild flurry of the arms, the boy from Dinan was on his way to Australia to become a pro triathlete. His weapons - a bad swim, could ride a bit, no run to speak of and no English. It was going to be an interesting season by anyone's standards.