From childhood dreams inspired by The Tour, to a neo pro stint and now road cycling in Vietnam, Claude’s story is one of true cycling passion
In the early days you spent some time on Renault Gitane as a neo pro. Who was on the team back then?
Hinault, Fignon, Chalmel, Le Guillou… I arrived in June 1982 with other Neo Pros for testing with Philippe Bouvatier, Christophe Lavaine, Eric Boyer and others.
A young Claude at Tour de Seine et Marne, 1982. Notice who is in the background – Jacques Anquetil
How did you get your neo pro spot on that team?
At the beginning of 1982 I was in really good shape at the start of season. I raced a lot in open cat with my regional team. My cousin, Jean Paul Lebris, was a rider on Renault Gitane and he introduced me to Guimard.
Photograph: Claude (centre) at the selection for the Tour of Seine et Marne, a four day stage race, 1982
You mention Guimard – what can you tell us about the training he prescribed?
Guimard is a futurist coach: alimentation, training, bike technology…. he prepares cyclists in many ways for improving strength; at that time, no other coach worked like him.
We had interval training sessions 2 or 3 times a week and a long ride at a hard pace for 5 or 6 hours without eating before and only drinking water during. This was to empty our tanks and check the engine of each member. We also had to undergo tests in Nantes hospital to check our blood and Vo2max.
What races did you do at that time?
The criterium after the Tour de France 1982 and in July and August Callac, Lannion, Lisieux, Dijon and some others.
What made you stop?
I stopped after a few months at the end of 1982 because I didn’t agree to use any doping methods to perform.
Let’s rewind to where it all began. What was your first race bike?
It was a steel frame and very heavy. I bought all the components one by one. I had Mafac brakes, a 51×45 Stonglight cranksetand a Maillard 13-21 cassette. So, a 45/21 ‘climbing gear’ a bit different to today.
What were your first races on that bike? And what were your early victories?
The very first race, I was 16 years old. At 17 I won one race, then I won ten at 18 and was 4th at the French national road junior championships and 3rd in cyclocross. At 19 years old I raced from the start of the season and won 5 races and had many top 10s.
Photograph: First place at the Grand Prix de Renne 82
How did you prepare for that first race at 16?
I went cycling with a friend for three weeks to the Alsace region from Paris. We climbed almost all the climbs in the Vosges on heavy bikes with two laden bags. At the end I felt very strong and I asked my parents for their permission to race.
What inspired you to start riding?
Inspiration came from the Tour de France. Every year we saw it on TV and after watching the stages I would take my bike and make laps around the garden in a Gan-Mercier Raymond Poulidor jersey handmade by my mother.
I also twice saw the Tour live. Once in the Vallee de Chevreuse near Paris – Eddy Mercks won that year. The other was one of the later stages near Verailles and Barry Hoban won.
Later in France as an amateur racer you were called ‘The Killer’ on your team, Lê Beau Velo. How did you earn that name?
When I was on the Cyfac Team every year we joined the 12 Grand Trophée races. The other racers told the speaker on the podium that I smashed during all the races until they let me breakaway and that even in the break, I tried to make more moves all the time. The speaker said “Claude, you are a Killer!” After that, the name stuck.
Fast forward to Vietnam in 2012. Your form was nowhere near what it is today in 2020 or what it was back in France. Had you stopped riding?
My last year racing in France was in 2005 and yes, I almost completely stopped biking in 2006 when I moved to Hanoi.
What re-ignited your passion to train hard?
I have always enjoyed and had motivation for crazy challenges. I like competition to get motivation – I like to fight with others.
Before 2011 I only did solo, endurance rides because at that time I didn’t see other road riders. I thought the Vietnamese didn’t like road bikes. But then but one day a friend introduced me to a Vietnamese group who train twice a week, starting from Mai Dich bridge for a full gas 20 km ride.
I remember the first time I joined with my mountain bike – I couldn’t follow them. After 2 km, they smiled knowing I was dropped. That gave me the motivation to train more seriously. Step by step, I got fit again.
You have now won pretty much every local race in Vietnam, often with a tactic of smashing full gas from the start. Can you tell us a bit about the local race scene?
Races in Vietnam are very short and the average speed is not very high, so I race them as a TT solo race if possible. Solo, I can go a little bit faster than the bunch, but I need to make a break with nobody in my wheel, so the best way for me is to start very fast. To do this I do a very serious and intense warm up.
Photograph: T2 Open Cycling Team
You’ve done three Everestings now. Any plans for more?
That’s right, I did Tam Dao in 2016 and last year Den Giong and Ba Vi, the ‘3 mountains’ near Hanoi. I’d like to do some others in the future, but I don’t know which yet.
Photograph: Claude nearing the end of his first Everesting in Vietnam
You rode Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu in one hit. How did you manage that with no real breaks?
I did it with service car so I didn’t need to stop at all for eating or drinking, I could adjust the pace based on feel. The total length was around 450km with 5800m gain, but my GPS had a problem so Strava shows a bit less.
The epic Hanoi to Dien Bien Phu ride on Strava
You now guide for Velo Vietnam. What do you enjoy about the role?
The bicycle is my first passion in my life after my family. I like everything related to cycling; all the time I am very happy when I bike. I also enjoy sharing this passion with others and of course to ride in the nicest parts of Vietnam.
Photograph by Sam Wilson: The Velo Vietnam Northern Frontier ride crew including Claude
What is your favourite part of Vietnam to ride?
Ha Giang Province – for example the Velo Vietnam Northern Frontier ride.
And your favourite climbs for road cycling in Vietnam?
Ba Vi in Vietnam; the Galibier in France.
More photographs from Claude’s time in Vietnam
(Click for full screen gallery view)
Read more about Everesting in Vietnam here
See the original article on Claude joining Velo Vietnam here
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