Same team but new approach this year for François Parisien of the Spidertech powered by Planet Energy team. Instead of putting in race days in South America early on, he “took it easy” training in Palm Springs California. His first race will be the San Dimas Stage Race this weekend.
“Last year, at the Tour of Cuba by March I already had 25 race days. This year I haven’t raced yet. It’s kind of nice,” laughed Parisien, “I like it.”
What brought the change? The Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec and the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal held on September 10 and 12 respectively. The two ProTour races are on every pro Canadian cyclist’s radar. Added to the mix is the Tour of California in May, assuming that his team is invited.
“Usually at this time of the year I’ve got my prime form and ready to rock. This year I’m still building up leading to Tour of California, talking with Steve Bauer we made that decision with him and my coach so I would be able to be really in good form for the Pro Tour races. Hopefully I can be good enough to get selected for the World Championships and after that you have the Commonwealth Games which I did in 2006 in Melbourne so I’m hoping I can get selected for the Commonwealth and World Championships after my results in the Pro Tour races.”
According to the current UCI rules, Continental teams are not eligible to race at ProTour events which would leave Spidertech out. Only ProTour teams, Professional Continental team with wild card status and the host country’s national team are allowed to participate.
“We’re still hoping that the team can work out with the UCI, we don’t have a definitive no yet, we don’t have the answer to that. If the team doesn’t get picked up to go, as Spidertech powered by Planet Energy, I’m hoping that most of the guys are going to get selected through the National Team. I think that anyway, we have the strength in the team to make a pretty good National Team for these races, because all the other Canadians who are racing in Europe are going to be racing with their own team. Really what is left is Canada after that, it’s us.”
On a mission to bring a Canadian team at the Tour de France, Directeur Sportif Steve Bauer and Team Manager Josée Larocque have increased the international racing and the level of the races this year. Does that mean extra pressure to deliver?
“Yeah of course,” answered Parisien. “A simple example is having the ProTour races at home in front of the whole family, I wouldn’t even describe it as a team pressure. I would describe it as personal pressure to do good in front of everyone you know and the people that helped you, a lot of people helped in Montreal to start my career so I want to do well in front of them. It’s more of a personal pressure. The team, every race we have the same pressure, it’s more the pressure you put on yourself after that.”
At the 2009 Tour of Missouri, teammate Martin Gilbert was the only North American rider to win a stage. For Parisien, the victory proved that his team is able to be part of the “the big names in cycling”.
“Steve and Josée are putting so much time into this, we have great support with our sponsors. At that race, we proved that we were not joking around, this is the direction that we’re going and I think if it’s not next year already, we’ll be full time in Europe. Even this year the whole month of August and beginning of September prior to the Pro Tour races, we’re going to be racing in Europe to get ready for those races. Step by step, Steve and Josée don’t want to miss a step, they don’t want to go too fast and I think that’s the right way to do it. I think this team is looking a lot like TIAA-CREF when I first started in Europe with Jonathan Vaughters. I think it’s the same type of process that Spidertech is going through right now, we have very good sponsors and support that believe in us and that’s going to take us pretty far I think, we just need to do our part now.” laughed the 27 (almost 28) year old.
Second chance. In 2007, racing with Slipstream, Parisien was on his way to living his goal of racing full-time in Europe when he injured his knee and was let go by the team.
Introduced to cycling by a neighbor 18 years ago, Parisien found that the sport suited him better than soccer. Soon there was a group of four to five friends that rode together after class and with the masters in a club. Then he started racing and traveling all over Quebec with the support of his parents.
“It got bigger and bigger and I got stronger and stronger and when I turned junior, I was the only one left in that little group of friends. I just kept on going and I got picked up by the National Team by Jacques Landry who is the boss now. He was my coach for six years, we raced all over Europe. After the World Championships in Portugal, he asked me if I wanted to keep on going in this direction, he actually called people that he knew when he was racing in Europe. He got me into a team and that’s how it started.”
That team was VC Pontivy, an amateur team in France. “I lived in France for four years, that’s pretty much where I learned how to race my bike. I learned in Brittany where all the races are pretty aggressive and I think that’s why I turned out to be a pretty aggressive rider.”
Parisien had no trouble with the transition to the French way of life. “I adapt very easily to all kinds of different situations, it wasn’t hard at all, I just loved it right away.”
In 2005, he won the Canadian National Road Championships. A quick call from Dominique Perras to Jonathan Vaughters and three emails later, he was on the TIAA-CREF squad which became Slipstream in 2007. After his knee issues, he returned to North America in 2008, starting the year with the now defunct Canadian team Symmetrics which he left in June to join Team RACE Pro which became Planet Energy.
Back to the present, his knees are good and a second chance to return to racing to Europe is looming with a Canadian team this time.
“I’ve always said that my main goal in cycling was to go back to Europe. I don’t see myself racing in North America forever. After that knee injury, when I decided to keep on going and come back to North America, really in the back of mind I really wanted to go back to Europe, that’s the only reason I kept cycling. So I think going to Europe for me, I have the experience, I still have the feel of it, I think I have even more experience now, I’ve been learning how to be more of a leader now, I think it’s going to pay off. Something you have to take a little step back to be able to go forwards even more after.”
How do you learn to be a leader? “You have to be more patient, sometimes not as aggressive as I would like to.” he chuckled.
“The leader for Tour of Missouri was Martin, and that’s why I was so aggressive because I was back to normal, kind of.” said Parisien who was awarded the Most Aggressive jersey in stage 2.
“I would still assume the same role than last year, being a GC guy, maybe not for big mountain races but GC guy for the Tour de Beauce and Tour of California, I think we’re in still crossing my fingers. Earlier in the season, Tour of California is really a big goal for me. After that have to get ready for Philly and Tour de Beauce, all these races I will assume the same role as before.”
His schedule starts of with San Dimas Stage Race, Redlands Bicycle Classic, Tour of the Battenkill, and then probably TelMex, the Tour of Mexico which was postponed to April leading into California. Maybe Tour of the Gila will be added to the mix.
“We’re not sure yet depending on how my form is, I might do the Tour of the Gila at altitude. TelMex is at altitude and if I go straight there to New Mexico, stay in altitude, do Gila and come back at sea level for a while before Tour of California, that would be the best, that would be the good plan.”
He keeps on going after California to Philly, Tour de Beauce and the Canadian National Championships ad then onto Europe in August after maybe a small two week break.
“That’s why I took it a lot easier this year early because I might not take any break, I might just keep on going the whole time. I think I will be able to do that because it was really a gentle start,” he laughed, “it was not hard.”
Looking to the future, to the London Olympic Games in 2012. “Going back to Europe is going to be a very good opportunity for me to show everybody that I’m not done, I’m still there. Thinking long term, even after the Pro Tour races, the World Championships, the Commonwealth Games and after that going to Europe more often and then you think about it. The next Olympics are going to be a bunch sprint so I think that the team is trying to build a sprinter team and I think we’re going to try to get as much UCI points, get as many guys selected for these Olympics. There’s going to be very good opportunity for Canada because it’s not going to be a race for climbers, not going to be for skinny guys, it’s going to be a race designed for Cavendish, it’s going to be a pack sprint. I think we have a pretty good opportunity for that and that’s mainly what keeps me going right now. I can see some guys on this team get selected for that and having a chance for the Olympics.
The Olympic Games are more than a personal goal for him. “You have a lot of good sprinters in Canada, you have Dominique [Rollin], Martin [Gilbert], Keven [Lacombe] and after that you have to build a leadout group. I’m pretty happy to be part of it at Spidertech, I think that’s the direction that we’re going.”.
“It’s been a long time that Canada hasn’t had that opportunity, since Steve Bauer, he was telling that at the press conference in Toronto. Somebody has to step it up from where I was before, Steve was the last guy to get a medal at the Olympics and I think we have this opportunity in 2012. It’s really nice to be around Steve Bauer, listening, he makes everybody believe that it’s possible, that’s great.”
Parisien would like to stay with the team for the next couple of years if not longer. “I’ve built a pretty good relationship with the management on this team, I like them and I think they like me. They support me a lot, they’ve given me a lot of support, the first time that I’m on a team where I’ve received that much support. Even when I was on Slipstream or any other team in Europe as an amateur, I never had that much support from my sponsors, physical therapists, it’s been great. I would see myself, just guessing let’s say that this team gets bigger and it does go to Europe full time, it does get a Pro Tour license, I would easily see myself retiring on this team.”