Canadian David Veilleux was all smiles a few minutes after he crossed the line at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal only four seconds from the winner. On a tough course, the 23-year old Europcar rider survived all attacks and accelerations to stay with the main contenders.
“I am very, very satisfied. I had the best legs of my season.” Veilleux told podiuminsight a few minutes after finishing 22nd. He also finished 22nd two days earlier in Québec.
“It’s strange but the whole season I was telling myself that I didn’t have good legs, there was always something and I didn’t feel comfortable. It feels like the planets aligned today and Friday, I had the legs. I was very happy to finish in those groups.”
Going into Sunday’s race, Veilleux did not have a lot of expectations. “I knew that the course wasn’t suited for me, there’s a lot of climbing and especially with the level of riders here, it’s often hard to follow but I think that everyone was tired because I didn’t think that a group of 30, 40 would make it to the finish. It was perfect and I’m really satisfied of my performance.”
Not only did Veilleux make the split into the select 10-rider break in the final laps but even took a – albeit brief – solo flyer as he crossed the finish line with 25 km to go.
It was the first time since joining the French Pro Continental team in 2011 that Veilleux was able to measure his progression after racing in Europe for most of the season.
“This weekend, I really saw the difference, I saw how much I progressed. Every thing I did this season paid off this weekend and I’m very happy.” Veilleux added with a huge smile.
For the past three years, Veilleux had been racing the North American domestic circuit while on Kelly Benefit Strategies and was able to easily to measure his form by comparing against his own results year to year and by comparing against known competitors.
Veilleux called 2011 a “period of adaptation” which included getting ready for and racing longer races.
“I did a lot at the start of the season, 180, 200, 210-km and even 250-km races. I was not used to that at all. I included it in my physical preparation, I did longer training riders and now I think that a 200-km race, at 5 hours suits me. I really progressed for that.” Veilleux explained when he talked to the media two days prior to the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec.
Veilleux’ lessons started in Belgium at the beginning of the season.
“I knew about the racing in North America, and I knew about Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders but that’s where my knowledge ended. To race the Three Days of Flanders, the Three Days of La Panne, it really is another world. To learn how to race and how to make it to the pave sectors.”
He did not finish the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad held in February.
“I remember the first secteur that I did, it was pouring rain.” he said. “Thor Huschovd passed me, he was doing 10km more than I was and I was slowing down and I told myself well this is not for me. But finally, you get used to it, I had to do a lot of learning, it probably takes three or four years to get used to racing the Classics. The Belgians have been racing them since they were juniors, of course they have an advantage.”
He followed up a tough beginning of the season with a win at the 1.2 La Roue Tourangelle in March and then Veilleux had a tremendous Paris-Roubaix in early April.
“It was a great experience. When you look at the race usually you don’t want to be in the break because you go out there and you lose energy but that specific race and the Tour of Flanders you want to be in that break because you don’t have to fight.” Veilleux commented.
A group of eight riders that included Veilleux escaped just before the first pavé secteur, after almost 100 km of racing. The group stayed away, getting a gap of over two minutes on the field.
“When I got in the break, it was just before the cobbles so in my mind, it was oh we’re going to get caught in 10K or 15K, it’s not going to go far so we were really riding it hard. I think maybe I rode a bit too hard because I lost a lot of energy but on the other hand we made it pretty far, past Arenberg Forest. I really wanted to pass the Arenberg Forest before we got caught. Once that was done, it was good just to have to the chance to ride all those cobbles safely in front with no fighting, it was perfect.”
After a chase group that included eventual winner Johan van Summeren (Garmin-Cervelo) bridged up, Veilleux simply hung on as best he could. He ultimately finished 25th .
“When the group of van Summeren came back to us, I noticed this tall guy ‘jeez he’s so tall, it’s impressive’” he laughed, “and then I just stopped taking my pulls and just tried to hang on towards the end.”
His whole experience at the Hell of the North was beyond his expectations.
“To have the chance to do the race without having to fight, to not have any mechanical problems that was great.” he said. “I wanted to finish the race and I ended up finishing pretty well, it was just one of those days where everything goes perfectly above your expectations, it was a really good race. I could do it for the next five years and not finished because a crash in front of me, broken bike, there are so many outside factors you cannot control in that race so when you do have one that is going so well, you just have to take it and appreciate it I think.”
Veilleux came back to Canada in June where he finished third in the Canadian Time Trial National Championships.
As for 2012, “chances are good” that Veilleux will be racing for Jean-René Bernaudeau at Europcar again. “They’re happy about the year, I’ve talked with the manager and he’s happy too. I haven’t signed any contracts or anything but he showed me interest in signing me again so I should have that done in the coming months.”
It wasn’t just Veilleux that had to learn. His French teammates had to get used to his Québécois accent.
“When they understand it.” he laughed when asked if his teammates gave him a hard time about his accent.
“I do have to speak more Frenchie.” said the Cap-Rouge native with another laugh. “We talked about it the other day, just before I came here. I told them I’m working on my accent, I’m not speaking fully Quebec and they said oh yeah.”
“He speaks French but not always.” laughed his teammate Pierre Rolland. “They have an accent and use words that a bit different for us but you get used to it, it makes us laugh and that’s the important thing.”
According to Le Journal de Quebec, Veilleux’s good showing at the two WorldTour Canadian races led to his selection to represent Canada at the World Championships in Copenhagen. Selections should be announced later today.