It is possible to climb the Ospedale pass with one leg. With varying degrees of success, riders from the Cofidis team took up to this challenge last week as they familiarized themselves with the Corsica stages of the next Tour de France. They gave up after less than 100 metres, leaving that task to Laurent Thirionet, who lost his left leg after an accident some 20 years ago.
Given that he impersonates the pros and hangs in on their wheel for as long as possible, why shouldnât they impersonate him for a moment? Even though they are used to insurmountable challenges, these road cycling stars learnt a lesson. âWe para-cyclists are the real âperformers.â It took me two yearsâ hard work to learn to ride with only one leg,â declares the bronze medalist (individual pursuit â C2) at the London Paralympic Games.
Member of the Cofidis team since 1998, Thirionet became the leader of a strengthened para-cycling section in 2010. Today it comprises four athletes, including the Belgian Kris Bosmans, 2011 UCI World Champion (road â C3). They receive the same treatment as the professionals, the same equipment and the same help for tripsâ¦ which means that they share the same training camps.
Para-cyclists are normal athletes
In Sainte-Lucie De Porto Vecchio, 28-year-old Damien Severi, new to Cofidis, strengthened bonds with his partners in the para-cycling group as well as the âvalidâ riders, who number nearly 30. âI really appreciated riding with these cyclists who I usually just see on television,â he says.Â âWe all fitted in together easily. We talked about anything and everything, and had some good laughs together.â
âAfter a very short time, we just see these para-cyclists like normal athletes,â confirms Yoann Bagot, professional with Cofidis since 2011. âThe do the same job as us, have the same problems, the same obligations and the same way of organizing their season and everyday life.â
The two C5 (handicap of an upper limb) riders, Severi and Johan Ballatore followed the same training programme as the leaders of the group, Rein TaaramÃ¤e, JÃ©rÃ´me Coppel and Christophe Le MÃ©vel. Like them, they participated in the meetings with the teamâs technical suppliersâ¦ an excellent chance to specify their needs and obtain quick replies to their questions.
âValidâ riders realize they are lucky
Severi explains: âBeing part of the same team as the pros does a great deal to help us gain recognition from different partners and gives us easier access to specialists in the sport.â The 2012 French Champion in the time trial was able to modify his position on the bike thanks to a session with a foot specialist. Thanks to this training camp with Cofidis, he has found new and better sensations on the bike after some 14 years of cycling.
The para-cyclists are not the only ones to benefit from this exchange within the same team. The âvalidâ riders have a lot to learn from the contact with their colleagues. Thirionet observes: âIt does them a lot of good. When these champions experience existential problems, when they feel broken because they havenât reached their goal, they see in front of them athletes like us, whose bodies are not complete, but just happy to be there. Then they realize that they are luckyâ¦.â
This motivating exchange, unique among UCI second division teams (Pro Continental) could be seen elsewhere. At least, that is the hop of the person in charge of the Cofidis para-cycling section ValÃ©rie Alexandre: âThe para-cyclists shouldnât draw compassion but admiration. An admiration that is mutual in this case. Their motivation is an example for the whole group: they give their all to follow the others.â
Photo: Damien Severi, Johan Ballatore and new co-leader, Christophe Le MÃ©vel - Copyright: Cofidis/E. VallÃ©