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Cyclists and para-cyclists rub shoulders on Cofidis training camp




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 shouldn’t they impersonate him for a moment? Even though they are used to insurmountable challenges, these road cycling stars learnt a lesson. “We para-cyclists are the real ‘performers.’ It took me two years’ hard work to learn to ride with only one leg,” declares the bronze medalist (individual pursuit – 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 – C3). They receive the same treatment as the professionals, the same equipment and the same help for trips… 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 “valid” riders, who number nearly 30. “I really appreciated riding with these cyclists who I usually just see on television,” he says.  “We all fitted in together easily. We talked about anything and everything, and had some good laughs together.”

“After a very short time, we just see these para-cyclists like normal athletes,” confirms Yoann Bagot, professional with Cofidis since 2011. “The do the same job as us, have the same problems, the same obligations and the same way of organizing their season and everyday life.”

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 Taaramäe, Jérôme Coppel and Christophe Le Mével. Like them, they participated in the meetings with the team’s technical suppliers… an excellent chance to specify their needs and obtain quick replies to their questions.

“Valid” riders realize they are lucky

Severi explains: “Being 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.” 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 “valid” riders have a lot to learn from the contact with their colleagues. Thirionet observes: “It does them a lot of good. When these champions experience existential problems, when they feel broken because they haven’t 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 lucky….”

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 Valérie Alexandre: “The para-cyclists shouldn’t 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.”

Photo: Damien Severi, Johan Ballatore and new co-leader, Christophe Le Mével - Copyright: Cofidis/E. Vallé

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