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Arnaud Jouffroy ITW: "I have never been given a chance"


Directvélo: Telenet-Fidea announced that they won't extend your contract for 2014 but you keep hope. Why?
AJ: The team leaders told me that they didn't wish to keep me but I talked with the boss and we agreed on his giving me a last chance to show what I'm worth. 2013 wasn't an easy year for me but I know I can do a lot better. The team leaders will review the situation with me again late December. If they judge my performances were okay they will propose a new contract. Otherwise I'd have to find a new team

DV: Wether in cyclocross or on the road, at which level would you like to race?
AJ: I am now a rider for a Belgian continental team. I'd like to target a team from the same category. So among the pros. Now I'd rather try not to think about it in order not to put more pressure on myself. I know my situation is delicate. Certainly if you think there won't be room for everybody in the teams. It's even harder than in previous years.

DV: Are you ready to race for an amateur club in France?
AJ: It's a real dilemma. I'd rather not leave the pro ranks because I've got the talent to stay. Besides if I move down it's not guaranteed that I'd someday find a new contract but what should I do? I think placing highly in a cyclocross World Cup event is more valuable than winning a Coupe de France DN1. The problem is that French media would talk more about the Coupe de France than the World Cup event in Belgium.


DV: Wouldn't your team rather you shine on Belgian races?
AJ: Yes, of course, they would. Every top cross event is televised there. In Belgium the aim is just to appear on tv for sponsors. That's why I've been recruited in the team. They don't give a damn if I perform on the Challenge national but personally I need to reassure myself and to show up in France. I explained that to the managers and they understood it. As long as I also perform in Belgium, it's all right for them. If I'm able to do well on the French races I'd start the Belgian races with more confidence and more chance to gain results.


DV: Then you were recently able to reassure yourself on several cyclocrosses, notably on September 17 in Yanqing, China?
AJ: I didn't even know there was a cross there. The team told me about it. I thought we were going to race against Chinese but as a matter of fact, not at all (laugh). They were only with the two or three of them.
There was a really high standard and a nice route. Despite having lots of problems during the race I was able to gain 2nd place [behind teammate Thijs Al - note from DV]. I recently won in Orange and Château-Arnoux [on September 30 and October 6 - note from DV]. These were not high standard races but it's always good to win. Anyway the French standard is still lower than the Belgian one, with respect. That is also why I think I have my chances on the Challenge national. I'm feeling really well at this moment and I'd be really p*ssed if I am rocket fired.

DV: Are you feeling forgotten by the media and the public today?
AJ: I've been sunk into oblivion in one day. Some people are sometimes even surprised to see me in a race and hence to learn that I was still a cyclist. It hurts. Even French team managers zapped me. Nobody's interested in me anymore. I can't even tell when a French media contacted me for the last time. It was at least a year ago, maybe even two years. I must admit I was quite surprised when you contacted me. I wouldn't have imagined such kind of misfortune after my two World titles, which goes to show that in cycling everything goes fast.

DV: After 4 years in a French team and on the Belgian cyclocross circuit, how can you compare it to the French sport standard?
AJ: The Belgian standard is crazy ! I had to sacrifice a lot there in order to compete with the best. It was morally hard to see that I wasn't able to get results despite the huge workload I imposed on myself in training. I really doubted. As U23 1 I won almost every Sunday and now nothing anymore !

DV: Why have you "tightened the motor", as we say?
AJ: I mostly think I had trouble to handle the number of races. In France I raced 20 cross a season. With Telenet-Fidea I had to race twice as many. Taking cartridges for 40 races is hard to digest. I manage to do well on about one cross a month. It's true I see guys performing on every race every 2 or 3 day. I don't know how they do it, it's impressive. Being as consistent as the Belgians is impossible. They have something more.

DV: Have you moved to Belgium in order to get closer to their level of performance?
AJ: Exactly but I was fooled. I quickly realized that the best Belgians were not even training in their country at all. They are all going to the sun: Southern France or Spain for training and get back to Belgium only to race. I was feeling really stupid then... Anyway I never managed to become acclimatized to life conditions there. I never felt at home. That is why I decided to get back to the South. I've now settled around Montpellier, since early September and I am already feeling a lot better than when I was living in Belgium.

DV: Besides wishing to emulate the Belgians, have you moved there because of a lack of contract offers in France?
AJ: It was a defaulted choice, I must admit. When I got to Vendée U in 2009 I got the promise I would race for a pro team, Bouygues Telecom but it turned out not to be the case. Late 2009 I unsuccessfully canvassed several teams. I went to Belgium because I was proposed something over there. The media presented things in a different way and people thought I strictly went there because I wanted to. Perhaps I should have been more patient and have raced for one more year in a French amateur team but what's done is done.

DV: In a nutshell you disappeared from radars because you were unable to adapt to the Belgian standard of cyclocross racing?
AJ: Exactly. It was said about me that I didn't get any more results, that I was not good, that I am not valuable anymore while I simply landed on races of a much higher standard than before. When I see some crossers turning pro ... good on them but I didn't get that chance.

DV: Do you regret it?
AJ: Yes I regret not having had the chance to race for a team like e.g. Fdj.fr. Perhaps I could have pierced through like many other young riders of that team. A guy like Thibault Pinot. I raced with him and I was as strong as him in the junior ranks. Seeing where he is now gives me some regrets. I've never been given a chance and it gives me the creeps ! I badly experienced my being held back and the criticism. Today I want to make a strength out of this frustration.

DV: You are talking about Thibault Pinot but what about Peter Sagan that you beat in the Junior Worlds in Treviso in 2008?
AJ: I've often been jokingly noted that I was the only Frenchman to have been able to outsprint Sagan (laugh). I am the first impressed by his performances. He's on another planet. On the other hand I'm saying to myself that had I had the chance to enter a big team, after the Junior ranks, as he was able to do with Liquigas, I would have been much more talked about today. I'm not saying I would have had the same palmares - it would have been a little pretentious - but I would certainly already have had another palmarès. That's for sure.

DV: If you were given the chance, would you like to race more on the road with the pros?
AJ: Why not? I enjoyed a lot racing on road, in previous years and I'd really like to seriously get back to it. I only raced four races last summer, including the elite French nats where I at least could keep up for 200km. It was my first road race of the year and I shouldn't be ashamed of it. I realized that day that without any specific training I was on par with riders of several riders from French continental teams. It's encouraging for me. I'd ideally like to race equally as much on the road as in crosses, combining both seasons and race the classics that might suit me, a bit like Steve Chainel.

DV: Have you learn anything positive from these last two season without any great results?
AJ: Certainly. I'm training more intelligently than before. In the youth categories I didn't always do the job really seriously but I could rely on my big motor but today it's impossible to do because all of the guys against whom I race have that same motor. I'm imposing myself huge training sessions. I'm not saying I'm trying to be the one who is riding the most; it's what I tried to do last year and it lost me. I've never suffered so much in training than now. It's also why I'm stronger in my mind.

DV: What is left of your sort of "star period" as a junior and first years as U23 when you had your fans, your official website, video clips of your races and a nickname that almost looked like a brand name "Arnoyo"?
AJ: When I performed I enjoyed a lot making videos of my victories. I also had that ritual on the lines [I showed up his bike, note from DV]. I didn't really want to make a buzz but I really got into it. I was more and more demanded by the media. Given my current situation I can no longer have fun and make new videos. This being said it's unbelievably enriching to pass from glory to total forgetting. I think it's easy to get to the top but it's in any case harder to get back to it after failure. My stories videos, young phenomenon of cyclocross are far behind me. From now on I want to quietly make my way.
Old news but I took the trouble translating Arnaud's interview with Directvélo, announcing his retirement :)(), even though there was a CN article on this: http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/former-cyclo-cross-world-champion-arnaud-jouffroy-ends-career

He had to reboost his career but eventually he decided to quit cycling. Arnaud Jouffroy, a former Junior and U23 World Champion, fully assumes « [his] choice to stop [his] career .» « Having stopped already makes me feel better. I already considered stopping, several times but my results from the last few weeks tipped the scales.»
While he was announced to sign with VC Rouen 76 and next close to signing with CR4C Roanne and Armée de Terre, Arnaud Jouffroy eventually decided to retire from the peloton. At age 23. Though he didn’t get any offer matching his hopes this winter, the former prodigy mostly admits he no longer « has the spark. »

DV : Why have you decided to leave cycling as announced by the Midi-libre ?
AJ : I wanted to try something else. In hindsight I realized that I really felt less good on the bike for the last few days. I no longer enjoy it as much as before. Then you’ve got the financial reasons. I think it was no longer worth it. I still love cycling but I’m not prepared to anything in order to become a cycling rider.

DV : Yet you told us not so long ago that you were still very motivated…
AJ : It’s true. I did not understand the reasoning of the several teams that I canvassed. I don’t like the mentality that there can be in the cycling world. Not that I am disgusted but it’s no longer what it was… When I contacted some teams I realized it would be very hard for me to have a place in the French peloton. It was already the case in some amateur teams, so let’s not talk about a possible place in a pro team. They must have hardly watched my performances. So I didn’t feel like giving one more year of my life to cycling, if it’s but to land in a small team in which you’ve got to survive, financially speaking. My having no guarantee for my future got me to thinking.

DV : VC Rouen informed us about your signature. What were your options, concretely ?
AJ : I was in contact with VC Rouen but I didn’t commit myself. I signed nothing. The CR4C Roanne also made me a nice offer. I was most of all thrilled to bits by a contract with Armée de Terre but it couldn’t work out. Their explaining to me that they couldn’t give me a chance was a bit of a blow for me because I had a good feeling with this team. I really had hopes on this project. Besides that, I was not really motivated by the other offers. The cycling world actually no longer makes me dream.

DV : We feel like you gave it up…
AJ : Not really but let’s say I’m fed up having a rough time of it everyday on the bike. Every day it takes me more and more effort to go out on the bike. I get the impression that the harder I train, the results are getting worse. I have to be realistic. Cycling is a wonderful sport and I still have a passion for it… but i think on a bike either you gave it 100% or else you quit. There is no compromise. You have to sacrifice a lot in order to become a professional cyclist. You’ve got to make difficult choices… I don’t feel like sacrificing everything without any guarantee that I can get results afterwards.

DV : How do you explain your never having been able to reach your best level ?
AJ : It’s been several years since I haven’t been able to find my best pedal stroke. I undoubtedly have psychologically dropped. I actually was really motivated when I started my cyclocross winter but despite an encouraging 5th place in the first leg of the Challenge national I kept having one counter-performances after another. Cycling no longer makes me dream and unconsciously it must have played a role on my performances. In the Junior ranks when my legs burned I had even more adrenalin and will to snatch the pedals even stronger. Now I no longer have that kind of sensation.

DV : Don’t you fear you would regret your choice within a few months ?
AJ : I actually already considered stopping, several times but my results from the last few weeks tipped the scales. I think I mentally have already given enough. Today I fully assume my choice to stop my career. Having stopped already makes me feel better. I went for good results in the youth category when professional life and money were not at stake yet. The moment I got into this professional system I dropped a bit. Passion is no longer the prime feature. What I love in cycling is causing pain to myself and go for win in races, that’s all. I never really had the cycling culture like the blokes who are sons of riders or whatever… In July I’m not watching the Tour of France , for example ! There are more important things in life. So no, I don’t see why I should have regrets…

DV : Did your troubles come up when you decided to move to Belgium late in 2009 ?
AJ : Going to Belgium was pretty risky. I don’t regret this choice because I had to give it a try but it’s true that after three months over there. My biggest regret is that nobody in France could give me any proposal at that period. It was the reason why I went to Belgium, a bit of a defaulted choice. Even last year when I raced my only race on French roads this season – the Nationals – I only retired after 200km on a very demanding route though. Many pros already dismounted before me but nobody even tried to inform about my possible motivation to race on the road or my abilities. When I saw that … yikes ! I already wasn’t really motivated to sell myself, to canvass teams.

DV : What do you intend to do now ?
AJ : I’m going to keep on cycling for pleasure for I want people to know that I love cycling. I long had a wonderful time on a bike and I’ll always keep good memories of these years on two wheels. For the rest I’d like to be a firefighter. I also consider staying in the cycling world but I still don’t know how… At present my only certitude is to no longer wanting to have a rough time of it, for my whole life on a bike while I’m sportingly and financially not satisfied.

Arnaud Jouffroy at the U23 cyclocross of Namur 2010 (my picture)