High Gear Interview with David Veilleux

High Gear Interview with David Veilleux

LiQ_Mag_Mar_2015_coverThis article first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Life in Québec Magazine.

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Article aussi disponible en français.

By Simon Jacobs

After winning the Italian semi-classic Tre Varesine and the opening stage of the Critérium de la Dauphine, Quebec cyclist David Veilleux took part in the Tour de France. He rode with team Eurocar, becoming the first Quebecer to ever ride in the race, and closed out an incredible 2013 season. In September of that year, he surprised many people by announcing his retirement from the professional circuit.

Life in Québec met Veilleux at lunchtime in a crowded cafeteria at Laval University. He was between classes, studying for a degree in mechanical engineering, a dream that he says he has cherished for almost as long as he dreamed of racing in the Tour de France. His blue eyes showed a steely determination and as he spoke, it became clear that he had carefully planned his tactics. Veilleux strategized his race from the beginning, with clear goals and objectives all driven by a ruthless competitive instinct. “I never raced to beat someone. I always raced to beat myself. If I had a good result I would be happy but I would always ask how I could do better, keep pushing myself to achieve higher levels,” he said, stretching out in a plastic cafeteria chair.

In 1999, at age 11, Veilleux started mountain biking. Six years later, he entered a study and sports (sport-études) program, studying in the morning and cycling in the afternoon. His coach, who had more experience in road racing, convinced him to try it. “I remember that during the winter, the coach would make us watch VHS tapes of races like the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France.” He took to racing like a fish to water and it was thanks to those videos of the famous road races that he found his goal: to compete in the Tour de France.

Throughout his training and his professional career, Veilleux also took courses part-time at CEGEP and university. Even when he was on the professional circuit, he took two or three courses during the fall semesters when there were fewer events and training wasn’t as intense, quite a difference from the European professionals he was racing with. Many of them do the smallest amount of school necessary and have no backup career plan once they become professional racers. One professional cyclist, learning of Veilleux’s decision to retire said he wouldn’t do the same thing, not so much because he didn’t want to, but because he had no idea what lay ahead after cycling. “I felt sorry for the guy, because he put all his eggs in one basket,” Veilleux says. “ It’s OK, but you always have to be thinking of a plan B in my opinion.”

Veilleux says he was drawn to the team tactics involved in bicycle racing, which may seem less obvious to the casual observer. In general, he explains, the lead cyclist will spend 30 per cent more energy due to wind resistance than the cyclists riding behind. The tactics involve knowing who is in the best shape that particular day and what their speciality might be; one team member may be good at sprinting, while another is excellent at mountain climbing. When the team is racing, it’s quite possible two or three team members will be used to help conserve the energy of the star cyclists and they may not even finish the race.

It’s difficult to talk about professional cycling without addressing the subject of performance- enhancing drugs (PEDs), a problem that became known to the world in 2012 when the Union cycliste internationale (UCI) stripped American cyclist Lance Armstrong of seven Tour de France titles for systematically lying about drug use. Around the turn of the 21st century, PEDs were part of the biking landscape, being ‘pushed’ by doctors and team management, creating a situation where a rider who didn’t take PEDs would be at a serious disadvantage. LiQ_Mag_Sub_Banner

“I’m not trying to make an excuse, but when a cyclist doesn’t have an alternative life plan, it becomes even harder to say no to these types of situations,” Veilleux says.

Since the Armstrong scandal, the UCI has made a massive effort to clean up the sport and nowadays there are more opportunities for young riders who want to stay clean. Drug use “is not even an option now,” said Veilleux. “This is evident from the speed of races nowadays and the people racing, using more tactics.”

Although Veilleux now lives with his wife in Neuville, some 30km west of Québec City, he does not ride to university. In some ways, after retiring, he says biking has now become more of a pleasure for him. “Before, (my wife and I) couldn’t ride together, as she was too slow and I needed to train. Once I did my four or five hours of training I really didn’t want to get back on the bike again with her. Now even if I go for an hour I don’t care if I go 40 km/hr or just 25km/hr, so I enjoy it… I still train, but there is no stress around it.” Retirement has given him a freedom that he says he never felt before. Over the last 10 years, his life revolved around training and racing, sometimes to the detriment of his social life. An admitted lover of good food, he says he had to deprive himself of many of life’s culinary pleasures in order to maintain an ideal body weight.

Since retiring, Veilleux hasn’t entered any local bike races— because he says he is too busy with coursework. His degree required a mandatory internship, so he worked on research and development with Devinci Bicycles in Saguenay. “It was fun, essentially bringing my two passions together. It is a good environment and a great team and I hope to continue on with them when I graduate in June,” he says. Veilleux has also become a motivational speaker. His presentations are entitled “Nothing is Impossible” and give tips on how to achieve goals based on the principles he learned from his experiences in the bicycling world.

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About Author

Simon Jacobs

Originally from the UK, Simon Jacobs has been living in Quebec City since 1989. He played viola with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra for 20 years before moving on to become the Executive Director of the Morrin Centre. Currently studying for an MBA at Laval University, he is also a certified Quebec City tour guide and a historian specialising in the Jewish history of Quebec City. He is the current president of the Québec Anglophone heritage network.

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