Our French visitor Danny was told of the record of 11 switchbacks in the big ring, and without even a moment's thought went down the mountain and laid waste to that record on his first try. He hit 16, no problem at his first ride up it; sort of apologised to me and said he needed to acclimatise for the altitude but he was riding the whole way up next time. You could imagine everybody thought he was nuts …, ride the Alpe d'Huez in the big ring!
As we had nothing to do much there outside of training, the stories and talk would always turn to triathlon myths, tall stories and the like, but when it turned to Danny going to ride up in the big ring only, well after some laughs and jokes, the one time Cyrille was there, he piped up very defiantly 'If Danny says he will ride it, then he will ride it'. Thank you Cyrille.
Sure enough, the message had got through to Danny and the next day he turned up with the boys with only one chainring. It was a 53, and a 23 on the back. The guys looked, chuckled, and Danny said I'll ride it. When asked about what happens if he didn't as he had no small ring, he smiled and said 'boys, I'll ride it all the way to the top, there is no failing for me'. And so it was Danny who taught our guys a massive lesson as he rode up, and in his own words, afterwards said in typical Gaelic style, 'I could do it 2 times'.
Now the plot thickened, as next ride Cyrille, very proud of his French compatriot giving it to his training nemeses, also put it in the big ring and rode it all the way. This of course was followed by all our group - 'if Cyrille can do it so can we.' However only Ben Bright and Hamish Carter made it, and Cyrille was so proud that he now was on equal footing.
However the story gets crazier, the day before Danny left he decided he was going to do it twice to leave a little legacy of 'Danny has been here, remember me by this' type of thing. Danny completed it twice, and we were in awe. He indeed had set the bar very high and the little game had become one's worst nightmare but Danny was sure it was now game, set and match to the French.
He was only partially correct as the record did stay in French hands just not those of Danny. About one month later and after everyone stopped playing this game of break the boredom, that had become a game of break the will, Cyrille asked me to follow in the car, as he wanted to try and do it 2 times just like Danny.
Here was something no one in the sutto squad had done, or in fact anybody wanted to try for. Here was Cyrille's chance at a little bit of fame within the squad that beat him up in the pool, on the bike, and on the track every day, and he wanted to take it. So off he went and 3 hours and some change later he had done it. He had ridden the Alpe d'Huez in the big gear, not one switchback, not 1 time the whole way, but 2 times. He was so pleased and so was I.
That season Cyrille literally grew into a pro athlete. He was rewarded for his diligence and effort with a spot in the French junior team. Our whole squad was so proud of him. On the back of sheer hard work he had made his dream come true, and while he was not one of the guns as a junior, I can still remember after his first representation for the tri colours, he asked with stars in his eyes 'coach can I become a world champion?'
It was a tough moment for a coach, as I said 'yes Cyrille, but never at short course. If you want to be great you have to use your skills and talents, and they lie in your ability to endure, to hurt and be courageous. Short course is not for you once you come out of juniors'. He thanked me and said he was pleased I was honest, and he would now drop the Olympic distance - not at the end of the season but tomorrow, as there was no time to lose, and train to one day 'be champion du monde for long course'!
The end of that season saw me stay in Alpe d'Huez during the winter, then stop triathlon coaching and return back to Australia, for the first of my breaks from the sport. Before I left, Cyrille Neveu asked one more time, 'Can you follow me? I'm going to break the record again up the hill'. By now in our group his standing of being a tough guy was never in question, whether crazy hard biking or doing 30 x 800m on the athletics track. Within our group Cyrille had finally had what he craved, Aretha Franklin's anthem - R E S P E C T!
He didn't seek the fanfare. All his early rides were always the same as the record holder. He said once to me, 'I don't disrespect my friends who can beat me in triathlon, I do not want to be like that' and thus his two times up the hill previously were done with him and myself only. With the coach then delivering the news to the squad. There was no Danny in him, he was doing it for him, not the glory. As Louis had said, he was a special boy, and he was. And so again with none of his mates knowing, he indeed rode Alpe d'Huez in the big ring 3 times. It was one of the greatest efforts in training I have seen, and it made me a believer that one day Cyrille would indeed win a world title - and I told him so. I did advise it would take a lot of time, but depending on whose time scale you used.
Anyone who has ever ridden the 21 switchbacks on Alpe d'Huez once, and with the small ring will know what a feat of strength, endurance, and equal amount of courage and craziness it would be to do it 3 times. Suffice to say, as far as I am aware, Cyrille still has the record.
Fast forward our little story, I remember receiving a phone call from Louis, Cyrille's long term sponsor, 'Sutto, he did it! He did it!'
I said 'did what?'.
'Cyrille won the World Championship in Nice. He did it in front of his own people. We can't believe it. Cyrille is World Champion! He attacked, attacked, and attacked again. Broke them going up the mountain, and he got such a lead that the faster guys could not run him down'
Well, Louis needed to get in line as he was not prouder than me, or his very close knit and supportive family. I remember Cyrille's dad coming to me after Cyrille had been to Australia. He too didn't speak a word of English, but had taken the time to have a little note written out for me. It said 'THANK YOU' - simple, straight to the point and heart felt.
Each year papa comes and greets me so warmly and does the same thing, points to the race registration, so proudly and pats me on the back. I think I go there just for that. That's the Neveu family. Great people and to make it complete I was at a race the following year and Cyrille was on the microphone talking French. The person I was with said Cyrille is talking about you. I said 'No'. He said yes, he is telling the crowd that he always thought that one day he would win the world long course, because you had told him if he kept training like he had in Australia and Alpe d'Huez he would one day win a World Championship. On days he was doubting, and he joked that there were many days, he would think of the words his old crazy Australian coach made him believe it was his destiny, and now he thanks you in public for only 9 years later it has happened and he is truly grateful.
9 years of giving his best every day, was not long in Cyrille's world but a small price to pay for attaining his dream.
Cyrille Neveu, Champion triathlete. Champion human being.
Oh the love story. I forgot. That is easy!
Cyrille it would seem was not a ghost at all, but was sneaking out to see a pretty, blonde woman named Laurence whose parents owned a little restaurant bar in the village. Cyrille never left Alpe d'Huez when we did - 'I have everything I ever wanted right here' he would say. He married the woman of his dreams, and they have a lovely family and live happily on the mountain that not only defined him as a man, but made him the athlete he became. Cyrille is now a legend in Alpe d'Huez, where, as you can see, all your dreams can come true!