An interview with Cyril Dessel, June 14, 2008
After a year of doubts and struggling, Cyril Dessel has come back on the front line with stage wins in three consecutive races: the Four Days of Dunkirk, the Tour of Catalunya and the Dauphiné Libéré. Cyclingnews' Jean-François Quénet spoke with the French hero of the 2006 Tour de France in the Alps.
The Tour de France can have both sides for a bike rider. Nobody knows that as well as Cyril Dessel. In 2006, he was just a solid French rider who lined up in the world's biggest race for the second time only at the age of 32 but he found glory in the Pyrénées as he came in second to Juan Miguel Mercado in Pau but wore the yellow jersey for one day. He kept going well in the mountains after that and finished sixth overall and best French rider. One year later, he hadn't yet recovered from toxoplasmosis, but he started the Tour and was forced to quit on stage 15.
"When I pulled out, I was in a bad state of shape," he recalled in the Dauphiné Libéré at the start of the race organized by the French daily paper from the Rhône-Alpes region. "I went back home and I was like a vegetable. I knew from the beginning that I would have been hopeless, I was hardly able to just go back to the service car and collect drink bottles, but my team had thought that my presence at the Tour would still have produced some media exposure."
Expectations were high after his ride in 2006, but in 2007, the disillusion of the French fans was just as high. Starting the Tour was a big mistake, he now realizes, and that is why he gave strong advice to Romain Feillu, who suffered the same disease at the beginning of 2008: "Take at least two months off without riding your bike at all."
"I've struggled for months and months and you don't go straight from level zero to a top level in just three months of work. I knew about it. I've been patient." -Dessel on his struggle to recover from toxoplasmosis.
"Had I rested properly, I could have done a good end of 2007 season and a good start of 2008," Dessel reckons. "It was my plan to go well at Paris-Nice and other races at this time of the year, but I was still in the process of rebuilding myself as a rider. Mentally it had been hard to come back after the disease and the bad results. I had a lot of doubts about myself."
The wheels have turned in his favor in early May at the Four Days of Dunkirk where he found the way to victory for the first time since the 2006 Tour de l'Ain. It was the hardest stage of the six-day race in the north of France with the climbs of the capes Blanc-Nez and Gris-Nez. "At the bottom of the final hill, I told myself: you cannot lose, you cannot lose!," he remembers.
Since then, Dessel feels like a champion again. He's back on track with positive thinking. Winning in Annemasse at the Dauphiné was something exceptional because the stage included the grueling Mont Salève where he felt at ease. "My win at the Four Days of Dunkirk has given me confidence again," he said. "I also found good legs again. I've struggled for months and months and you don't go straight from level zero to a top level in just three months of work. I knew about it. I've been patient. I was also lucky to benefit from a fantastic family support and the help of my best friend Julien Jurdie who is also one of my directeurs sportifs at Ag2r."
It's a new set up this year in the team directed by Vincent Lavenu since the departure of Christophe Moreau who attracted a lot of pressure and attention when Dessel rode his best Tour de France in 2006. "It's different without him because he was a captain with charisma," the rider from Saint-Etienne noticed. "Now we have a team with a few options for the Tour de France. Four of us are likely to ride for GC but it'll depend on how it goes: Vladimir Efimkin, Tadej Valjavec, John Gadret and myself are designated for sharing the leadership. But I know how cycling works: only with an aggressive tactic we can do something."
Being more than a decent climber when he's got good form, he'd like to repeat his action from 2006 in the Pyrénées. "With the good sensations I have these days, I can be ambitious at the Tour de France but I shouldn't dream too much. I know how big the competition is. At first, I hope to do something like in the Four Days of Dunkirk, the Tour of Catalunya and here at the Dauphiné. I'll try and win a stage at the Tour de France. Should it happen, a good position on GC would come naturally after that. But honestly, I don't think that I'm able to make the top three in Paris, so I'd probably better focus on a stage win."
Dessel knows his status though. When he got some freedom in 2006, he wasn't considered as a threat by most of the teams. "I presume I'm more know now and I'll be taken seriously after my wins in May and June, but I'll try because I don't want to have any regret at the end of the Tour," he concluded.