By Jean-François Quénet in Loulé
If he had been born a pure Frenchman, Carlos Da Cruz would have been named something like "Charles Delacroix" but the Française des Jeux rider is the second son of Manuel and Maria Da Cruz, hailing from Boliqueime in Algarve, Portugal. Taking part in the Tour of Algarve means returning to his origins and the place where he used to spend one month holiday every year. At the time, he had to stay for two and half days on his father's knees sitting in a bus from Paris to the south of Portugal before highways were built all over Europe.
"I get automatically selected for the Tour of Algarve, like the Australians of the team were when we used to race the Tour Down Under," Da Cruz commented. But there is another reason: the staff of FDJ also knows that bringing Da Cruz to Portugal gives them access to the best local cuisine, the number one dish being the cataplana, a fabulous mix of meet and seafood...
"I like the mentality here, it's always sunny and it reminds me my childhood. One year I came for racing in August in the Under 17 category, I won two out of four races and I was quickly marked as ‘the Frenchman'. In France, I was ‘the Portuguese'. As children of immigrants, we are foreigners everywhere."
Da Cruz's parents escaped the military dictature of Portugal 40 years ago to work in car factories near Paris. Carlos was a Portuguese indeed and an illegal member of the French national team until he claimed his French passport aged 18. "Now I regret that I didn't know about the possibility of having two passports," he said. "I chose France for the national track team before turning pro but I could have represented Portugal in world championships and the Olympics on the road."
As he speaks both languages, the 32 year-old is often asked if he'd be keen to join a Portuguese team, as José Azevedo moved from Discovery Channel to Benfica this year. "Let's say the future of cycling isn't in Portugal," he answered with diplomatic words but he quickly pointed out the two riders (Daniel Petrov and Samuel Caldeira, both from Duja Tavira) who were declared unfit to race in stage three after a blood test.
Da Cruz stands as a leader for a clean-up in cycling. He had a long argument with riders' association CPA president Francesco Moser during last year's Tour de France. "I denied him the right to speak in the name of the riders because he has never been elected by us. He has been appointed by the UCI and he made comments for legalizing doping! It's a shame. Now we have representatives but I spoke with some of them and they told me that nothing happens at the CPA. The UCI wants to prevent us from riding Paris-Nice? Personally, I'm fully behind ASO. Who saved Paris-Nice when Laurent Fignon failed organising it? Not the UCI for sure! ASO did. I don't know where this sport is going..."
Da Cruz doesn't see much future for cycling in Portugal but he also has some doubts about the future of cycling in general.