Canada's Francois Parisien took the biggest win of his cycling career during the stage five bunch sprint at the WorldTour Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. He spoke with Cyclingnews about his turbulent year before joining ProTeam Argos-Shimano, that included a battle with injury and deep depression, along with the highlights of his upcoming schedule racing the Ardennes Classics and possibly his first Grand Tour.
"The big targets for me are Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège - Bastogne - Liège," Parisien said following his stage win. "They're important for me, dream races that I've always wanted to do. I also want to do my first Grand Tour. The Giro would be a strong possibility for me but I don't have confirmation yet. I'm 30 now and I've been through hard things in my career so I'm not going to waste this opportunity.
"As a professional rider, starting a Grand Tour and finishing one is a goal. It's something really special. I would want to go to the Giro and do the best job that I can."
Parisien is a well-known breakaway rider in North America. He's earned respectable results over the years, a Canadian road championship title in 2005 and he spent two season with Jonathan Vaughters's former development team TIAA-Cref. He had a five-year term with Steve Bauer's SpiderTech p/b C10 that ended last year.
He considers 2012 his worst season to date, having developed severe pain in his right knee that took more than six months for doctors to diagnose as nerve damage. He also suffered from a deep depression and sought out help from a sport psychologist.
His career took a turn for the better when he returned to racing in August and won the overall title at the Tour of Elk Grove, placed fourth at the Tre Valli Varesine and 10th at the WorldTour's Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec. A few weeks later, however, Bauer announced that SpiderTech p/b C10 would not be competing as a team in 2013 and would instead focus on becoming a ProTeam the following year. Parisien was left without a job.
"I miss the guys," Parisien said. "What I miss the most are the family members on SpiderTech. There were so many emotions last year. It was terrible because of my knee injury and I went into a depression. But everything healed and I fought hard, worked hard and I never gave up. I think that's one of my best qualities, I never give up."
The points Parisien earned by the end of last season made him an asset to teams looking to move up the ranks and become ProTeam. Argos-Shimano was the first to call and offer him a contract and within hours the paperwork was complete.
"I had WorldTour points because I finished 10th in Quebec," Parisien said. "SpiderTech was really cool about getting me released. My new team is awesome. They all treat me like I've been a part of the team for years, it's crazy. The integration was easy and they gave me a really warm welcome.
"After all the darkness from last year everything worked out perfectly. I was so low at the beginning of last year and on such a high at the start of this year. After my win in Catalunya, I can't even describe how I feel, it's unbelievable."
Parisien arrived to the Argos-Shimano's second training camp in Calpe, Spain in good form and they decided to make him the go-to sprinter for Volta Ciclista a Catalunya.
"I was a bit stressed," Parisien said of his new responsibility. "I was in a really deep, dark hole last year and wouldn't have handled it well. Now I can manage that stress during a race much better. I'm more calm and stable. In the lead-out during stage five, I was able to tell the guys to wait and stay calm. I surprised myself. I'm really liking the new Frank."
Argos-Shimano riders carried out their lead-out strategy to perfection and Parisien delivered the team the stage five win ahead of Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2R La Mondiale) and Stephane Poulhies (Cofidis, Solutions Credits). Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) led the overall classification with just two stages remaining against other key contenders Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Bradley Wiggins (Sky Procycling) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida), among others.
"I know that when I have really good form I can also sprint," Parisien said. "Tour of Catalunya is a really hilly race and a lot of the sprinters quit after the big mountain days.
"We knew exactly what we were doing and it was a very tactical finish. Each guy on the team had a specific part of the lead-out. Normally, it never happens and things change when you're in the race, but this time everything was perfect and on schedule. We knew we had to make the last corner in the top three, I got there first and that was it."
When asked if winning stage five of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya was the most memorable of his career, Parisien said, "Definitely. It's a WorldTour race, the highest level of cycling and the field is really strong. It's also a race where riders really start to test themselves. Everyone is riding at a really high level, it's not a cheap peloton."