After being denied a racing licence by the French federation, Nicolas Vogondy (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) will need all the encouragement he can get. In which case, the two-time French national champion, who has been sidelined by a heart problem revealed during routine medical tests, need look no further than his countryman, Nicolas Portal.
Thirty-year-old Portal has signed to Team Sky after four years with Caisse d’Epargne and after missing an entire season. Indeed, for seven months he didn’t even ride his bike after being diagnosed in late 2008 with the same condition as Vogondy, known as cardiac arrhythmia.
The only cure is rest, and for Portal it has worked. He was given the all-clear last October, signed with Sky two weeks later, and is now, three months after resuming training, returning to racing. “I feel like a new professional,” says the rider who Simon Gerrans, a friend from his Ag2r days, says is likely to be one of his new team’s strong men in the Ardennes Classics.
His name might not be known to everybody, but within the peloton, and by his previous teams, Portal is recognised and respected as one of the best domestiques in the business.
Yet he was dropped by Caisse d’Epargne in October, just after being given the OK to return. “They told me to wait, but in October you can’t wait,” says Portal. “So I called Simon and he said Sky could be a possibility. He spoke to Scott Sunderland and two or three days later I spoke to Scott, and I joined.
“I think for me this is the best team to be on,” he continues. “And I know I am very lucky. When I returned, at the [GP Cycliste la] Marseillaise, and then Etoile des Besseges, it was very strange, and very exciting. For me it’s like being a new professional, even though it’s my ninth year as a professional.
"One year out of the peloton is a very long time, but I feel very excited. And I want to return to my previous level to say thank you to this team.”