By Jean-François Quénet in Hahndorf
A new name on the professional cycling scene has been particularly noticed at the Tour Down Under: Champion, or Dimitri Champion. He's born to be a champion and he actually is a champion. He was crowned French amateur champion for road racing last year and U23 French champion for time trial in 2005. But his way to the pro ranks with Bouygues Telecom hasn't been an easy one.
He started cycling pretty late, age 18. That was five years ago and he didn't do it under the UCI affiliated French cycling federation but their competitors from FSGT. Quickly he joined the reserve team of Auber 93 but it was too early and he raced at the highest amateur level straight away. He even quit cycling at 20 after the death of his father. When he returned to cycling, he wasn't picked by the best clubs. Although he had won the national title for time trial, the French federation didn't select him for the World's in Madrid, presuming that Florian Morizot and Jérôme Coppel had a brighter future ahead.
He was physically ready to turn pro one year ago. But he wasn't on the supposed right track until he joined Vendée U, which is Bouygues Telecom's feeder team. There again, he was their best rider by far but he wasn't a first choice for turning pro before he won the national road title in Vendée on the team's home soil.
How does he feel to be a pro now? "Nothing special, I only made it one step forward," he answered in his chilly professional way. This neo pro is the exact opposite of an excited kid in his new world. Life has taught him to become mentally mature sooner than the average young person. His personality and strong character are probably the explanation for why he has never been a first choice recruit but he has the charisma of a true champion. It's a logical move for him to end up rooming with former world champion Laurent Brochard in Adelaide.
South of Paris, where he lives, he's known as a "Stakhanovist" of the bike. When he admits "I've trained all right," it means he has done more kilometres than anyone else prior to the start of the season. France often complains about their cyclists who don't perform because of a lack of training, Champion isn't one of those. "I came to the Tour Down Under with the intention of getting a result," he said. "It hasn't worked out well yet because I haven't been in the right breakaways, but I'll give a try for a stage win."
It's pretty easy to remember the name of this neo pro... and it's worth it.