Jean-Christophe Péraud has revealed how he almost quit cycling as a 20-year-old after returning a haematocrit in excess of 50 percent in a blood test carried out at the French national mountain bike championships in 1997.
Péraud revisited the incident in the newly published book Nouveau cycle, confidences de trois coureurs modernes ("New Cycle – secrets of three modern riders"), by French journalist Pierre Carrey. The book profiles Péraud, Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, the leading lights in the home nation's resurgent showing at the 2014 Tour de France.
The testing was carried out by the French federation for research purposes, and a high haematocrit did not trigger the same automatic two-week rest period as the UCI blood tests which had been introduced that same year. Nonetheless, Péraud recalled how he sat out the national championships in dismay after a federation official told him: “You cheated, you definitely cheated.”
"At 20 years of age, I almost stopped cycling," said Péraud, who missed out on selection for the world championships as a result of forgoing the race. He said that subsequent tests carried out in Toulouse demonstrated that he had a naturally high haematocrit.
"I was regularly between 48 and 50 percent at rest,” he said. "Since my body has adapted to training and competing on the road [Péraud switched disciplines in 2010 – ed.] I've come down to around 45 or 47 percent."
Despite his initial trauma, Péraud said that he looks back on the incident – and the accusation of the official, in particular – as a turning point in his development as a rider. “It was the trigger for my career. I said to myself: ‘You think that I'm cheating? Well look at what I'm doing without cheating!’ I went from eight hours of training a week to 12 hours and I lost three kilos. That season, I finished in the top 10 of the Roc d'Azur for the first time."
Péraud lauded the introduction of the UCI biological passport a decade later but admitted that the 1997 incident has marked him. “It's thanks to that [the biological passport] that cycling has become human again. But I'm always apprehensive about being wrongly accused one day," he said.
Carrey's book also provides much insight into Péraud's slow-burning conversion from mountain biker to road racer – Lapierre unsuccessfully lobbied for a place for him at La Française des Jeux as far back as 2005, for instance – as well as in-depth profiles of Pinot and Bardet.