Published on December 26, 2022
Picking a coach, training alone or with a team, setting goals, participating in races... Guy Tucker, a young cyclist, tells you about his journey and shares his personal advice to become a professional cyclist in France.
Upon finishing my A-level exams in 2019 I took the huge decision to turn down my unconditional place at Nottingham university and follow my dream of becoming a professional cyclist. I packed my car and left everything behind heading in the direction of Brittany. I didn’t doubt my 100% commitment, but I knew there were sacrifices that needed to be made, for example not seeing my friends or family for extended periods of time, I also knew you only have one chance in life, this was my opportunity.
Photo credit: Justine Morizet
Jumping back 3 years to when I had decided to get into triathlon. From my first year of triathlon, I finished around 9th out of 12 in my local triathlon league. 2 years later I finished around 10th out of 80 in the British triathlon national league with a highlight of representing team GB at jersey super league. With this in mind I knew I could apply the same mentality and discipline to cycling.I had decided on Brittany as its where my coach was for many years, I’m glad I went as amateur racing in Brittany is some of the hardest in France having such a strong strength in depth. There are also so many races each week making it hard to pick which ones you want to do. The only downside is the weather, no different to the UK…
I had been working with my coach James McLaughlin who had given me the idea of going abroad and without his help I don’t know where I’d be today. He had ridden for numerous DN1 teams in France and then rode for UCI continental teams in Austria and England. With his advice I arrived in France as a first year U23 with a lack of experience for road racing excited about new challenges, little did I know I was entering a new world of cycling when I set foot in Brittany.
Cycling in Brittany: a shared passion
After arriving in late June, the first few weeks were for training and getting use to the quiet and smooth roads, scenic views and many boulangeries. I had never seen so few cars on the roads, but it made training so much easier and safer. This first year in France I wasn’t part of a team, and it was very manic, going to races and trying to enter on the line. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t.
Photo credit: Mickaël Gilson - DirectVelo
I had decided on Brittany as its where my coach was for many years, I’m glad I went as amateur racing in Brittany is some of the hardest in France having such a strong strength in depth. There are also so many races each week making it hard to pick which ones you want to do. The only downside is the weather, no different to the UK…
I hadn’t raced a lot in the UK before coming to France and didn’t know what to expect. Racing is one thing but the event is quite another. The organization, crowds and infrastructure that’s in place is impressive. Coming from the UK it’s so great to have closed roads circuit races while people are cheering from the side of the road having BBQ’s, making the event part of the towns social calendar. This is rare to find in the UK as in a lot of circuit races the riders are only able to use one half of the road and on the other side the road is open to moving cars. Most village and town that hold a race embraces the event, the local business sponsors the races and the local people come to watch. I was delighted to experience this warm welcome; I was racing at cat 3 and I could only imagine to see this at the big elite national races, but no it’s for all levels and ages.
How to become a pro in France as a foreigner
Many riders from the UK move to Europe in pursuit of becoming pro. There are more opportunities abroad. For example, the pure number of French amateur teams compared to the UK, the volume of races and the money involved at the top DN level. Most riders at DN1 level have a better wage that that of the rider of British UCI continental. The top DN1 teams often have a better UCI calendar than that of UCI continental teams. Many riders also go to other countries such as Belgium, Spain and Italy but this can depend a lot on the riding style for example climbers may go to Italy or live in the south of France where sprinters and bigger riders may go to Belgium.
Photo credit: Mickaël Gilson - DirectVelo
Unfortunately for many riders this is now extremely difficult after Brexit. Lucky due to the fact I arrived in 2019 I was able to acquire French residency as I was here before the Brexit deadline. However, it’s not the same for many riders who must rely on the new rules of only be able to spend 90 days out of 180 every year. If it wasn’t for my residency, I would have to look at getting a visa which is a tricky process and my opportunities would have been limited.
Having never learnt French at school the language element has been difficult however I’m slowly picking it up and happy with my progression. The lack of French has made it difficult to study in France or get a job. I have picked a few small jobs in the winter but nothing permanent. Juggling full time training and committing to another role in a foreign language is challenging but in 2023 I will make this happen.
What training rhythm should I adopt?
During the first few winters I was based in the UK, but my parents have recently moved to Portugal offering a great place to train during the winter. It’s vital for me to have a coach who sets my training each week. It’s important to know when to train and when to rest getting the right rest is just as important as smashing the sessions as hard as possible. During the first few months after off season, I’m focusing on building volume with some gym and tempo. As I get closer to the season which starts around the beginning of February I can focus more on intensity. Whatever your goal is it’s important to have a coach so you can get the most from training weather that’s for riding 100 miles for the first time, and cycle sportive or the goal of turning pro. In the article “coaching and preparation for a successful cyclosportive” it touches on some of the benefits.
Last season I was riding for a DN2 team ES Torigni, based in Normandy. It was a tough year stepping up to Elite level from mainly doing cat2 circuit races however I have progressed a lot. One highlight was my 3rd place at Prix de Saint-Pierre-de-Semilly a Toute Cat (1,2,3). I remember my first year in France where I DNF in my first toute cat. Next year I’m moving to Lescar VS. I needed a change and moving to the Pyrenees is the right move even if that means going down to DN3. I’m really excited for a cool Calendar of more mountainous racing as well as some stage races in Spain. 2022 has prepared me well for 2023 where I can purely focus on elite nationals after finding my feet in 2022.