I’ve said that during our Haute Route experience most of us were unconcerned with Peter Pouly and the top ranks, being too absorbed by our own tiny bubbles of competition. This is true, but it is also true that I had more than a couple of conversations with other riders about Mr. Pouly. Some were about his insane time trial time up Bonette (1:05:28). Others concerned his wins nearly every day, or perhaps his perceived ‘gifting’ of stages to his teammates. But there were others, too, that centered around the fact that Peter Pouly is an ex-doper. I heard rumors in the peloton that he had doped during Haute Route, for example, and that he was still banned from competing professionally.
Lots of people with lots of ideas and information. It made for good banter in the neutralized zone and really, it’s a cyclosportive, not the Tour de France, so I don’t think anyone was taking it all too seriously. Then again, it WAS a serious event for everyone involved (you know the training that went into it from this blog) and I’m sure it’s a serious matter for Peter, who makes his living from cycling to this day, I think.
Therefore, it was with great pleasure that I received a positive response from him to my request for an interview. But before we get to that, for those of you who are thinking to yourselves ‘who the heck is Peter Pouly?’, here’s a brief bio, borrowed from French Wiki:
Peter Pouly started riding BMX when he was 7 years old, graduating to MTB when he was 15. By the age of 17 he was a signed professional, and spent 11 years in the pro ranks. He was suspended in Dec 2002 for testing positive to corticosteroids 6 months earlier. He returned to competition in 2004 and won 2 French MTB Championships (although his website says 5…). He retired in 2005 but started riding competitively again in sportive races in 2010. He has won the Haute Route 3 times and has come in 3rd at least two times in the Etape du Tour.
I started out the interview with a ‘warm-up’ question about how he discovered Haute Route, etc. (see below) but Peter didn’t appear to want to pussy-foot around and began with this:
Note: he responded in French in this interview. I have translated (with some help from John) his answers.
PP: Firstly, I would like to explain to you why I was suspended and how it happened.
In the final kilometers of an MTB race I got a bug in my eye (not a wasp). It burned but I was able to finish the last 2-3 km. It became very swollen it hurt me quite a lot. The firefighters injected me with CELESTENE.
The following weekend I was tested and the substance was still in my urine. The prescription that I gave them didn’t authorize me to race. I was initially covered by the Federation (FFC) and for nearly a year I continued to ride and do training camps with the French National Team in preparation for the Olympics (Athens, 2004). I spoke with the Federation openly about these tests and that I was riding although I had been notified that I was suspended.
Then I don’t really know what happened, but there was a leak to the press and the Federation (FFC) turned their back on me right away and sanctioned me for having ridden while I was suspended.
VC: So, you were sanctioned by the FFC after the press leak and you were not allowed to compete in the Olympics?
PP: Yes, I couldn’t participate in the Olympics or be eligible for selection.
VC: Have you tested positive on other occasions?
PP: No, never.
VC: Are you still banned today by any professional cycling federations?
PP: No. I have a 1st class FFC license and am subject to longitudinal follow-ups.
VC: Have you ever used performance enhancing drugs at, or leading up to, Haute Route?
PP: No, and I am a little disappointed that there is no testing.
VC: Yes, I thought the same thing. The organizers said that there ‘could be’ testing, but none have ever taken place, I guess? It would add more credibility to Haute Route, I think, if there were occasional tests.
PP: The problem is that if there is testing it is the organization that has to pay for it and it is very expensive.
Haute Route Pyrenees
VC: Can you talk about your reasons for pulling out of Haute Route Pyrenees? You said your reason had nothing to do with the presence of Greg Lemond.
PP: It’s a family issue. My mother is not well. This is one reason I made the trip from Thailand with my daughters (2 and 7) – so they could spend some time with their grandmother. The problem is that my daughters don’t speak French and they’re educated in a different culture. My mother was having a hard time. Therefore, I decided to spend the time with my family.
That 1st question I tried to ask (see above)
VC: You have entered (and won) every Haute Route that has been held to date, except for the Pyrenees version this year. How did you first hear about this cyclosportive and what keeps you coming back each year?
PP: I started riding again three and half years ago, after having not ridden for 5 years. I reached a high level right away and had lots of pleasure back on the bike. I know Rémi Duchemin (CEO of OC Sport, organizers of Haute Route) well and we have created events together. He spoke to me about Haute Route and I thought that it was great and would be a super challenge. I was really afraid of not making it and I trained very hard to succeed at the challenge, as well as for my pleasure. I was truly surprised to be at the level I was at and at the top of the ranking (the first year – 2011).
It was magic to have my 5 yr old daughter there. She had never seen me race. At the end of the race in Nice I experienced a feeling like I had never felt before at the end of an event. I was a little frustrated though because I had done the race keeping a little in reserve because I was always afraid I would explode. I already wanted to come back the following year. What motivated me was to really try and go as fast as possible on certain climbs because I’m not sure I’ll be able to do so for very much longer.
Therefore, after the first stage in 2012, when I saw that I wouldn’t really have a rival, I went in chase of ‘time’ (Courchevel, le Glandon, l’Alpe d’Huez, Risoul) and I’m very happy to have done those times.
In 2013 I didn’t want to return, but the organization launched Haute Route Pyrenees and I said to myself that this would be an excellent challenge and I had already had some requests from some of my Thai friends/teammates (Peter lives in Thailand) who wanted to participate.
VC: Have you thought about next year? Does Haute Route ‘Swiss Alps/Dolomites’ interest you?
PP: No, not yet. I would definitely come back to accompany my clients, but personally I need a new challenge. I’d like to take advantage of my form to achieve some performance. But I also have lots of work and projects in Thailand. My colleague left me free to train this year. Right now I’ll rest and take a step back from competition and see what might motivate me.
Training for Haute Route
VC: Some of my blog readers have done Haute Route and we know the training and sacrifice it takes just to finish such a hard event. Could you give us an idea of what it takes to win? What kind of training (and what duration) did you do this season?
PP: Haute Route is a race of extraordinary ENDURANCE that demands huge determination and a perfect physical condition.
The first thing you need to succeed at Haute Route is to start with a desire to confront those huge cols. Beyond this it is a race against oneself and against gravity. I really don’t think it’s a race against other riders because in the mountains a rider who is .5 kph faster than you is already too strong to follow.
Personally I think that the ideal preparation is interval training, around 70%-80% of MAP (Maximal Aerobic Power – the ‘power’ equivalent of VO2 Max, I think), with climbing, but not more.
All of us lack confidence in ourselves and it’s for that reason that, during training, we feel the need to push it. We need to reassure ourselves. We all think that to be better we must suffer in training. It is at that moment that we take the wrong road. We must learn to train without wanting to test or reassure ourselves and to store that energy for the race.
I have several examples concerning this. I train riders and 3 of them have done Haute Route. One month before the race I got an email from one of them saying ‘I want to train hard, I am ready to suffer’. I told him that he would suffer during Haute Route. Now he was ready and just be patient.
For me the last 3 weeks before HR were really hard because I was already feeling really, really great and I tried to restrain myself from pushing it and that was truly difficult.
One more example: I train every day with Alex, who lives at my place. He is young and won’t train and a slower speed than me. He always wants to do the same intensity as me. At the end of Haute Route he wasn’t as strong as when he was training.
I have learned a lot during my career. I always observed other competitors because at a high level we are more or less equal. I used to train often with Absalon (2-time Olympic Gold medal winner and 7-time World Champion, Julien Absalon). It was surprising. He didn’t push it during training and in races he had a determination and a desire that was extraordinary. The day I realized that I won a big race.
When I see Horner do what he is doing at La Vuelta that is more proof that freshness and the ability to endure pain in order to win is really important.
And that’s it! We exchanged a few kind words to finish and Peter and I went our separate (virtual) ways. I’m not sure this interview was the scoop of the century, but I for one feel I am a little more informed. I hope you feel the same way.