FGC is pleased to announce our new series of interviews entitled: Breakfast of Champions. The goal is to get to know riders a little bit better and get their perspective not only on their race performances, but also on the fixed gear scene as a whole. We hope to give insight into riders’ backgrounds and get inspired by their personal stories and valuable point of view. Bon appétit!
Interview & text: Julia A. Wittman
Header Image: Tornanti.cc
The Dynamic Duo Olivier Leroy (28) and Eléonore Saraiva (26) split their time between their work lives and training in Dijon France. Olivier works as an electrician and Eléonore has a master’s degree in applied physical education and works as an assistant academic supervisor in a public high school. We caught up with these two lovebirds who both ride for the Aventón Factory Team to discuss their recent wins and their plans for this crit season 2017.
JW: Hey guys, so very important question to start out with, what did you guys eat for breakfast this morning?
OL: Pain au chocolat.
ES: And I had cereal.
JW: Do you have a favorite cereal that you prefer?
ES: I eat mostly Muesli.
JW: Ah! Very healthy!
ES: We try, well I do. Not Olivier…
JW: Ha. Well it isn’t the same metabolism unfortunately… Anyway, a little more seriously, Olivier I should start by congratulating you for your win this past weekend at the NL Crit Season opener ! And Eléonore, you also participated in the crit this weekend.
ES: I did… it didn’t go as planned.
JW: So about last weekend’s race, Olivier how do you feel about your performance? I mean, you won!
OL: Yes, I won, but physically we could say that I wasn’t great. Right now I am really in preparation mode for Red Hook in New York, so everything I am doing now is really focused on that. In the meantime, all of the crits that are coming up are really just preparation for the big event.
JW: And Eléonore, you will also be participating in RHC Brooklyn 10?
JW: So obviously the crit season has just begun, have the two of you training all winter?
ES: I actually had an injury, so right now I am starting back up progressively.
OL: I did a lot of CX this winter, but I took about a month off of the bike between December and January, but since mid-January I have only taken I would say 4 days off of training, so yes… I’ve been pretty focused on it. But even before taking that month off I was pretty well trained up.
JW: That’s right, I saw that you are CX rider as well. Was that your entry into competitive cycling?
OL: Actually no, originally I am a road bike rider… I’ve been riding road bikes for over 15 years.
JW: And Eléonore, you are also a road bike rider
ES: I do both road and track racing.
JW: So I do need to verify something very quickly. I heard that the NMC, the National Mustard Crit in your home City of Dijon was the first ever fixed gear criterium in France, is that true?
OL: Last year was the fourth right? So this year it will be the 5th year… So yes, it was the first of its kind in France, and it’s been going on for 5 years.
JW: And it’s Dijonnais Max Poisson who basically organized the whole event ?
ES: Yes, exactly.
OL: Last year the race was in July, and this year it will be held in September.
JW: That’s a pretty big deal! So as you both are from Dijon, is the NMC something that you both have participated in from the very start?
OL: Actually, no… I only participated in last year’s NMC4, and in fact I only “really” started riding fixed gear last year. I only did the RHC Milan in 2015, but it was really my first experience.
JW: For a first experience it still went pretty well!
OL: Yes, we could say that it went pretty well… In Milan I finished in 20th place.
JW: And the NMC4 last year?
OL: For the Mustard Crit I finished in 2nd place last year, and it was my first time participating in that event.
JW: That’s pretty crazy, and some phenomenal results seeing as how you have only been racing fixed for a little over a year.
OL: Yes, it went pretty well. But before that I only had my first experience at the Red Hook Milan in 2015. We could say that the season 2016 was when everything really started for me.
JW: So what was it that inspired you to give Fixed-gear racing a try? Was it Eléonore because she’s a track rider and you wanted to impress her?
OL: Hahaha… no, not at first. I do ride to impress her now though. But actually I have a friend who runs a bike store here in Dijon, and actually in September 2015 he essentially dared me to sign up for Red Hook Milan, and so I did.
JW: So it was a bet?
OL: Yeah, it all started from a bet with my friend pretty much.
ES: Yeah, he basically said “Why not start out with a Red Hook”?JW: EASY. Oh man, that is too funny.
OL: So yeah, It all kind of started from this bet… Then at the Red Hook Milan 2015 I met Maxime Poisson, and after that I had a lot of support from Maxime, as well from my friend who dared me in the first place whose name is Chris, which is why I started last year’s season as a member of Team Chris Bike. So really my fixed gear career started thanks to him… He was the one that supplied the material, Maxime helped financially, and so thanks to both of them I was able to go to New York for the RHC9 last year where I finished in 6th place, and then after all of that I found myself as a part of the Aventón Factory Team. So that’s how it all started.
JW: Wow. That’s a pretty amazing start!
OL: One could say that.
JW: And so Eléonore, you already have experience on the track and so you are used to riding fixed gear, but as we both know it is not at all the same kind of riding between the track and a crit.
ES: It is TOTALLY different! On the track we never brake, as we used the incline for that. I also started in 2015 at the NMC3, and again it is thanks to Maxime Poisson who would come to the velodrome for the track training here in Dijon and he would always tell me “you have to come, you have to try it” and so he finally convinced me one day before the NMC3 to give it a try. I had only learned how to break ok a fixed-gear bike about two weeks before the race. Before the NMC3 I had no idea how to break on my bike as I had never tried a fixed gear on the street before. I ended up taking second place behind Ashley Faye. It was the only race that I did in 2015, and then in 2016 Maxime was encouraging me to participate again in the crit. At that time I hadn’t touched a fixed gear aside from my track bike since the NMC3, but I figured, well I guess I will just take my track bike on the road then… and I won. Then, Olivier and I were both there at the NMC4 and we decided to go to Barcelona together for the RHC, so that was my first Red Hook and my third crit. I came in fourteenth place, and then I raced Milan where I came in 6th.
JW: Wow. That’s really quite an amazing momentum that you both have, starting so recently on the scene and already doing so well! And so now as both of you have had a bit of a taste of the fixed gear crit scene, are you super motivated to continue?
ES: Ha! For sure! Once you go fixed, you can’t really go back you know!
More than just teammates
JW: So, maybe a bit personal but you guys are kind of a “Power Couple” on the fixed crit scene. It must be really cool to share this passion together, and participate in these events as a couple. So how did you guys meet?
OL: Well actually it was I that had seen Eléonore around… we sort of knew of each other but nothing more… So I eventually made the first move and contacted her.
ES: And then obviously, the fixed gear brought us closer together.
OL: Yeah I think it helped a little bit.
JW: I’m sure of that! And so not only are you a couple, you are also teammates! Do you guys feel ready to represent the Aventón Factory Team this season?
OL: We will do our best!
JW: This upcoming Red Hook is pretty special too, as it is the 10th anniversary. It’s going to be a crazy race!
ES: Yeah, definitely. I think we are all expecting a pretty special race!
OL: We’ve seen the list of participants already and we know that it’s going to be a bit complicated… but yeah.
JW: Quite a few French people too!
ES: It’s true, there will be a bunch of us together.
On being a female rider
JW: Eléonore, special question for you, what would you say to the ladies who want to get started in this sport, and step onto the scene? We know that cycling in general is pretty male dominated, and especially because crit riding in particular can be a pretty brutal sport.
ES: You know, I’m going into my twentieth year of riding bikes and I have seen the world of many different genres- roadracing, cyclocross, track as well… And in these disciplines the women’s category is always included in the overall category, so we ride with the guys. However, with the fixed crits, we have our own category, and this makes it a level playing ground- whether it is the prizes or the level of recognition of our performance. I’m not going to say this does not exist in other disciplines, but I will say that the differences in this respect between men and women are much fewer than they are in other cycling disciplines.
Apart from that, I would say that the FGC scene is much more inclusive than other kinds of cycling. With these crits, obviously some girls have a high skill level, but that doesn’t mean that more amateur racers can’t participate and have a good time. The girl’s level is such that really anyone can enjoy a race, which is not really the case with road cycling for example… really anyone can participate for fun, and sure, it’s still a sport and it can be difficult, but it’s open to everyone. So to girls I would say that what is that the FGC scene is egalitarian for girls as well as guys, and that anyone can give it a try and have a great time, even if you aren’t the strongest rider in the pack you can still have fun!
Looking back on 2016, and forward to 2017
JW: So I wanted to know if there was something specific regarding this discipline that you learned last crit season that you are going to apply going forward this year. Any thoughts?
OL: To not be afraid at the finish line.
ES: Not an easy question as I just started… but I guess I would say that I need to tell myself that I can do it, that I am capable. When I got to Barcelona and Milan, I really had no idea of my skill level so, I stayed a bit behind the pack but when I saw that I qualified in first position at Milan, that was really the moment where I told myself I could really do it, really go for it.
JW: That’s right! You had the fastest qualifying time at Milan last year.
ES: You know, it’s almost like once you start out in this scene anything can happen.
JW: Last question, what are your objectives for this season? You have both had victories already this season, and RHC Brooklyn is right around the corner… What is it that you would really like to accomplish this year?
OL: For myself, I start every season with the goal of winning a race. At the moment I have won two crits in two weeks, so right now we could say that the pressure is on. My approach is, every time I am at the starting line of a race, no matter which one, it is to win. Surely for a Red Hook it is a lot more complicated. The objectives are to represent my jersey to the best of my ability, because it is thanks to the Aventón Factory team that we’re here. Again, the level of talent in the Red Hook crits is so high that it is difficult to have specific objectives, but I’m very positive about this season and why not win a Red Hook? Or make the podium at least once? Those are already some pretty ambitious objectives, but I think that anything is possible. There are other crits as well, and taking first here at home in Dijon at the NMC5 could be very important as well, you know? So we’ll see… but I’m in it to win it for sure.
And then if Eléonore places well, I will need to outdo her so…
ES: Haha… yeah, we’re going to have the start making the guys race before the girls now!
JW: Exactly… And Eléonore how about you?
ES: I would really like to have the privilege to step onto a Red Hook podium.That would really be a dream for me.
OL: You’re going to win New York, I already told you
ES: No, no….
JW: Don’t say that! You don’t want to Jinx it!
ES: No, but really I am still just discovering this sport in a way. This is my first real crit season and so for me, yes I would love to make the podium at RHC10, but I’m sure that my objectives will evolve as the season progresses.
JW: Allright, well thank you so much guys, I wish you the best of luck for your season and we’ll be looking out for you in New York!