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30th Salon Info Vélo Quebec City 2015 Salutes Founder Jean-Yves Labonté

by John Symon

March 17, 2015 (Quebec City, QC) – The 30th annual edition of Quebec City’s Salon Info Vélo consumer bike show, held March 6-8, culminated as an emotional farewell to the show’s founder and original owner, Jean-Yves Labonté, now 76. Among those singing his praises were FQSC director Louis Barbeau, bike manufacturers Gervais Rioux (of Argon18) and Giuseppe Marinoni (Cycles Marinoni), cyclists of varying ages that Labonté has coached over his long career in the sport, along with other notables of the cycling world in Quebec.

(l-r) Marc Blouin, Louis Barbeau (FQSC), Stéphane Roy (Apogée), Jean-Yves Labonté, David Veilleux, Gervais Rioux (Argon 18), Guiseppe Marinoni, Pierre Simard (Thule), Richard Bélisle (Vélo Québec)  ©  Antoine Bécotte

Taking the microphone were former cyclists who began their careers with Labonté as their coach: Marc Blouin (who competed at the 1976 Montreal Olympics), David Veilleux (Tour de France, 2013), and Gervais Rioux (1988 Seoul Olympics), each relating things about Labonté that made him special as a coach. Blouin, who began riding for Labonté in 1968, recounted how his former coach always looked after his youth riders, teaching them not only about sport, but also about life.

Rioux spoke of Labonté’s prowess as a mechanic, joking that a real mechanic only needs a screwdriver, pair of pliers, and a hammer to do anything. Rioux also noted how Labonté had a special spark in the 1970s and still retains that spark some 40 years later. Rioux’s company, Argon 18, recently signed on as a title sponsor, supplying bikes for the Bora-Argon 18 team at the 2015 TdF.  Labonté’s can feel proud that his philosophy of constantly trying to do better has inspired his protégés.

(l-r) Gervais Rioux, Marc Blouin, Jean-Yves Labonté in yellow and David Veilleux  ©  John Symon

Veilleux recounted how, as a mountain biker trying out for road racing, he was initially not that good. At the end of his cadet season he finished third in a three-rider breakaway and felt miserable until Labonté came over and invited him to start the next season with Labonté’s Elicycle team. “That (invitation) was my trophy,” said Veilleux, the only Quebec cyclist to ever complete the TdF. He went on to say that he owes his cycling career to Labonté.

Marinoni, a former racer-turned-manufacturer, is now also the star of the “Marinoni: The Fire in the Frame” movie. He recalled how cycling was not strong in Canada when he arrived here from Italy as a young man, but much has changed since then. Marinoni explained that cycling in Canada needs “someone like Jean-Yves in every town.”

Tearful Elisabeth Albert (l) with her former coach, Jean-Yves Labonté  ©  John Symon

Louis Barbeau remembered asking Labonté many years ago to organize a bike race near Thetford Mines. Some 24 hours later, Labonté called him back to say everything was arranged. “It’s not that simple,” responded Barbeau. “You have to first get the approval of the Highways Dept., then of the local municipality, and then arrange to get sufficient volunteers to manage the race . . . ” Labonté told an astonished Barbeau that all of this – and more – had already been done. “Nobody can organize a race quicker than Labonté!” exclaimed Barbeau. He also used adjectives such as “passionate and stubborn” to describe the man he calls not only his colleague, but also his friend.

One of the last cyclists he coached, Elisabeth Albert, the U23 Women’s Canadian Road Champ in 2013, did not take the microphone, but stood close to Labonté after the speeches. Véronique Fortin, 2011 Canadian Road Champ, who was absent, is another of Labonté’s former cyclists. “I’ve learned a lot about cycling and been successful thanks to the support of Jean-Yves and his sponsors,” Albert previously told Pedal.

Labonté was brought to tears by the praise he received, telling the assembled crowd that his health has not been good lately. His kidneys are not functioning properly, but he is refusing dialysis treatment. On March 5 he also suffered a small stroke and prayed that he would live to see his 30th Salon Info Vélo.

Painter France Malo attributes part of her artistic success to Jean-Yves Labonté  ©  John Symon

Labonté began his cycling career in 1953, initially as a bike mechanic, then alternated between racing, coaching (since about 1968), organizing races, and finally starting the Salon Info Vélo bike show. As the show wound down this year, Labonté let go of the handlebars after 62 years of involvement in a sport that has occupied his entire adult life.

As Pedal wandered around the bike show, speaking to various exhibitors, it became apparent that Labonté has touched the lives of more than just elite athletes. France Malo, a painter who specializes in cycling art, told us of how Labonté was among the first to recognize her talent and encourage her. Malo’s association with Labonté and his bike show since 2010 has helped her reputation. She points to partnerships with Apogee Sports and L’Échappée Belle have resulted from her exhibiting at Salon Info Vélo. She now looks forward to an exhibit including her artwork at the Artexpo New York 2015 show this coming April.

Jean-Yves Labonté (l) has sold his Salon Info Vélo to Christian Rodrigue  ©  John Symon

Laurent Borgoin of La Vie Sportive bike shop, related how he used to ride pro in France before moving to Canada. Labonté welcomed the former pro to Quebec City and helped him make contacts in the cycling community. Pierre Sainte-Marie, who has taken over Labonté’s Elicycle bike club, recounted what a good coach Labonté was for his daughter when she joined the club.

“I have some big shoes to fill,” commented the man who has just bought the Salon Info Vélo, Christian Rodrigue. “For 2016, I plan to follow the same formula that Labonté already established. But I will modernize some aspects of the show and next year it will be more entertaining.” Already, the 2016 edition has a website (see the link below), a novelty in the show’s 30-year history.

Rodrigue, who runs the Modicum marketing firm, described how Labonté came to him about a year ago, asking if Rodrigue knew anyone who might want to buy the Salon Info Vélo. “Yes, in fact, I do,” he responded. The new owner of the show describes himself as a mountain biker.

JY Labonté (l) with Pierre Ste-Marie (friend of JY Labonté who is taking over his team as well as his events)  ©  Antoine Bécotte

For the third year in a row, Quebec City, with a metropolitan population of only 765,000, has seen two competing consumer bike shows within a week of each other. The rival Salon du Vélo de Québec was held the previous weekend across town. Labonté’s Salon Info Vélo welcomed an estimated 13,000 despite mild temperatures after a long winter with record-breaking sustained cold weather.

Among those taking advantage of mild weather were some 50 teams taking part in the 2015 Grand Défi Chez Victor canoe race across the St. Lawrence River, still thick with broken ice flows. Attendees and exhibitors at the 2015 Salon Info Vélo show in the riverside Espace Dalhousie Cruise Terminal got a terrific view of the canoe race.

Some other notables from the cycling world also present at the bike show were Richard Belisle (Vélo Quebec), Pierre Blanchard (former CCA president), Bruno Langlois (Garneau-Québecor rider and now owner of a Quebec City Powerwatts studio), Francois Parisien (a retired pro who once won a WorldTour stage race), Tino Rossi Jr (son of the Mardis Cyclistes de Lachine founder), and Pierre Simard (Thule Canada).

Labonté was in good spirits during the show, but apparently suffered a heart attack shortly after the event and is now in hospital. Stay tuned to Pedal for more news…

For information on the 2016 Salon Info-Vélo in Quebec City click here.

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