February 15, 2008 – The distance from Montreal, Quebec to the Bay Area, California is 4,812 kilometres. In Montreal it’s -12 degrees Celcius and snowing – in the Bay Area, California it’s + 20 degrees Celcius and sunny. In Montreal icicles are hanging from the eaves – in the Bay Area orange trees are growing in people’s front yards. Montreal’s dress code for cycling includes thermal clothing, multiple layers, touque, long-fingered gloves, booties, etc., but the Bay Area features shorts and short-sleeved jerseys.
Given the above conditions is it any wonder that two of Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast’s young Quebecers, Keven Lacombe and David Veilleux, decided to trade winter for spring by travelling south to train in the cycling paradise of Northern California?
When I arrived at Lacombe’s host home in San Carlos, Veilleux was there, having ridden from his host home in Los Altos, farther south on what is locally known as “The Peninsula.” The 20-year-old didn’t seem to mind waiting for his teammate – he was sitting on the front porch soaking up the sun’s rays. Ten minutes later Lacombe rode up. He’d been motorpacing on some of the best Peninsula training roads with his host and skillful Vespa rider, Chris Hill.
Keven headed straight to the kitchen to make us all espressos to fuel us up for the rest of the day. Then we relocated to the Hills’ back porch to chat about weather, bike racing and hockey.
This is a little better than what you left at home – what’s the weather like back in Montreal?
Keven Lacombe: Yeah, it’s a little colder in Montreal – it’s much better here for training so that’s why we came south.
It’s minus 12 in Montreal today, did you call your friends to tell them what it’s like here in the Bay Area?
KL: Yeah (laughs,) they have a lot of snow too this year – it’s crazy there. The weather has been really nice here, even if it’s raining it’s better here than home.
You’re here preparing for the Amgen Tour of California. How is the preparation going?
KL: It’s going really good, we’ve biked a lot of stages to get a feel for the course. We’ve been here for two months so we want to just be as ready as possible for the race – I think it’s going to be good.
So David, you’re not racing at the Tour of California – why are you here in the Bay Area?
David Veilleux: I’m here to do my volume for the base training for the season. I’ve been putting in a lot of hours on the bike. With the terrain here and the weather I can do everything that needed so that’s why I came here.
Keven, how do you assess your first season with Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast?
KL: I think at the end of the year we had a good finish to the season. We had some pretty good races and I think this year it’s going to be even better. All the riders are ready and whole team wants to do great things at each race – I think everybody’s going to be ready to do well this season.
What was your biggest accomplishment last year?
KL: I think for the team it was the USPro Crit, when we (Martin Gilbert) won the race. It was the first big race win for the team and I think last year it was the start of everything.
So Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast is becoming “Canada south,” with you, Martin Gilbert, Mark Hinnen and now David on board. Is there any special reason this is happening?
KL: In Canada there aren’t so many pro teams so that’s why we’ve come here to be able to attend more big races and to be part of a solid team structure.
David, did the fact that Keven, Martin and Mark were here help you decide on this team?
DV: Jonas (Carney – KBS Team Director) called me last year to join the team but it didn’t really work out. Then he called me last summer and said he wanted me on the team again. Yeah, sure, I like the structure, the team and everything. And for sure it’s good to have other Quebec riders and other Canadians on the team
Last year Jonas told me that if he picked up one more guy from Quebec he’d pull out the French tapes so he could talk to you guys in French. Well, he signed David so have you seen him listening to the tapes?
DV: (Big laugh from both) Yeah, he’s started a little bit!!
KL: Yeah, he’s trying a little bit but it’s just funny! I think the ambience of the team is really nice. Even if we’re not English and we’re not American, I think the ambience is great with the team. Everybody wants to work towards the same goals – last year that’s why we had pretty good results, and this year it’s going to be the same thing.
And Jonas will be directing you from the team car in French, maybe?
KL: Yeah, maybe!
David, you’re only 20 and have been competing mostly at Espoirs races – what adjustments do you see for this year racing at this level?
DV: With my coach I’ll try to do more races. Last year I was on the Canadian National Team and this year we’re starting to set the schedule a little bit and it looks good. I will be able to do the Nations Cup in Quebec (Coupe des Nations Ville Saguenay) at the beginning of June, and the Tour of Pennsylvania (U25 stage race) and Nature Valley (Grand Prix). I would also like to do the Tour of Georgia and the team really looks forward to getting invited to this race.
What let you know that you were ready for the step up from Espoirs?
DV: My racing in Europe and at the Road Worlds got better and I’ve been racing a lot. I know I haven’t done all of the big races in the U.S. but I think the experience with the National Team and other events has helped me be ready, and for sure I still have a lot to learn. Jonas is good and the guys on the team know a lot as well to help me along. Riders like (teammate Andy) Bajadali are great stage race riders so it’s good for me and the team.
What are your goals for this season with Kelly Benefit Strategies?
DV: I want to do well at the Nations Cup in Saguenay and also I want to win the Road Race and the Time Trial championships at the Canadian Nationals, and go to the Road Worlds and do well there.
You’re the Canadian National Under 23 Time Trial champion but if you’re racing in pro races when will you get to wear that beautiful jersey?
DV: (Laughs) Maybe never – ha ha!! There’s no Espoir races – Pennsylvania is Under 25 so it’s not the same thing. Yes, I would like to wear it sometime but it’s only in the Time Trial – maybe at the Nations Cup.
Keven, last year you were the number one leadout man for Martin, but at the Tour of California he isn’t racing. What is your role for this race?
KL: Pretty much all of the riders will try to work for Andy Bajadali. After that, if Alex Candelario and I can get in good position at the end for a sprint, like on the first or second stage, we’ll try to work together for a podium. But the main goal is to try to keep Bajadali as fresh as possible until the end of the race and to give him a better chance on the GC.
Chris took you for a ride up Mount Hamilton, which you’ll go up on Stage 3. That’s the most brutal climb in the Bay Area, an 11-km ascent with grades up to 13 percent and there’s plenty of climbing before you even get to Hamilton. What are your impressions?
KL: It’s going to be a really hard stage and a hard race overall! For guys like Bajadali it’s really a good stage because he’s a good climber. That’s why the main goal of the team is to try to keep him as safe as possible until the beginning of the climb – I hope it’s going to be good.
Martin told me last year that when he’s in the U.S. he misses poutine and is sick of the Waffle House – do you guys agree?
DV: (Laughs) No, I think I can race without poutine! We always have our meals at the hotel for breakfast before the race and we try to cook our own stuff.
KL: Here there’s In-N-Out Burger (a legendary Calfornia fast food chain which serves nothing but burgers, fries, milk shakes and soda) and it’s really good so sometimes we go there!
Chris mentioned you’ve been cooking for him and his wife and tells me you’re great in the kitchen.
KL: Yes I cooked some good dinners with pasta and steak on the barbecue. I think all cyclists love to eat because it’s part of our job so we try to make good food as often as possible!
And you fixed some nice espressos for us earlier as well.
KL: Yeah, that’s another thing, cyclists love good coffee, so yes we love espresso.
Keven, when we talked last year you told me that you played junior hockey at quite a high level before you settled on bike racing. Do you still play hockey?
KL: No, not really. I made the choice and wanted to concentrate on cycling so that’s why I haven’t played for a while.
David, you played hockey as a kid too – there’s even a picture of you as a kid in full uniform on your website (http://www.pepsi-alexcoulombe.com/david_veilleux/profil.php.) If a street hockey game broke out here, whose team would win?
DV: Probably him (laughs,) for sure!! I’m a normal Canadian kid who played hockey for a while when I was young, at the pee wee level.
KL: Yeah, it’s traditional for us, when you’re young we all play hockey. After maybe five or six years of playing hockey and other sports you choose something. David tried cycling, but I did both for a bit longer and then chose cycling.
I work a lot of Sharks hockey games down in San Jose. The other night Jonathan Cheechoo had a hat trick and Joe Thornton had three assists. Could you use a hockey analogy to explain what you guys do in a bike race? People see Martin Gilbert cross the line and maybe don’t pay attention or realize the work that lead up to that.
KL: I think a hockey game and bicycle racing are pretty much the same thing. It’s a team effort. In the statistics you see Thornton had some assists but you don’t see the defensive players who make really nice passes before that. In cycling it’s really the same thing. We focus on the last kilometer but before that there are many, many more efforts by all team riders. Just like in hockey if somebody doesn’t do his job, the team doesn’t score a goal, so it’s really team effort.
DV: Yeah, yeah, well I don’t think it’s something that most of the teams in the U.S. think of. But I think that in Quebec, Martin, Keven and I think the same way about the hockey connection. I mean, we need teamwork to get the victory and I think last year the team had good results because of their teamwork. And Jonas wants us to work this way, too. We don’t have the best riders in the country but I think that working together will make us a very strong team.
Keeping the hockey roots alive Keven and David, along with teammate Dan Bowman, took in that evening’s NHL game between the Calgary Flames and the San Jose Sharks. They caught an exciting one, with the Flames winning 4-3 on a goal by Jarome Iginla late in overtime. But now it’s back to their current careers as Quebec pro bike racers for Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast.