April 14, 2016 (Longueuil, QC) – Rémi Pelletier-Roy burst into prominence on the cycling scene in 2011 with respectable fifth- and- sixth- place finishes in the Team Pursuit and Team Sprint, respectively on the track at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara. That same year, he began riding for the Garneau-Quebecor road cycling team and so began a whirlwind of amazing top-level peformances in both disciplines. Yet five years later, it appears the end of a successful athletic career is in sight for the 25-year-old medical student.
The highlight of this talented rider’s career was winning a bronze medal for Canada in the men’s Scratch Race at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. Pelletier-Roy also became the team leader of the Canadian men’s Team Pursuit squad, helping to rebuild the program at Cycling Canada, as he also took on duties as Canada’s Omnium entry as well aiming for Rio 2016.
While success came with both endeavours, the Olympic track hopeful missed making the grade earlier this month in the Omnium at the 2016 UCI Track Worlds in London, England finishing 16th. The talented rider is thus hanging up his track bike and at the end of the 2016 cycling season he will also retire his road bike.
Along with his Commonwealth Games bronze medal, Pelletier-Roy has a slew of victories to his name on the road and track including two Quebec provincial titles, 10 national track titles, the 2014 Criterium jersey, four Pan Am Championships podiums, bronze in Men’s Team Pursuit at the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games, along with many road victories while racing for Garneau-Quebecor where he’ll continue for one more season. We spoke with the accomplished Quebec rider about his cycling career.
After a storied career in track, is it disappointing not to compete at Rio 2016?
Rémi Pelletier-Roy: Track is effectively finished for me since the 2015-16 track season is over and I have not qualified a spot for the Omnium at the Olympics. Since Louis (Garneau) has supported me over all those years, I promised that if I did not qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games, I would still give my everything to his team (Garneau-Québecor) for one last road season, which I will do until August of this year.
For sure it is disappointing to have not qualified for Rio 2016, but the challenge and the uncertainty linked to it was also what made the journey so exciting. If something is that easy to achieve, I couldn’t conceive how thrilling it could be. I am sad not to make it to my last career goal, but the path has been awesome in many different ways and has taught me so many things about life.
How does it feel to represent Canada on the world stage? How big is track cycling in Quebec compared to the other disciplines?
RPR: To represent Canada at numerous events over the last eight years has been incredible. To compete at events such as Commonwealth Games in Scotland, where track cycling is so huge, has brought to me an unknown dimension of this very spectator-friendly sport.
I think the interest for track in Quebec (and the rest of Canada) is growing from year-to-year. Especially since the excellent ride of the Team Pursuit girls [Gillian Carleton, Jasmin Glaesser, Tara Whitten] at the 2012 Olympic Games in Beijing and their consistent world class performances over the last four years.
Track cycling is a tougher sport to get into because of the infrastructure needed, but with a velodrome like Milton – or if Quebec gets a covered velodrome again at some point – it should bring more people to the sport and for sure will bring more attention. Every discipline in cycling brings something different to the table that is worth exploring.
Tell us about your past – how you got into cycling and eventually to the top ranks?
RPR: I was initially a downhill skier until the age of 16. After that I decided to focus on getting into medical school. I did this for a year-and-a-half; got the marks I needed and then was looking for something more on the sport side. Since I had always biked as effective cross training for skiing, I just pushed that to my first 5,000km one summer, then a 10,000km summer, and then got into road racing for my last year as a junior.
At the time I was working in a bike shop managed Alain Levasseur and his wife. He was a dedicated volunteer and the president of the Dynamiks de Contrecoeur bike club and he convinced me to get back into competitive sports after a somewhat disappointing end to my alpine skiing career.
A couple years after that, my personal trainer, Yannik Morin (who is also Hugo Barrette’s coach) saw that I was pretty good in time trialing but was lacking some technical skills on the road. He introduced me to track cycling to teach me some of the basics while putting more emphasis on my time trial abilities.
In 2009, I participated in my first national team project at the Pan American Road and Track Championships, and since then I have been always been connected with the Team Pursuit squad.
Was winning Scratch Race bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland the highlight of your career?
RPR: My number one cycling moment is definitively my bronze medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. I can still recall every moment of it and to have my best world stage performance in front of my parents was something special for me. That’s the best example of the incredible moments along the path to the Olympic Games that I was talking about earlier.
Your Team Canada bio states that you’re Canada’s top male endurance track cyclist starting with the team pursuit and now the Omnium as well. Is it frustrating to be that good in a sport so few people understand or even know about?
RPR: Ha ha, I guess it is somehow confusing. Especially since last year when they changed the format. Nowadays you win an Omnium with around 200 points whereas before if you had around 30 points you were at the top. [In 2014, the UCI changed the scoring procedure of the Omnium so that the rider with the highest score wins. Previously, the rider with the least number of points won the event]
But in the end I truly love the Omnium for what it is – speed, tactics, adrenaline. Racing the Omnium at the international level was a journey in itself for me. Two days of hard racing, gruelling psychological strength and tactical work. For sure, I would like the Omnium to be as popular as hockey is in Canada so that people can appreciate the sport, but I was doing this more for myself and the team so didn’t really need people to acknowledge what I was doing.
You were the captain of the men’s Team Pursuit and helped rebuild the program – are you happy with the team’s accomplishments?
RPR: The Team Pursuit was a big part – maybe 90% – of my last two years on a bike and certainly the biggest part of my daily environment. In 2014 we started supporting the men’s Team Pursuit program. We gained nine seconds in two years, which is big, but it gets harder and harder to cut seconds. It is such a competitive event, yet we can achieve the 4-minute target (over 4km) needed to be competitive. That’s getting pretty quick; the program will get them there.
After the Rio 2016 Olympic Games we need to decide on the way forward and be looking at 2020. I am very proud to have taken part in the Team Pursuit program. It is one thing to compete for yourself, but making it a team effort adds a 3rd dimension. I had to learn how to be a good mentor as well as a good teammate. I am very happy to leave something behind me. The guys won’t need me so much now; they will be able to fly by their own wings and maybe go even faster.
How well do you know Louis Garneau and is he a role model?
RPR: In the last six years I’ve got to know him fairly well. It was gradual, but in the end he was a major financial support for me, providing my house accommodation for the previous two years (I was living in one of his commercial condos from 2013 to 2015). He was also a source of motivation and someone I could turn to for advice.
I really respect Louis as an athlete and as an entrepreneur but especially for the fact that he was both. Both a successful Olympian and accomplished businessman in a field he knows so well. I had a somewhat similar dream – to be an Olympian and a doctor – and I think our relationship was built on this similar dream and goals.
Over the past few years you have had to balance competitive track and road cycling with medical school. What was the most difficult part and what advice do you have for others with a similar plan?
RPR: I worked hard in both school and cycling to get to the top ranks. However, in the last year-and-a-half, I concentrated on my cycling and Olympic dream because if I really wanted to make it happen… and needed all the luck on my side. Track endurance and road cycling is something that balance very well together. In fact, you need to master road cycling at a competitive level if you hope to get somewhere on the track at the international level. The school side of things is really just a matter of hard work, daily commitment to your targets and a well-planned year (roughly planned 2-3 years in advance).
When and where will you start your medical residency and what’s your specialization?
RPR: I am starting my internship in September at hospitals in the Québec City region. This will comprise of a rotation between 3 to 6 weeks of every specialization and will last for about 18-20 months. After this, I will have to select my favourite speciality (for now orthopaedic surgery), and then will have to be accepted in a residency program somewhere in Canada which will last for five years.
What else can you tell us of your future plans and role that cycling will play? Is your girlfriend also a cyclist?
RPR: Right now I am just doing the basics. I came back with my road team and my girlfriend from Florida where we enjoyed some great riding. I haven’t been home for awhile so I’m enjoying some time with family and friends before starting my last road season. Over the next few months I will also re-open my medical books to be ready for a fresh start in September.
The FQSC (Quebec Cycling Federation) has always been there for me and I would really like to give back some of the experience I have benefited from over these last eight years. I see myself helping out others – younger kids, juniors, cadets, maybe even seniors – anyone from Quebec who wants to get into track cycling or to the next level in the sport and not just at a competitive level. I also want to stay fit and healthy while helping others achieve their goals or live their dreams as I did.
My girlfriend of the last four years, Hélène Pilote-Fortin, is also a cyclist and she has been very supportive in every aspect of my life. I couldn’t be happier to have her in my life!
Best of luck with all your future plans.
RPR: Thank you.