20 février 2018
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Arnaud Manzanini is a long-term cyclist. A lover of solitary effort who also adores group rides. Twice Finisher in the famous Race Across America, he’s also the instigator of the Race Across France, a new addition to the series, which will be run for the first time in 2018. Louison Bobet has decided to support this elegant cyclist. Today a meeting with a man of challenges who enjoys sharing his passion.
I remember my first bike very well. It was bottle green with 32cm tyres, I think. I must have been about six. I remember it very well. At that time, it was synonymous with freedom, and linked to my first experiences of speed. The bike is strongly linked to emotions. I was four when I first had my hands on a bike, during a competition won by my cousin, who won all the races he went in for in Lombardy. It’s funny, but I can still see images of that time, the sounds, the smells of the fervour of racing, and all the racers with their rounded helmets. "Rivers of Babylon" by Boney M. blaring out from the loudspeakers.
From the age of ten, I organised my first neighbourhood races on the housing estate where I lived with my parents. The children of my age had no choice. They wanted to play football with me but I was more interested in bikes. In fact I nearly died several times by not respecting the stop signs and cutting across the bends, to the point where I was chased by a traumatised, irate driver, who was terrified when I came out from a junction and fetched up with my nose on his fender. It was a great time. Totally carefree. I already had my head in the stars. If I could choose any moment in my past, I’d choose five minutes from that time. That would be great!
Not really any habits or superstition, even if I always put my left sock on first, then my jacket starting with the right sleeve, and get onto my bike right leg first. Actually, that’s quite a lot of habits!
Before I set out, I check that the route is correctly downloaded into my Wahoo. And I always pay attention to my first physical sensations. I keep my iPhone in my back pocket on all my rides, as well as the AirPods, and the apple Watch on my wrist. That way I can manage calls and messages, but especially music. It also means my girlfriend knows where I am, and I can get in touch if necessary, but above all so that I can take notes about any ideas or thoughts that come to me while I’m riding. The RAAF* and everything to do with it all tends to come up while I’m out on a training ride.
*Race Across France
I don’t know whether the end result is elegant, but I do take care over the way garments go together. I try to match the right colours and good fabrics. My girlfriend works in men’s fashion, and she’s taught me a lot about clothes, the way they’re made, the importance of comfort, and how long they last. So I must admit that the combination of colour, fabric and style in clothes is important to me.
My pedalling style came with the experience of long-distance rides. In this kind of riding you have to save energy as well as going fast. So you need flexibility while managing gear change. I try to pedal as roundly as I can.
I’m not a fan of any particular racer, but the strongest memory for me goes back to May 27 1986 during the arrival at the finishing line of the winner of the Dauphine Libéré, Laurent Fignon, opposite the church in Gueugnon, the town I grew up in. At that time, you could approach the racers. There was no fencing, there were no buses with tinted windows, and I found myself face to face with Joop Zoetemelk and his beautiful World Champion jersey. He caught sight of me and offered me his flask in the colours of a very well known soft drink, which he’d been racing with. If ever I get the chance to see him again, I’ll be really happy to tell him about that moment.
I’m simply a cyclist of the world, and I’m proud to show off my suntan…in the same way that some people like to show off their war wound. I love riding in Paris, respecting the highway code, and being visible and protected. It’s high adrenalin to ride fast in such an environment between the cars and surrounded with monuments and the history of France. I’d love to be a courier for a day in Paris.
I can be amazed by very small things, and I think I’m very lucky to be where I am. So riding in Paris is a real pleasure for me. For training periods I prefer the countryside. I’ve been a new Parisian since last June, and I’ve discovered, thanks to François Paoletti and the Classics Challenge, some wonderful circuits. I was able to see the sea twice in October, and I’m looking forward to spring and going back there. When I have less than a couple of hours, I ride in Longchamp where the high speed really surprised me when I first arrived. Then I began to ride ahead and quickly developed more strength. The Tuesday and Thursday evening rides are real criteria of high-level riding. It’s also an opportunity to meet great people. If I have between two and four hours, I go into the Chevreuse Valley so I can enjoy the beautiful landscapes and the small country roads away from the traffic. If I have more time, I love long rides and coming home by train, to be able to really appreciate the wonderful views.
The most spectacular views I’ve ever seen were when I was crossing the states of Utah and Colorado. Crossing that red earth was a profound experience. I tried to fix every moment in my memory so that whenever I closed my eyes, I could take myself back there. Crossing Monument Valley at night was magic, under a starlit sky. The best state is still Colorado and its 52 peaks of over 4,270 metres. Riding across landscapes like these is euphoric and I loved every meter of the route.
Cycling is one of the best group sports. In the preparation phase, I ride alone to get used to the kind of effort I need to make, as well as to the solitude and the strength of the wind. I have to admit that by the time I’d finished preparing for the RAAM*, I was happy to get back to civilisation after so many hours on the bike. Even so, I enjoy the time it gives me to think deeply about what I do, and come up with new ideas for the years ahead. The rest of the time, there’s nothing like a good ride with other cycling enthusiasts. Whatever the level, you get to spend some great times with other people, and time passes much faster. Organisations such as the Classics Challenge or the Chilkoot are extraordinary. Every participant can experience unforgettable and intense moments, with completely unexpected encounters. I’m sure that the Race Across France is going to be just the same.
*Race Across America
I’m happy on a bike. Vic Amijo, a reporter covering the Race Across America, followed me in the same race in 2015 and took a photo of me while I was crossing the desert in the middle of the day in 50 degrees. When he published the photo, he gave it the caption “The only time Arnaud wasn’t smiling.”
What I love more than anything else is to leave before daybreak and to come back at sunset. However many kilometres I’ve covered in the course of the day. When you get home, you’re in “phase” with yourself. You’ve had the time to work through your anger, to laugh out loud when you’re thinking about people you love, to enjoy some wonderful encounters if you take the time, and put quite a few things in perspective. You just feel good.
Above all, I have a very high regard for the man. I respect that Louison Bobet saw with lucidity and courage that he could move forward into a very different life than the one he had always known, and with the same courage and force of will that he had shown when cycling. The risk he took with the panache he was known for paid off. As a sportsman he was a myth. Just look at the record of his successes - it’s impressive.
I like the brand’s medium and long-term approach and vision, and the honesty of the people who represent it. And the garments are the result of much sourcing work, the fabrics, and the choice of the best workshops to make them. As I said before, understanding the origins of what I wear and why one material instead of another was chosen is important, in my opinion.
Louison Bobet was created on July 11th – which in fact is my birthday - and it inspires the continuity of a legend, a story inspired by the DNA of the champion. It’s the elegance of a personality together with the panache of the champion that he was. Louison Bobet represents the roots of sport in France. It’s an honour to be the ambassador of that!
The news at the moment is the launch of the Race Across France, the competition that I had the idea for in 2014 and which, thanks to a group of volunteers, is now seeing the light of day. We want to set up a cycling event that French people haven’t yet discovered. To launch a project like this and to give enthusiasts the chance to participate in such an experience, day and night, across France and along its wonderful, legendary routes.
As for projects, I’ve got a few up my sleeve – even more than strictly necessary. Whether it’s personal, or professional for sport, I need a notebook so that I don’t forget anything each day, and so that I can keep everything moving forward smoothly.
Some projects, such as the publication of a book that relates my adventures across the USA, will firm up next year, and others will be ready to go in two or three years’ time. In 2019 I’ll be returning to the Raam, and I’m preparing a major project for 2020. That one won’t be possible without the help of partners and a team. We’re looking for someone to supervise the overall project.
The cycling moment planned for 2018 is to be at the starting line for the first RAAF so that I can experience it from the inside and to get myself into history. That’ll give me the opportunity to climb Ventoux for the very first time - no, I’m not joking! - on the traces of Louison Bobet.
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