Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Genevieve Jeanson - two VeloNews views

First, here's today's bulletin from VeloNews Online about the doctor and coach who "looked after" young bike-racing phenom Genevieve Jeanson a few years ago.

And here's the VeloNews piece I wrote about the woman in the early 2000s:

Cannibals One and Two

Thirty years ago Eddy Merckx dominated pro cycling as no one has before or since. Tireless, insatiable, he raced hard all season long. He won important races, minor races, classics, tours and six-days. You name it, he won it.

Merckx felt his job (or mission) was to win every race, and not by a wheel or so-many seconds. He beat you severely as he could, often as he could. He was called the "Cannibal," a man-eater.

If you raced in his era, even if you were a superman yourself you rode in his long shadow season after season, nearly invisible all your racing life.

We wonder what it was like to be Merckx and what it was like to be the other guys, watching helplessly as he rode away. We wonder if they cursed their bad luck or their bad timing. Crying shame, not being Merckx in the Merckx Era.

We are witnessing another long shadow - that of French-Canadian phenomenon Genevieve Jeanson. In North America, in the early season, if Jeanson pins on numbers and appears at the start, the rest of the field races for second place. It's news if she loses.

Unless the race is dead flat, great women riders, stars really, ride in her shadow. Certainly individual women are helpless. If the climbs are long and steep, teams are helpless, teamwork ineffective. Jeanson rides away alone.

From the tech motorcycle, I've watched her drop famous riders on major teams, riders whose resumes list victory after victory. What must it be like to be Kim Bruckner or Lyne Bessette watching Jeanson pedal away on some hill?

Jeanson can time-trial, climb and sprint. She climbs so well she'd finish high in the standings in MEN's races. At Redlands she'd have finished around 20th (of 200 men) in the uphill time-trial prologue. Imagine a 110-pound woman beating all those pros and cat ones up a power hill.

You don't see where the strength comes from: Jeanson is slender, medium height. Skinny legs. You'd never notice her in a crowd. You can't take your eyes off her on her bike.

Often she breaks away in the first few miles. I've followed her for miles and miles as she rides alone off the front. She rides like a guy: biggish gear, low over the bike, looking back under her arm, but not looking back often.

Nothing back there to see. No one's chasing.

She's not cruising, by the way. She's time-trialing, doing a race-long solo effort faster than the pack -- way, way behind her.

I've given her time splits and heard my mechanic/passenger giving her splits. I have walked past her at her team car before and after races. I used to say hi or wave, but I quit. It felt inappropriate. She's preoccupied.

During the three years I've been aware of Jeanson, I've met and chatted with lots of other women racers. They're a friendly bunch. In contrast, I have never heard Jeanson's voice live, only from TV speakers.

I don't believe she's "one of the girls." I never see her chatting with anyone, not even her teammates. I see her with her personal manager slash coach, who's also the team manager. You hear that he runs the team by yelling and dictating tactics, not always smart ones. No one defends him.

Is it her manager who drives her? Or is she truly another Cannibal? No one knows.

Like Merckx, Jeanson is not satisfied to beat you, even to beat you by a minute or several minutes on a given day. She wants to win by miles, solo. Why sit in a group or work with another girl - if your legs don't hurt?

No one knows what voices she hears. Is her coach screaming over the radio that a six-minute lead won't cut it? Are her personal demons demanding ever more gap, ever more dominance? Or is she trying to break the spirits of her "opponents?"

In a stage race, she'll probably win all the hilly stages. In flat stages or crits, more and more often she contests the intermediate and final sprints, banging elbows with the specialist finishers.

Doing so, she stands to gain a few seconds. Why take the risks? She'll win tomorrow's road race by four minutes, all alone, safe as a seat in church.

She may win a stage race overall by 10 minutes, racing hard even in the final miles on the last day, so that (God Forbid) she won't win by only nine.

At Redlands, she doubled her overall lead in the last road stage, winning on GC by nearly 13 minutes instead of "merely" half that. She told an interviewer that her opponents are so strong she felt she must keep hammering, must increase the gap to ensure her victory. No kidding?

Why not sit up, finish the race at some lesser pace? It's a mystery why she doesn't, especially given her susceptibility to injury. She gets hurt, not from crashing but from athletic injuries, overuse injuries.

Eddy Merckx was tough enough to absorb the beating that training and racing gave his body. Jeanson, still in her early 20s, hurts herself. By June, more often than not, she's injured. You hear she's injured, anyway. You see that she's gone, done racing for the season.

Remarkably, the next spring she's at it again, riding every event as if her salvation depended on it - until she hurts herself yet again and has to quit.

If it is her manager who drives Jeanson to such athletic excess, we can be sure her opponents wish him good health and lots of job security.

As long as (under his direction) she continues to beat herself up in the early season, there'll be those Jeanson-free months after she leaves the scene, months when mere superstars can win road races -- even if there's a hill.

Worst case would be Jeanson finding a new director-coach who'd soften her need to kick butt and break spirits, who'd teach her moderation. Instead of winning by miles in the springtime, she could coast, sorta, and win by still-impressive margins all season long.

Is that rocket science? Do any observers disagree? Nope. But does anyone expect that she'll do any of the above, make the changes, lift her nose off the stem, win by smaller margins? No again.

We expect it'll be business as usual: crush the opposition February through June, gone by July one.



Jim Feeley said...

Geez, I hope this isn't inappropriate...I mean, I'm not trying to cast doubt on any other rider from her era. But was she the only one doping? Or was she just on a much better (albeit shorter) program each year? Or, considering her margins of victory, would she still have (at least frequently) won by at least a small margin if she was clean?

Too bad we'll never know the answer to that last question.

Earle said...

How many times has it been said, "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is." ... hmm?

Maynard, you could have been more skeptical.

Woody said...

I doubt she was the only one doping but we'll never know. Anyway, that was a few years ago, how is she doing now?? Is she still racing? Does she have a website??

Maynard said...

Hi Woody!

I believe Genevieve lives in Phoenix. She's banned from racing. I wonder if she rides her bike. I have to imagine that she's dealing with lots of issues after her life with her coach/manager. I hope she's doing okay...

No doubt others were doping. She seemed to be SO dominant, Woody, that she could have done well clean.