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Cofidis’ Belgian Brother

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Although the Cofidis team is French, it has a long tradition with Belgian cycling, especially as the team headquarters is situated in Lille, right on the border between the two countries. Few members of the team embody this connection more than the Cofidis physical therapist Eric Lasselin, a Belgian who has worked with the team for the better part of 15 years. He has massaged many of the team’s stars from Frank Vandenbroucke to Nacer Bouhanni. And at one time he played a mean game of cards with riders such as Jérôme Coppel.

Words and images by James Startt, European Associate to Peloton

Peloton Magazine: Eric, you have been a pro soigneur for a long time now. How did you get involved in the sport? Were you a cyclist before, like so many others?

Eric Lasselin: On no, not at all. I never cycled. I come from Chimay, the village of the great Belgian beer. Once I got my diploma as a massage therapist I started working with a local cycling club, the Pesant Club Liègeois, the club that founded Liege–Bastogne–Liège. From there I started working with the Féderation Française de Cyclisme. And, in 2000, Cofidis contacted me and I started with them. Finally, in 2004, they offered me a full-time contract and I closed up by own business and have been with them ever since.

Peloton: And during that time there were a lot of Belgians on the team as well?

Lasselin: Well, there always have been, since the team is based in Lille, on the French and Belgian border; but, yes, there was a strong Belgian presence with riders like Frank Vandenbroucke or Jo Planckaert.

Peloton: Did you ever think, back when you signed on with the team, that you would still be with them nearly 15 years later?

Lasselin: Well, we always hope things will last, but that is not always the case. That said, we are very proud at Cofidis to be on a team with such a history—21 years now. There are not a lot of teams that can boast such a history. There is FDJ and Lotto, and that is pretty much it! It’s been a fantastic journey. We have all known each other for years and there is a real bond.

Peloton: You’ve certainly had a lot of riders pass through the team as well….

Lasselin: Ah, oui! Like I said, there was VDB when I started and David Millar and Bradley Wiggins and Stuart O’Grady, the list just goes on and on.

Peloton: Was there any one rider that stood out, anyone where you really developed a special bond?

Lasselin has worked with many of the team’s stars over the years, but David Moncoutié holds a special place for him.

Lasselin: Oh, that would be David Moncoutié. David rode his entire career on Cofidis and for years was our emblematic leader, a real symbol of the team. He came into his own after a difficult period of doping and really took the team higher. He won some great stages in the Tour, and then of course there were his four best-climber jerseys in the Vuelta a España. There have been a lot of great riders on the team over the years, but Moncoutié has a special place.

Peloton: You knew Bradley Wiggins when he was still very focused on track racing. Could you ever have imagined that he would win the Tour de France? Now, looking back, do you see things that made him a Tour winner, things that you perhaps didn’t see at the time?

Lasselin: Oh, not really. When Bradley was with us, we had a big track program and that is why he joined the team. So he was really focused on the track back then. He had a big motor, but we were pretty much just thinking about him as a track rider. Obviously he was strong in time trials. But there are a lot of strong time trialers coming out of Great Britain. They have a long tradition in that discipline. But none of them were real Tour de France pretenders, so it is not surprising that we didn’t push him in that area. Bradley was a good guy though, very fun to have on the team. He was serious about cycling, but he also knew how to have fun.

Peloton: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your aspect of the sport over the years?

Lasselin: Well, mostly the fact that everyone lives in their own little world now. Everybody is on their telephone, on the internet, they are in their own world. Back when I started it wasn’t like that. There were barely any mobile phones. People had to go out and put coins in a telephone booth. But as a result we spent more time together, we would hang out and play cards together in the evening. It was a lot of fun. But times have changed for everyone.

Peloton: Who was the best card player of all the riders?

Lasselin: Jérôme Coppel was good. He was tough to beat!

Peloton: Today you work a lot with the team’s sprinter, Nacer Bouhanni. What is he like to work with. He has a reputation for being rather timid.

Lasselin: Yeah, I’ve been working a lot with Nacer for the past year and a half. I really like him but, yes, he is a bit timid at first. He is very, very serious when it comes to cycling, very focused, very concentrated. He is someone that takes a while to open up as well, and it is only when he is confident in you that he starts to open up. But that is something he has been working on a bit as well. He’s not extroverted. He doesn’t go right up to someone. But he understands that the public needs to have contact with their heroes and that and his timidity can be misunderstood sometimes. So he has been working on being more outgoing.

That said, with me he is great. We talk about a lot of other things besides cycling. We talk about boxing, which he loves, or just about his family.

Lasselin has enjoyed working with team sprinter Nacer Bouhanni in recent years and says that Bouhanni is working on being more outgoing.

Peloton: What is the most satisfying aspect of your job?

Lasselin: Having the rider being at his best, or getting a rider to his best after a crash or something. It’s often a challenge but it is very satisfying. A couple of weeks ago, Nacer fell in Paris–Brussels. He was pretty banged up, but we got him back together and the next day he won the Grand Prix de Fourmies. That was really satisfying for all of us.

Peloton: And what is the hardest thing?

Lasselin: Well, there are not of lot of negatives to be honest. Everyone here is doing something they love. But whenever a rider drops out of a race like the Tour de France it’s a setback for everyone and we all wonder if we did everything possible to get the rider at their best.