We caught up with Kevin Reza in Paris, just before he travelled to San Lorenzo a Mare for his first Giro d’Italia. The 26-year-old native of Puteaux in the suburbs of Paris spoke to us about family and his cycling upbringing; what it’s like being a fresh pro at the Tour de France; being part of France’s next generation decades after its last triumphs; and how to navigate the complexities of leg shaving with the fairer sex.
Kévin Reza, isn’t that the name of a soccer player?
It does sound pretty good, actually. I can already hear the commentators screaming my name after missing a beautiful opportunity…
Tell us about your beginnings in cycling
I started at age four. Why cycling? Because I wanted to be like my older brother who got a racing license a year before me. It’s a very demanding sport for a four year old, but my parents found the right formula to channel my energy; I was a hyperactive kid.
How did you know it’s that’s what you wanted to do?
Originally, I cycled so I could hang out with my friends on Wednesdays and on weekends at races, nothing too crazy but I was having a good time, I liked the vibe. I started taking it seriously 10 years ago when I moved from Ile de France to Pays de Loire so I could join a “sport etude” (ed - a high school where students spend ½ the day studying and the other ½ training for their particular sport)
What was it like when you first went pro?
I was freaking out. Was I gonna be good enough? Was I gonna be able to fulfill the expectations of the directors who signed me? I wasn’t only having doubts about my performance in the first race, but whether the entire season would work out as I was hoping. Would I “fit in” and would my results stack up? This all had me questioning going pro.
What kind of mindset do you have to be in during a mythical race such as the Tour de France? How do you prepare for it?
You are all excited and impatient to start. In 2013 (my first time), for some strange reason I wasn’t stressed. I was happy and proud to be part of the peloton for the “Grande Boucle”. Of course, day after day the fatigue gets worse. I had fewer stars in my eyes by the last week of the race, and I could not stand much around me. We aren’t necessarily prepared psychologically to face this machine. Physically, yes, because we are trained properly. It’s all the things that happen on the side: the little media requests I got, team transfer negotiations, rumors, mishaps, and logistics. All these little things add up, and it makes a huge difference. I was better prepared in 2014, but in 2013, I finished my first Tour smashed, fucked up, destroyed.
You must have some interesting stories, no?
In 2013 we had a TV crew (France TV) following us around, and at the end of the stages, they would sum up the day with the group. It was called “La Belle Echappe” (The Beautiful Breakaway). We also shot a music video to close the Tour with “Moustache”. It was a good laugh. What I really remember, though, and it’s something that scared me, was the huge crowd on Alpe d’Huez. We could barely ride through the crowds. People were overly excited and completely out of control. The worst part was that we did the climb twice! Of course, it was a lot more stressful the second time!
I was happy and proud to be part of the peloton for the “Grande Boucle”. Of course, day after day the fatigue gets worse. I had less stars in my eyes during the last week of the race, and I could not stand much around me. We aren’t necessarily prepared psychologically to face this machine.
What can we expect from you in 2015?
My role within the team is more or less similar to last year, I must support the designated rider(s) for as long as possible during the race. In a few instances, I will have the possibility to play my own cards at World Tour races that I target and get support for.
You were previously on Europcar. Do you still speak to them?
My relationship with my old colleagues is a little bit different now, which is normal since we no longer wear the same jersey. We don’t have the same conversations, or even the same relationship that we had outside of “work”. But, I’ve kept in touch.
What’s your life in numbers?
Ha!, well let’s start from my with my 1st pro season (2011): 100,000km+ (I started with an average of 20,000km, so I think it could be more)
Planes: more or less 50-60 planes a year, so 250+
Trains: 10-15 per year
Races: 290ish (85 days of racing the last two years, and 60-70 the previous two years)Fans: I hope more than I can count them on my hands
We’ve all seen the GoPro video, but what actually happened?
Ah the famous GoPro incident. It was on the last stage in England, we were heading to London and there were 40km left in the stage. I was at the back of the peloton with my teammates and suddenly I saw headphones on the road. I reached down and picked up the headphones and saw a GoPro attached to them. I thought I was Spielberg for a few minutes before handing everything over to my Directeur Sportif. I only hoped it was filming! I got back to France with the GoPro before receiving a message on Twitter from its owner, who asked if I still had it and if I could send it back to his address, which I accepted in exchange for the video. I never received it, but the owner put in on YouTube, and it had a bit of an impact!
Best joke you’ve heard on the bike?
What’s the difference between EPO and VIAGRA? Nothing, they are both for terrible climbers.
What’s it like in the middle of the peloton?
We are not a bunch of nice guys. Thank God there is no microphone in the peloton. What happens in the peloton stays in the peloton. Once the race starts, each rider wants to defend his place, which is legitimate. We are not allowed to take our hands off our handlebars, so the only way we can defend ourselves is with our elbows, which is something that not everyone respects. So it create crashes.
How do you handle your shaved legs on a 1st night with a chick?
If the girl is not from the cycling scene, or doesn’t know it's part of my job, she is surprised and probably wonders what kind of guy she’s dealing with. In that case, I explain myself so I don’t go back home “bredouille” (Ed - Literal translation is coming home empty handed from hunting or fishing) if it bothers her so much. Other times, they actually appreciate a man that takes care of himself!
What’s your biggest crash and biggest fear on the bike?
My biggest crash was on the Quai de Seine (ed - in Paris) on my way to train, and I hit a car and went through the windshield. I dislocated my jaw, had stitches on my chin and multiple cuts on my face and neck. I was 14...And my biggest fear is to get a flat on the front wheel descending a col (ed - mountain)
How’s the champagne taste on the podium?
Excellent question, but I did not get a chance to try it yet. Ask me that question again in a few months, and I hope I’ll be able to answer.
What does your mother say to you before a race? And your dad after?
You must know one thing: my mom never comes to a race, she is too scared, so I get text messages here and there before the race but not all the time. No need for that, I know she thinks about me, and that’s what matters. My dad is different. He loves cycling, he cycles himself! So the day after a race, we debrief and he asks me if it went well and if I had fun. Anything else is just a bonus.
Are there a lot of bores that speak to you about Poulidor and Hinault?
Bores? Yes and no, people can’t stop talking about their era,
their old stories, the way they perceive cycling now and then. It’s not
that I’m not interested, I’m just not so preoccupied with what happened
in the past. I don’t have a great knowledge of my sport in general, so
if I get too many questions about the old days, I disconnect pretty
quickly. I love my job, but I can’t say I’m a great fan of the sport.
Do you train alone or in a group?
Both work well for me. Loneliness feels good sometimes and it
allows me to focus more on the work. Being with someone helps make the
time go faster, which is especially good if I have to do a long ride.
How do you get back to normal
life? How do you manage mentally? At the end are you happy to be alone
or does the gregarious instinct never leave you?
I think every rider is different. Some can’t stand the end of the Tour and the loneliness that comes with it, Some can’t wait for it! They can’t wait to be alone or with their family. For me, I'm one of the latter. We are in so much contact with so many people for a month that mentally I lose it on the last week, I miss my loved ones and I need to be alone as well. But once I’m well-rested, I can’t wait to go back!
What’s the future? objectives? What’s the next race?
I have a hard time predicting the future, and I don’t like to make long term-plans so much. I take it day by day. All I know is I have a contract until 2016! Seasons are passing but each is different. I just wish to continue progressing the way I have in my first few years as a pro.
What’s your favorite post ride meal?
I’d go for brick-oven pizza
Do you drink at all during the season?
Drinking is a big word! I like a glass of wine at night, or a
beer. During the season I don't allow myself much. I do during the
winter break though, that’s when anything goes...
So what's your favorite drink?
I was lucky to discover the beautiful Italian region of Tuscany
during the Eroica in 2014 thanks to my sponsor Le Coq Sportif. I
discovered the local wine: Chianti.
If you were not a cyclist, what would you do?
To be honest, I never really asked myself that question. I’d probably be in the Paris region like Monsieur Tout-le-Monde(Ed- Mister Nobody) I’d be in a routine and I’d be bored for sure.
What’s the most precious thing you have?
That’s an easy one: my family. Beautiful, no?
What do you do during bus travel? Do your read? Do you listen to music? What’s currently on your playlist?
Traveling by bus is really comfortable. It allows a much better recovery than in a car. I take advantage of that time to close my eyes a bit and relax while listening to music, it allows me to disconnect a bit from the day’s stage. I listen to: Robin Schulz ("Sun Goes Down"), Band of Horses ("The Funeral"), Coldplay ("A Sky Full of Stars") and of course French rap: Gradur ("Jamais"), Kaaris ("Le Bruit de mon Âme"). Though that’s a very small selection of course.
Do you live alone? Can you describe your house, its style? What would be your ideal Chalet?