Fumiyuki Beppu is in his 16th season as a profession­al rider and has gone back to his roots with a transfer to Nippo-Delko-Provence, who he also rode for as an amateur. He tells Procycling about his journey through the sport

- Interview Edward Pickering Portraits Jesse Wild

The Japanese veteran tells Procycling about his long career, and why he is still as motivated as ever

My life is in France now. I have a wife and daughter, who is six years old, here. I’ve had a 16-year career so far and I’ve decided to stay here. For the future one option is to go back to Japan. But why not stay in Europe? The last time I went back to Japan was last year, when my mother passed away after suffering from cancer.

From the Discovery Channel days, there’s just me left in the peloton.

I remember seeing José Azevedo, who was the manager at Katusha and thinking, he was a rider with me 15 years ago. It’s been quite a long career - 15 years, almost all with WorldTour teams.

I rode with Trek for many years but I needed more from cycling, so I broke my contract.

In a big team, you have to work. Okay, in cycling that’s necessary, but when you work hard for others it’s difficult to get your own results.I’m 37 this year, and I was looking at the Tokyo Olympic Games for selection. There are two places for Japanese riders, and the Japanese federation say the selection will be on points and there are more points in European races. I did many WorldTour races with Trek, but there was no chance for me to get points. I spoke to the team and decided I needed to take a new path. Maybe with the coronaviru­s it will be difficult but we will see. I’m nearly at the end of my career, so why not challenge myself to get into a home Olympics?

A home Olympics would be something really special.

If 2020 had been in Paris, I wouldn’t have been so interested.

I’ve rejoined Nippo-Delko-Marseille, which is where I rode as an amateur.

Marseille is not far from home, and it’s a second home town for me. Going back to Marseille after being there in 2002, it’s like a circle. I’m happy with the team - we’ve got young and talented riders. There’s good motivation and good team spirit. Also, Nippo, a Japanese sponsor, has joined the team so the budget is much bigger than before. We’ve taken three young Japanese talents and I want to be able to teach them, and share my experience with them. And maybe in some races it’s possible for me to get some points, and I’m focusing on that.

The 16 seasons I’ve ridden as a pro have passed quite fast.

In cycling, you need spirit and passion, and I still feel young with that kind of thing. My body’s potential is not like it was before, but my mind, spirit, motivation and passion for cycling is still the same as ever.

When I joined Discovery Channel in 2005, I was thinking, this is one of the biggest teams.

I was really stressed about it, but when I joined they were very welcoming; no stress. Lance [Armstrong] was really welcoming. Cycling was different then - it was more relaxed, more friendly, we talked more normally and cycling wasn’t only about watts. But we worked hard as well.

The highlight of my career was being in the break on the Champs-Élysées stage of the 2009 Tour de France.

I got two top 10s - a seventh and an eighth - that year but for me, the dream was finishing the Tour and being in the break on the last stage. Everyone was watching us, it was really brilliant, then I also got the combativit­y prize.

I feel young, but I’m still 37 and maybe I’ll stop after this year, or maybe next.

I raced in Étoile de Bessèges at the start of this year and the commentato­r was saying about me, ‘He’s the oldest rider in the race.’ I couldn’t believe it but it was true. And these days there are so many young talents in the peloton like Evenepoel and Van der Poel. It’s really impressive.

Cycling is more technical now than when I started.

The speed is higher than before. For me, it’s too controlled. But it has also got more popular and a lot of people are watching on television. In the past the sport was not so big but it’s really internatio­nal now.

What you learn in cycling is that one day is good and one day is bad.

The Tour is a hard, tough race, but this is life.

I’m happy to be a profession­al cyclist but I also get meaning from meeting a lot of smiling people all over the world.

My treasure is watching people smiling. I’ve learned to pay attention to my surroundin­gs. We travel a lot - this year I went to Africa for the first time. We race in Asia, South America… Before, there was only cycling in Europe; now we go everywhere and see a lot of things. For me, cycling is like a school for life. As a team we are a social group - we discuss, talk in different languages and Iearn a lot that way. Before, I didn’t know anything about sport or about Europe, but now I know a lot. You learn a lot out on the road, and I think I know my region of France better than most of the local people. I know all the small roads, where all the monuments are...

I respect Japanese culture, but I’ve lived for more than half of my life in Europe, in France.

Japanese people are quite straight, but I’ve become a bit smart - sometimes you need to find a solution to a problem and the French are very good at doing that. So I’m neither French nor Japanese - I’m just an internatio­nal cyclist.

I’m good at cycling because I work hard.

I’m good at going deeper and deeper - but that’s the same as all profession­al cyclists. I control my weight, I don’t drink much, I stay healthy… I have a strong body and a strong mind, but the most important is the mind. Fight. Fight. You have to suffer for 200km. You suffer a lot as a cyclist, in different ways.

Cycling takes up the whole year.

We start in Australia in January, then the UAE, then Europe. We used to start around the end of February and finish at the Worlds in September. But now it’s January to the end of October with the Japan Cup and then you have the Asian races in November. When do we get a break? We’re on the bike the whole time! Then the training camps start in November and December.

My favourite race is Paris-Roubaix.

I’ve not done great in it but it’s my passion. It’s over 100 years old and we are still doing it on the same roads as before.

I ask myself why? Cycling is modern and technical and always changing, but doing that race on those old roads is interestin­g. I love all the classics - you feel more passion from the fans and the riders really feel the spirit of the race. Stage races are very controlled by teams up to the finish and then the strongest climber wins.

The rides I like the best are when I go to a nice location and can take some nice pictures.

The Grand Colombier is close to my home so I go there a lot. I don’t care what position I finish a race, but I do care about my feeling. A nice training ride, with a sunset.


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 ??  ?? Rising son: Beppu's proudest moment, in the break on the Champs- Élysées, 2009
Beppu in the midst of the fight at the 2019 edition of KuurneBrus­sels- Kuurne
Rising son: Beppu's proudest moment, in the break on the Champs- Élysées, 2009 Beppu in the midst of the fight at the 2019 edition of KuurneBrus­sels- Kuurne

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