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

Procycling - - CON­TENTS - 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.


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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