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Back on track: The Marion Clignet Journal 2004

French track legend Marion Clignet retired from racing in 2000, intending to become active as an advocate for women's sport. But after two years off the bike, and perhaps inspired by the other female champions she's encountered while working as a presenter for French TV, Clignet returned to the velodrome in 2003 to the velodrome in a determined comeback. After a solid year building a foundation, Marion's back competing at thehighest level in 2004.

Training with the boys

Late January, 2004

So it's January in Toulouse, France. It's been raining and cold for a few days. After an extreme overload of organising sponsorship deals, financial aid, training, and races what I hoped was impossible happened.

It started out as a busy but typical day. I had a meeting in the morning downtown. From there I went to the gym to lift and then had a pretty full on session on the trainer. from there I was feeling tired and remembered I had a TV interview in the evening and guests coming for dinner. I hit the couch with the intention of vegging, just a bit until 5 or so...

I don't know what happened. The phone rang, I was disoriented, why was I in bed? My head hurt, it was 5:15, I jumped with a start. Told Marco, my friend on the phone, that I thought I had just had a seizure but I had to get to the TV interview and I'd call him back. I had dozed off at around 3 so must have fallen asleep right away. I zoomed off to the TV station and as is typical after a seizure couldn't remember what they asked of me long enough to get it right on the first try... It took us oh, at least ten takes till I finally got it right. Oh well.

From there I had to come up with dinner. I put together veggies, dips, and chicken. I was pummeled but was happy to see my friends. These guys I worked together on an internet site and they're a good group to work with. And above all great senses of humor. We chatted, I told them about my afternoon adventures over a glass of white wine. Last I remember was heading off to the bathroom.

They heard KABOOM! From the living room and decided I might not be doing so well in the bathroom and came to check on me. Lucky for me, before having a second seizure I managed to finish peeing and pull my pants up. My legs were rigid though and pushing against the door. Somehow, one of them managed to slide in the bathroom to see what he could do. To his fright, I was hyperventilating and turning blue, typical during a seizure. His wife had had spasmofilia so his first reaction was to put my head in a bag so I would breathe my own oxygen. Not a good idea. In any case, I finally came around and they carted me off to the hospital where unfortunately we were all to stay until 6am. They had to work the next day as well as receive a new client, hope it worked out for them.

I took a few days to get my thoughts, eyes, head, all in the right place. Once it happens it's happened. Had blood work done to make sure the medication levels were correct and explore possibilities of why suddenly I may have had two seizures. Turns out white whine and I aren't the best of pals and I had been on overload for a few days organizing my training camps, traveling logistics and so forth all of which caused the therapeutic effect of my medication to drop. All I can say is that epilepsy when handled well is not a handicap so live on and live on fully!

In search of training partners

So, like I said earlier it's been raining and cold in Toulouse and I'm looking for proper training conditions.

I call a few pals and ask where they'll be training and consensus has it that they're all heading towards the Mediterranean coast. My first call is to Roger Legay [general manager of the Crédit Agricole team - Ed] who returns my call immediately. I discuss my dilemma with him. In France there are NO PRO WOMEN'S STRUCTURES in cycling. Absolutely nothing. So I'm looking for a solid group to train with. It's always more motivating with a group, and certainly more with a group of guys.

Roger calls his director sportif, Denis Rous who I knew back when he was national team director for the Canadian women. He says "no worries, we'll be doing long rides, some hills, and training daily. If the GS1 rides seem to long you can ride with the GS3 boys" The camp ends on Thursday so to make a good full-on ten days I call Martial Gayant, director sportif of FDJeux.com and ask if I'll be able to ride a few days with them as well. He says "no worries" and fills me in on their program.

From there I get to work on logistics. I call my housing connection, a nice little house out in the boonies I discovered during nationals last year and make my reservation. Then I call Renault who lends me a van when I go on long road trips. A few days after having reserved everything I get a call from the national team pursuit coach who informs me that this year (because I raised so much hell last year that women were always excluded from the pursuit road camps!) women were invited. It will fit in after my pro camps. I'll just be a few days late, so after ten days with the pros it'll be six days with the pursuiters and then off to Paris for a track camp in preparation for the world cup in Moscow February 13-15.

I reach Hyeres, in the south of France on Saturday night and get up at 7 on Sunday to get ready to meet some local buddies for their club ride which is exceptionally leaving at 9am instead of 8 due to a late night out. We rode 110kms, a good tune up for the week to come.

Monday morning, I turn up at the Credit Agricole hotel, a ten kilometer ride from my place. The GS1 guys are riding 200km, six hours so I opt for the GS3 ride which will be five hours and turns out to be 166km. We have a good ride, the guys are a mix of first year espoirs and older riders who have come up the Credit's developmental echelon. I know one or two of them from my neighbourhood and chat with the others as we ride, all young riders full of hopes and dreams to make it as professional Tour de France riders. One of them is Duclos LaSalle's son Hervé, and another is the son of a guy who used to work at the federation, more stuff to remind me that my um, birthday, is coming up. We ride the coast some, enough to get an awesome view of the sun, the mountains, and oh yeah, the poorer neighbourhoods of the Mediterranean.

Tuesday

I show up at the hotel at 9:30 and chat with the mechanics some. I ask if I can borrow their hose to wash my bike and the head mechanic won't hear of it. He washes my (um very, very dirty) bike himself, changes the chain, and puts on new bar tape. I'm stoked! The GS1 guys are riding foour hours. There are new, fairly young additions this year amongst them being world pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins; and Dimitri and André two young Kazakhs - I wont embarrass myself by attempting their last names [Dmitriy Muravyev and Andrey Kashechkin - Database-equipped Ed]. Plus there's Norwegian powerhouse Thor Hushovd, Benoit Salmon, Sebastien Hinault an others. We rode the same course as yesterday but backwards so off we went, day two into the sun! I am having a great time! We come back 4ish hours later and in the later afternoon I somehow sucked up enough energy to put my bike on the Cateye, very short warm up and crank out a few standing starts before slithering on to my bed and then remembering I have some laundry and cooking to tend do. Ughh.

Wednesday

110km with two climbs. Felt good. The climbs weren't terribly hard though they (GS1) went on to do the Mt Faron at race pace. I rode tempo home with another rider and went to see the team osteopath for a sore foot. All is well

Thursday

Last day with Credit Agricole and a six-hour ride north. I decided I'd cut across east at 60km and head back south making it 120km for me. Was a great week. The Credit guys are done after the ride and all head home. Thanks guys!

Friday

Ab and sheath work plus 30 minute Cateye spin. Go on to meet the FDJeux.com guys, say hi and see who I'll be riding with for the next few days. Frederic Guesdon (I, uhmm, think we raced together a few years back, when he was in regional or national level and I had just arrived in France and we won't discuss how many years back that may have been; Jean-Cyril Robin, um, same case as Fred; first climber's jersey of the Tour last year Christophe Mengin; new rising sensations Sandy Casar; Nicolas Fritch, pursuiter turned roadie Carlos DaCruz; world bronze medallist in team pursuit at Stuttgart (as well as junior world titles amongst others) Fabien Sanchez; as well as a slew of young up and coming riders who were pretty impressive.

We chat a bit, they invite me to stay for lunch and afterwards Joona Lokka from Polar is showing up to give a presentation on this year's new product so I stay on. Martial then asks me if I'll come to their team presentation that evening. No worries, off we go.

Saturday

First day with the FDJ boys and no I didn't pick the easiest day. They were riding the course of the first stage of the tour med which included four climbs - three easy and one bitch. 140km. Hung in pretty good for about 80-90km and dropped off on the Notre Dame des Anges (the bitch) on which a 39 would have been a small help though I still wouldn't have followed. The rest was great, I was thrilled to be hanging in their with them especially on the first climb, a fairly smooth ascent called the Babaou. It started to rain a tad on the way down Notre Dame but more mist than full-on rain. Cold all the same though. Made it back to the FDJ base and thought about the 10km I had left. My bike needed a bit of work so I negotiated a ride home and left my bike to be tended too.

Sunday

Originally I had heard the plan was to do the Mt Faron 3 times, so I programmed it into my little brain that I was going to do the Mt Faron 3 times in the big ring sitting down. A great power work out. Turns out we only did it once cause we went on to another similar climb further down the road. I managed up in the big ring and most likely ground a few mm's off my teeth doing so but the boys politely waited at the top. Of course as I rode up Guesdon said "great she's here lets go" Just kidding of course, gimme a minute to breathe eh? From there we headed over to another climb that started very gently with a false flat, all of which I did power work up. Suddenly there was a right turn and it was 10 percent for 4km. Great ride but uh, a little harder in the big ring at that point.

Monday

Misty, pissy kind of day. Not really raining so we left with plans to ride behind the motor bike some, though after 40kms it started to pour. I felt terrible that Martial had to follow in the car all alone in the rain and decided he really must need company! How nice to ride in a heated car. I'll make it up on the cateye in the afternoon. When we got back to the base I washed up and had lunch with the troops. I cant tell you what a nice group of guys the FDJ team is. I didn't really know them before, just from a distance. They're down to earth, and above all healthy and health-conscious guys.

In various conversations we had I was pleasantly surprised (whether it was the Credit Agricole or the FDJ riders) that they knew some of the international women racers. Several of them were in awe of Dutch rider Mirjam Melchers from her ride at the world's (Mirjiam you have male groupies in France!) My surprise comes from the fact that to know who women racers are in France you really have to shop because THE FRENCH MEDIA SHOW NOTHING!

(And later in the afternoon, I did make it up on the Cateye!)

Tuesday

Of course the day I decide to have a rest day after an 800km, 26-hour week, the sun comes out full tilt. Oh well, if the head wants it the legs need it. Caught up with the boys for lunch and took 'em to the airport. They're heading to Paris for the team presentation to the journalists which may be a bit trying with all that's going on in the cycling community right now. I can assure you though that I've been to three camps with three different teams and met up with great bunches of motivated athletes and seen absolutely no sign of foul play.

Till Moscow!
Marion