After reading the following book review, I really do wish that I was proficient in French.
David Moncoutié has always been somewhat of an enigma over the years, his life story finally being documented in his biography, Ma Liberté de Rouler (translation: Freedom to Ride), albeit exclusively in his mother tongue.
Moncoutié was a professional cyclist for the best part of fifteen years. While he has been accused of lack of ambition and drive throughout his career, Moncoutié’s palmares indicates otherwise. He always seemed to deliver a few strategic victories annually, including Grand Tour stages.
Considering that he rode for one team throughout his career, one might get the impression of a rider in a comfort zone and afraid of change, especially given that French cyclists rarely venture outside of their home borders to foreign teams. But then how many Spanish or Italian riders choose to pursue a career outside of their respective countries? Maybe he was just content where he was.
In today’s goal-orientated world where ambition and will to succeed are driven into us daily, people like David Moncoutié are often looked down upon as under achievers or “laid back.” Sure, we all want to be successful in our own special way but for me at least, it does beg the question: what is wrong with being content? And who said that we all have to have set goals, be it personal, career or sporting?
I remember reading a magazine quote many years ago by another David, Moncoutié’s fellow teammate, David Millar. When asked about his then fellow Cofidis riders, Millar said something like “David Moncoutié and I are a similar age with similar strengths yet we are totally different people. I feel I have more ambition. After all, he comes from a small village and his father is just a postman.” That particular article perhaps highlighted Millar’s apparent immaturity at the time, which he talks about extensively in his own autobiography, but it does highlight how society judges others based on achievements in any sphere.
Moncoutié’s idiosyncrasies are most interesting, with his eschewing of conventional medicine in favour of homeopathy being but one example. His book apparently tells how, from when he was a child, his mother discouraged the use of any conventional medicine to cure illness, a fact that Millar describes candidly in his Racing Through the Dark. Millar recounts how, when the Cofidis team doctor prescribes antibiotics to relieve Moncoutié of bronchitis, the Frenchman stops taking the medicine only a couple of days into the weeklong course, owing to his indifference to pills.
People like Moncoutié are often looked upon as loners or even a bit odd. It is however a testament to his strength of character that he has seemingly remained unchanged and true to his roots. While many of us marvel at the glitz and glamour of professional sport, it is perhaps individuals like David Moncoutié that make sports what they truly are.
The “borrowed” photo at the top of this piece is telling. Moncoutié’s facial expression is similar in many images of his career; whether on or off the bike, his expression could be described as “shyly bemused” with a consistent half-grin. Even on the podium after a Tour de France stage victory, he doesn’t appear to be wildly elated or emotional. Maybe it is due to his stated career goal, as described in the book review mentioned, that is his “wanting to be happy” as opposed to that of success and victories that might be expected.
The book itself is apparently modest in appearance as opposed to the more “rock and roll” looking cycling memoirs of recent times. While I’m not sure of David’s motivations for this autobiography, Ma Liberté de Rouler’s humble appearance and content description do remind me of the classic A Peiper’s Tale, written by former pro and current BMC Racing Team director Allan Peiper. Perhaps not coincidentally, it is Peiper’s love for cycling that shone through in his work, something that seems to be evident with Moncoutié by reading aforementioned book review.
It is perhaps interesting to note Moncoutié’s how fellow Cofidis rider Millar’s writing details his own eventual appreciation for the simple things in life after seemingly losing everything post-2004 scandal. This appreciation extends to the simplicity of cycling. While a younger Millar may have begrudged his bike on many occasions pre-2004, his catharsis results in a rediscovery of his pure love of cycling, perhaps influential in the extension of pro his career to the present day. Michael Barry’s poetic Le Metier confirms this with his reference to Millar’s eagerness to begin training and exploring in the annual off season.
With their departure from the revelation-centric doping tales of recent years, books like A Peiper’s Tale and Ma Liberté de Rouleur are refreshing in the sense that they reveal true love and passion for the simplicity of sport. Whilst they are most certainly not rose-tinted or romantic accounts of the peloton, these sorts of books serve to remind us why we ride bikes in the first place. They do for me at least.
Let’s hope a publisher has the vision for a Ma Liberté de Rouleur en anglais.
Photo Credit: moncout.blogspot.com