NICE, France (VN) — David Veilleux is making history this month as the Europcar rider becomes the first Quebécois to race in the Tour de France.
There have been a handful of Canadians riding the Tour over the years, but the 25-year-old French-speaker is the first from Quebec.
“It was big news. I am surprised to see the amount of coverage I have,” Veilleux told VeloNews. “I am getting encouragement from people who normally do not follow cycling. I was not expecting that at all.”
Veilleux has already made his presence known, riding into the day’s main breakaway in stage 2 to set up Europcar teammate Pierre Rolland to take the climber’s jersey.
“Everything is going good so far. I am been staying out of trouble, and I was in the breakaway [stage 2] to help my teammates,” he said. “It’s a great achievement to race the Tour. I have come very far for being from a non-cycling country and a non-cycling family.”
Veilleux brings to the table his strong natural motor and growing experience in what is his third season with Europcar. With Rolland and Thomas Voeckler, Veilleux will have plenty to keep him busy.
“Pierre is riding for the GC; Thomas is more like an ‘electron.’ He stays at the front and tries to go for a stage win,” he said. “I will be helping those guys, and be there in the breakaway when they want us in the moves.”
Veilleux, who has raced in the spring classics and in the top French races but never in a grand tour, said the three opening stages in Corsica were not as challenging as what he expected from the Tour. He knows that will change in the coming days and weeks.
“It’s nervous, but maybe not what I was expecting for the Tour. The stages were different on Corsica,” he said. “I have done Roubaix and Flanders three times, so I was not too uncomfortable with the nervousness in the peloton, but they told me to wait until we are back in France. It will be different.”
Europcar typically only races one grand tour a season, so it’s quite a fight within the team to earn a spot on the team’s Tour nine.
Veilleux had the Tour on his radar since the beginning of the season, but a strong Critérium du Dauphiné, when he won the first stage and wore the leader’s jersey, helped punch his ticket.
“It was already in the plans to race the Tour, but my ride at the Dauphiné confirmed it all,” he said. “I might have been dreaming to be close, but to win a stage and get the yellow jersey, it was just fantastic.”
Nicknamed “Caribou” by his teammates, Veilleux said he’s been enjoying his European adventure and has the advantage of already speaking French, an essential skill in Europe.
But he quickly realized his quebécois accent was quite different than how they speak in France.
“I had to adapt to their French. If they speak my French, they do not understand anything. For the French, I have to soften up my accent,” Veilleux said with a laugh. “They laugh at me when I speak French.”
They won’t be laughing if he pulls of a stage victory for the team.
This year, Veilleux and Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEdge) become the sixth and seventh Canadians to race the Tour. Steve Bauer and Alex Stieda became the first in the 1980s. Gord Fraser rode one Tour in the 1990s, followed by Michael Barry and Ryder Hesjedal in the 2000s.