‘Kind of weird, but cool at the same time’ – Leon Chevalier on his meteoric rise – Interviews

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In the third and final part of our series of interviews with Leon ChevalierLooking forward to an exciting year, his desire to continue learning and dealing with imposter syndrome…

Oh, and carbon bikes aren’t the only reason this engineer is interested in the group 14 member of the periodic table element!

There is still more to learn

As you’ll see in our first article, the University of Bath and its surrounding triathlon environment have proven fundamental to the French athlete’s athletic success, since he moved to the city in 2018.

And while graduation is due this summer, Chevalier has no immediate plans to leave Somerset. Or actually, stop studying at all…

“It’s finally the end, so in June I will graduate with a master’s degree in chemical engineering. That would be fine, but then I want to do my Ph.D. because I want to keep my feet in engineering, I just enjoy it.”

“I find it really interesting and would like to strike a balance between triathlon and non-triathlon interests. I am really interested in renewable energies and carbon sequestration and I did a research project in this area last year and it made me realize it is something I want to pursue. I hope to start my PhD in October/November, So I just need to find a theme and funding and all that, but that’s the plan.

“I would like to stay in Bath because it is an environment that I like, that suits me too [his girlfriend] Florey begins operating in Bristol in September. We love the area and want to stay there so hopefully we can.”

Given the proven success of Lucy Jusedge, who has spent much of her successful career in triathlon alongside her PhD work, there is good reason to believe this approach could work well.

Engineering Iron Man’s first win

Looking back at Lyon’s 2021 results, the world’s highest success – at least – was the victory at Iron Man Mallorca in September. The race was streamed live, and with the prize pool totaling $100,000, the entry list was also impressive. Cameron Whorf, world long-distance triathlon champion, Christian Hugenhug, German Florian Angert and Boris Stein. Looking back (shame!), I didn’t even mention Leon in our preview feature.

My memories of the Lyon race in Alcudia were that with the finish line barely a mile away, it didn’t look very good. After nearly eight hours of great racing, would he have blasted big time in the final stages?

“Actually, I think the wheels fell about 15 kilometers from the finish line! That’s when I went crazy. I was in the lead with Cam and Christian for about five hours, then on my own for two hours at that point and then of course you don’t want to take the last 40 minutes from you that.

“I had that gap, about five minutes to Florian, which broke down – but it’s about managing my own resources. I think that’s something I can take from engineering and resource management, so I put it on autopilot and the help station I walked in, it was a very conscious decision. I was I know I can take 20 seconds walking and it will really help me.”

Scary, strange, wonderful…

When I spoke to Alex Yee before Tokyo 2020, he talked a lot about gaining the belief that you are good enough to compete with the best. Conquering Impostor Syndrome is real, and after success came faster than expected for Chevalier, this topic resurfaced in our conversation:

“Crossing the line is then that reassurance that you did, and then it’s ‘Wow, I can’t believe I did that.'” “Coming into this race, I was just hoping to run under 2:50 for the marathon as I had never had a flat track before. Winning it was a surreal thing.”

“This race has been quite stacked. When you’re at home you think you can do these things – I know how hard I can do on a bike, I know how fast I can run – but to actually do that on race day against other people and see where you are It made me realize that’s the kind of court I’m on right now, and hopefully eventually I can race for the top spots in the biggest races.

“It’s kind of confidence-boosting but kind of scary at the same time. You hear about impostor syndrome, and then all of a sudden you’re there and in the mix. It’s kind of weird but awesome at the same time.”

“I’ve been looking for these guys that I’ve been racing for years, and I’ve always thought there was something really special to be at the top of professional sports…and suddenly I was thrown, a little bit closer to the top. Then you see that the ‘special thing’ is hard work, a little luck, some Natural ability, but a lot of hours, in training and preparing and making sure that on race day you do what you need to do. It kind of broke that glass ceiling — all of a sudden I got so close.”

On the world stage

His results in 2021 have given him a great podium for next year, with St. George and Kona already qualified. These are invitations he will also take 100%…

“Yeah, I mean you qualify for the world championship… why don’t you go?! It’s a great opportunity to get both and qualify for both and it’s a luxury because it just means I can focus on going to those races and preparing for them.

“The St. George race will be my first race at this level and it will be a good race to see what it means to be in this whole atmosphere and then on race day what it feels like to have such a density of good athletes and to know where I can stack up against the other guys. Then I got a second chance in Kona.

“It also means that the two races I will be doing will be completely stacked, so if I want to have better odds of actually winning a race, I might need to branch out and do some other races, so I’m going to do Ironman Ness which at the end of June. They will probably be all three. Which I will be doing this year, throwing about 70.3 seconds to blow up the cobwebs and have a sharp sprint.”

Long and clear, please…!

When I spoke recently to Rudi von Berg – another athlete who will coincidentally target Iron Man France – we talked in depth about some of the changes in the sport, and the decisions that need to be made in terms of choosing races, distances and entering PTO Tour events for example.

For at least 2022, Chevalier has been clear on his personal goals:

“I definitely went long distances with the intention of competing at an iron distance, and at the same time the PTO came with their events. The downside for me is that they are shorter than the 70.3 distance, so you can’t prepare for an eight hour race as a sportsperson and then necessarily expect to perform (on highest level) in a three-hour race.

“Besides, the opening matches are in Canada and the USA, and as a starting athlete, I’m actually going to the US to take part in two world champions this year. If you go two more times – not just in terms of finances, but travel and the cost to your body – that puts A new dimension to sports. I think this year I will focus on [IRONMAN] The world champions because there are two of them and maybe then and I’m more established as an athlete, I’d have a better chance of racing the PTO Open Races.

Leon Chevalier on bike at Iron Man UK 2021, Bolton
Leon Chevalier on bike at Iron Man UK 2021, Bolton

“I love Ironman very much, but as I saw from the races I did last year – Alpe d’Huez, Embrunman, Bolton, Mallorca – I love a bike path that tests all the abilities of a bike rider. Taking a corner, climbing, descending, aerobic – I find that It’s really fun to compete and prepare. I hope these races are still there for people to race, and not left out for drag racing elsewhere.”

French Revolution

We finished discussing the impact his advances had on his home country of France. While Vincent Louis is clearly the main name in terms of French elite triathlon, there is deep strength also across distances, with many budding long-distance athletes making rapid progress.

“France has this great infrastructure and system for short tracks, and it’s very similar to football and rugby clubs. You score 12/13 for fun, then you compete in these local tournaments and then you qualify for the higher levels. From 13 to 18, I was doing two tournaments. Two nationals every year, and to do that I had to qualify through one or two other races before that.Then you move on to the D1/D2/D3 leagues, so there’s an amazing level of racing at basically sprint distance.

“It means that I was not really one of that level, as there were many French athletes who were much better than I was.

“Going the long haul, there is a host of new faces that have appeared on the French side this year, with Clement Mignon, Sam Laidlaw, Margolene Pierre and even Arnold Gillot who has been around for a while. [Ed. winner of IRONMAN Wales in 2019]Denis Chevrot…so there are a lot of French athletes now on the long-distance scene.

“Ironman’s win obviously really put me ahead, it really has a lot of oomph in France. It’s the race you hear about when you start a triathlon and it’s the race you want to complete. That put me on the map, over a third in IRONMAN UK.

BOLTON, ENGLAND - JULY 4: Frenchman Sam Laidlaw (left) reacts after taking second with France's Leon Chevalier (right) third at Iron Man UK on July 4, 2021 in Bolton, England.  (Photo by Nigel Rhodes/Getty Images for Iron Man)
Photo by Nigel Rhodes/Getty Images for Iron Man

I raced in the Alpe d’Huez [Ed. finishing second to Clement Mignon] And this was the race that put me on the French radar. Then Embronman’s win was kind of saying “it wasn’t a coincidence”. I’ve had a lot of nice messages from people on Instagram, they really remember Embrunman or Alpe d’Huez, because they are the races they have signed up for and have always been looking for, to complete those legendary races. Iron Man (in general) isn’t a big thing in France – it’s either Cute Iron Man or Embronman.”

Leon Chevalier at Alpe d'Huez Triathlon 2021 / Endura
Leon Chevalier at Alpe d’Huez Triathlon 2021
(Image source: Côme Bonnet-Badillé)

“The sponsors of course know what the big races are in the world, so I think it’s important to perform in both scenes. Unless you’re the absolute best in the world like Jan Frodino or Daniela Reeve, I think it’s important to perform in both areas. [Ed. domestic and international]. “

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