EXCLUSIVE: Meet the man plotting to wreck Hoy's Olympic dream
21:30 GMT, 2 April 2012
Gregory Bauge has a smile wide enough to light up a velodrome and thighs strong enough to ruin Sir Chris Hoy’s golden summer.
Both grab your attention straight away, the smile belying a difficult seven months which have seen the Frenchman stripped of two world titles and banned for breaking anti-doping rules.
The bulging legs show why Bauge is one of the few men in the recent years to have beaten Hoy in the sprint, the blue riband event of track cycling which determines the fastest man on the planet.
Eyes on the prize: Gregory Bauge is gunning for Sir Chris Hoy
It’s the power generated by those legs
that makes Bauge sure he can swat Hoy again, first at this week’s World
Track Championships in Melbourne and then, more importantly, at the
‘I’m certain I can be the fastest in the world,’ says the 27-year-old, delivering the line with a friendly confidence rather than arrogance.
‘I’m the right age, I will be in good shape. Of course I can win. It gives me a lot of confidence, too, that I was the fastest in the world for three years in a row (2009 to 2011). I was world champion and I know I’m capable of big things again.’
A hip injury meant Hoy watched from afar as Bauge claimed the world crown in Pruszkow in Poland in 2009. But a year later in Denmark, he was subjected to the Frenchman’s full power, the four-time Olympic gold medallist beaten in a tantalising quarter-final.
Reining champion: Hoy won three gold medals in Beijing
Bauge triumphed again a year later – Hoy lost in the semi-finals to Jason Kenny – and the Frenchman took the crown for a third time in a row in Holland last year, a title which he would later be stripped of.
But at the test event in London in February, Hoy took revenge, beating Bauge in the last eight on the way to gold.
So does that mean the 36-year-old Scot is again the man to beat
‘Hoy is older than the rest of us and
that experience is important,’ says Bauge as we sit in the centre of the
velodrome at l’INSEP, France’s national institute of sport, the
incredible gradient of the steep track surrounding us a constant
reminder of just how tough this sport is. ‘He was the best in 2008 and
he wants to be the same in London.
On your bike: Bauge trains in Paris
‘He knows what he wants, how to do it and he doesn’t want to let down the home crowd. I have so much respect for him doing what he is at his age. Each time he wins, it is an even better achievement.
‘How can I beat him It will come down to a tiny mental or physical difference. There is no special recipe or tactic. I’ve beaten him, he’s beaten me. We will see. I’m already in much better condition than I was at the test event.
‘It was my first event back after the ban and I still won one leg off him. It will be a great contest with great sprints. And don’t rule out others (Germany’s Robert Forstemann and Maximilian Levy are other strong contenders). Today you might say that the two best in the world are Bauge and Hoy but someone could sneak up.’
Bauge, whose family come from
Guadeloupe, grew up just outside Paris, trying football before taking up
cycling properly aged nine. ‘My dad was very into cycling and had lots
of magazines around the house. So I knew about the best cyclists of that
era: Arnaud Tournant, Laurent Gane. I watched a lot of the Tour de
France and the Tour of Spain with him.
Three in a row: Bauge celebrates last year's win
‘I started as a road cyclist and did all types apart from BMX. I started doing a lot of competitions and then my dad suggested I tried the track.
‘At first the thought of falling is scary but you realise soon that if you go fast enough, you’ll be fine.
‘I realised it was more than a hobby when I was 16. I’d originally wanted to be out on the road, like Mark Cavendish does now, but then the idea grew on me of being a great champion like my coach Florian Rousseau, or Tournant.’
He was soon following in their
footsteps, winning endless regional and national titles as a teenager
before making his big break 10 years ago when he became junior team
sprint world champion. Already his incredible physique was bringing him
Built for success: Bauge's physique makes him well-suited to sprint cycling
‘I was always a bit bigger than the other children of my age and then I started working on my legs three times a week in the gym. In our sport you need to be strong, that’s what generates your power.’
Bauge needed power of a different kind in September of last year when he was given a backdated 12-month suspension for violating anti-doping regulations. The ban, which covered December 2010 to December 2011, saw him stripped of his individual and team sprint world championship titles.
‘I made three mistakes,’ says Bauge, a little more serious at this point. ‘The first time, I forgot to fill out the form to tell the authorities where I was going to be. I just forgot. The second time they came to my house, I wasn’t there, they tried to call my mobile but I was sleeping, so it was off. And the third I was not there, either.
‘I had no idea what the punishment would
be. I could have missed the Olympics. I was an idiot and I wasn’t
fulfilling my obligations as a sportsman. It was so hard telling my dad
and sisters what I’d done.’
Second chance: Bauge was banned for breaking anti-doping regulations
WHEN AND WHERE TO WATCH…
Live coverage of the World Track
Championships from Melbourne will be on the BBC red button and Eurosport
every day from 10am. These are the main events for British cycling:
WEDNESDAY: Sir Chris Hoy’s first chance of gold in the team sprint. France, Germany and Australia are the rivals.
THURSDAY: Laura Trott, Wendy Houvenaghel
and Joanna Rowsell go for gold in the team pursuit. Matt Crampton races
in the 1km time trial.
FRIDAY: Victoria Pendleton and Jess
Varnish want medals in the women’s sprint, with Australia’s Anna Meares
the main competition.
SATURDAY: Hoy goes for gold against
Gregory Bauge in the sprint, Pendleton and Varnish look for a win in the
keirin and it’s the final for Trott in the women’s omnium.
SUNDAY: Hoy goes again in the keirin while Rowsell tackles the individual pursuit.
Three such episodes of forgetfulness will always create cynicism but that is the price Bauge has to pay. He knows that if he beats Hoy in Melbourne or London, there will be some people who will forever brand him a ‘drugs cheat’.
‘People were suspicious of me, of course. It was an administrative mistake but it comes under the umbrella of drugs and how could I prove to people I was telling the truth I can understand why people who don’t know me would doubt me.’
They often have in a sport dominated by white competitors.
‘It is still difficult being a black cyclist,’ he suddenly says, out of nowhere. ‘There are people who say bad things to you that they won’t to a white person. It is stupid that that is the case but your skin colour is there and some people judge you on that.’
For the rest of us, it is Bauge’s supreme talent that is of interest and whether he can pip Hoy to the top of the podium in London.
‘A successful Games would be two gold medals,’ he says. ‘That’s what I want.’
It should be pretty exciting finding out whether he gets them.