Jean-Luc Perez, an associate professor of physical sciences, has been teaching for fifteen years at the Louis-le-Grand high school in Paris. Also an ultra-cycling specialist and father of 3 children, he won this summer's RAF, Race Across France a 2,600-kilometer endurance race that crosses the country from south to north, setting a new world record: 4 days and 23 hours.
THE RACING CYCLIST
- You are the first physics teacher with the most world records in ultra cycling. How do you feel?
The results are important because I am a competitor, but I don't forget that I am a simple 48 year old amateur. I don't attach much importance to these records. I always think about the race or the next project.
- One week after your exceptional performance in the 2600 km RAF, what are your impressions?
I was surprised by my ability to recover. The race ended on Thursday at 1 pm and I went to bed normally at 11 pm, after having had dinner with my team. Immediately, I was able to work from 9am to 8pm. Of course, I didn't touch my bike for 10 days except to move around Paris. The normal course of life resumed.
- What was the first thing you did after the race?
I immediately drank a beer and took a shower! Then I tried to eat fatty foods. My body had been trained to an effort and a restrictive diet for a few months, it was as if all my cells were calling out to extremes: beer, French fries, bread…
- What are the best and worst memories of this race?
The worst were the last 2 nights, I really suffered because I fell asleep on the bike and I started to have hallucinations. I was seeing everything twice. The shapes of the trees, the shadows of the poles - created by the lighting of the street lamps - were becoming living creatures and were literally moving. It was a crazy thing! And the hardest part was mentally, because I had to find springs inside me to stimulate me and keep me awake. Often I would call my wife and children who were in California. With the jet lag it was afternoon for them so we could talk.
The best was without a doubt the start of the race. A strong and exciting moment because it was the concretization of all the physical and logistic preparation. I was there at last and the landscapes of the Grasse region were magnificent. In spite of a very big heat and a lot of unevenness, the first 300km remain a very good memory.
- How did your entourage, your family, your friends, your students react?
They were all proud of me and I must say that they were the ones who helped me surpass myself throughout the event. I received many messages of encouragement and support on social networks. I had the pleasure of seeing my principal come to encourage me in the Galibier climb. Running friends also came to ride next to me. A Facebook contact even brought me a case of beer that my audience was eager to drink! It was all along the way so many testimonies of friendship and sympathy that I was transported by this collective atmosphere of sharing. Sometimes, at the exit of a village, an unknown runner would come to me to talk to me, to share his energy. I realized what we, Ultra runners, meant to many enthusiasts, and I loved this trip through rural France.
- You are 48 years old, and started cycling quite late, how did you become double record holder on 2 reference ultra cycling events in the United States and in France, in only 1 year; how do you judge your progress?
The Race Across America (RAAM) in 2019 was a trigger. Shared with my friend Evens Stievenart, this extraordinary race was such a strong human experience that I understood that day how much pleasure and passion made it possible to go very far in surpassing oneself. Evens, a confirmed and recognized champion, was able to instill in me the necessary approach to transform apprehension into the fuel of performance. As a top-ranked racer and record-breaker, Evens helped me understand how the management of small details allows you to go from a good result to an exceptional result with a record.
For the Race Across France (RAF), I only reproduced this scheme applied on the RAAM. Accompanied by an exceptional team, the Race Across France was a fantastic crossing of our territory.
I'm 48 years old and I feel like I was stronger than when I was 47, but that's what I thought when I was 47 too. I think that accumulating experience in Ultra allows you to better manage your effort and therefore to progress. You manage to anticipate and predict your body's behavior and compensate for a drop in your physical performance through management. We are more into analysis. Upstream, the physical and logistical preparation becomes more important when you are 48 years old than 25 years old for example because the capacity of recovery is diminished when you get older... It's the eternal story of the hare and the tortoise!
- What is your favorite distance?
I like the 2500km format. I admit that I have never exceeded this distance in solo. 2500km is about 5 days. Beyond that, I find it hard to imagine...
- How are you experiencing this new status of French leader in ultra-cycling?
I don't think I have a special status and I don't want it. There are a lot of very strong French riders in Ultra and also on different formats. A very strong rider on a 24H format in a bunch on a circuit may not be strong on 2500km and a strong rider on 2500km may also weaken on 5000km...
What counts is the envy I give to people, young people and my students. I live in Paris and in the winter, I lead a metro/work/sleep life. I also have my family life. But in the summer, I'm an Ultra runner. This life pattern is well filled on paper, and yet! With a certain balance of life, organization, rigor and sacrifices, well we are able to cross 8 Alpine passes in 20 hours non-stop! And if I can do it, others, who would have the desire and the motivation, can do it too!
Can you tell us about a typical week of training in preparation for an ultra race?
A typical week means at least 20 hours of cycling. I alternate between 3-hour sessions with a mix of split exercises where we repeat short and intense efforts with 5-hour sessions minimum where we ride at 65% of our maximum. The idea is to tire the body and then go into cruise mode to develop endurance capacities. A few months before the deadline, we also follow on phases of 3-4 days of endurance of 280-300km. The objective is to accustom the body to adequate nutrition and also to reduce the recovery phase. So we finish late in the evening and start early in the morning. These days are not easy or even downright boring because we are alone to ride for hours and hours.
As much as a pro knows why he rides every day as much as we do at this moment, we touch the absurdity of doing this type of training. There is no pleasure unless you live in a region with mountains, landscapes to admire and little traffic. Nevertheless, it pays! Because once in the race, with the support of our team and the encouragement of our family and friends, we are able to pedal 500km per day!
- Do you practice other sports as a complement?
I don't really have time to do other sports, I'm quite exclusive to cycling.
- Which international and national athletes do you admire? Do you have a role model?
I admire triathlon athletes because they are able to do what I do in 3 disciplines. It's very strong and I don't feel capable of it. I think that deep down I would have liked to do an IRONMAN event but to this day it's just a dream. In general, I take my hat off to professional athletes because their life is all about training/recovery and competitions. One does not realize enough the efforts to be provided, the sacrifices to be made, the privations, the lack of presence with one's close relations... Our French champions such as Thibault Pinot, Julien Alaphilippe are inspiring champions because they are healthy, balanced and human.
A MAN OF COMMITMENT
- In your opinion, what role should elite athletes play in this race against time against global warming?
Alas, when we say competitions, we mean traveling by means of transport such as cars or planes. I also feel guilty because in Ultra with assistance, we are in contradiction with what we are looking for. Ultra corresponds to this sharing with Nature. We live and breathe Nature during all our race. And besides that, we are followed by our assistance vehicles just as the Tour de France has a cohort of vehicles, whether teams, sponsors and media. All this contributes to pollution and global warming. Finally, in training we are much more responsible and consistent with this practice. No following car, just us, our bike and Nature. The Ultra has developed "self support" categories which, in my opinion, are the future of the Ultra. Professional races will also have to think about other "greener" or at least more responsible formats to accompany the energy transition.
- You ran under the HELLIO colors, what are the reasons and your relationship with this company?
I just talked about energy transition and HELLIO is a major player in it. I immediately adhered to HELLIO's philosophy and ethics. Indeed, HELLIO's offer contains key words in my opinion: energy control and management. These are exactly the ingredients needed in Ultra and this is exactly what every citizen must do in his daily life. Beyond the Race Across France I want to get back on my bike and ride through the cities of France to carry this message of control, change, transition...People are too uninformed. Do better with less. HELLIO brings solutions and options to fight against global warming, to be an eco-citizen, to be responsible in this changing world and all this at a lower cost!
I say it with frankness without any specific interest to highlight HELLIO. Being a fulfilled physical sciences teacher in a big Parisian high school, I don't need HELLIO to live or to assume myself, but I am a bit annoyed to see that actors committed to the energy transition are not more accompanied. A city like Paris in particular has to consider all the offers.
In an interview, you said: "In ultra races, we win or lose together! ». But you are alone on the bike, can you please explain this sentence to us?
Before, during and after, my team of friends and family are always there. I pedal not to disappoint them, I pedal to send them back everything they give me: their time, their energy, their kindness, their friendship and their love. This is the strength of the Ultra. Solitary and collective discipline at the same time.
- When sleep deprivation and pain are felt, where do you get your determination?
As far as I'm concerned, my father had a stroke 5 years ago. He is alive but every day he struggles to keep his dignity. He has heavy after-effects but he tries to take steps, he tries to hold his fork...His efforts are indescribable and I don't see how I can complain and give up because of back or calf pain. My father's situation has led me to relativize and surpass myself. I can't complain. My suffering fades in front of his.
- What are, in your opinion, the keys to surpassing one's limits?
I think that in life you have to be lucid. Knowing what you are, knowing what you have, what you want. No need to want to copy models, no need to try to complicate your life. I'm not saying that you have to be a fatalist, on the contrary. On the contrary. But one must always start from one's life, from what one has.
- What is your favorite "mantra"?
I usually say: my limits are my opponent.
Jean Luc Perez Awards
- 2020 Victoire Race Across France 2600km solo - record of the event in 4d 23h
- 2019 Victory Race Across America in duet 5000km - record of the race in 6d 10h
- 2018 Vice world champion over 12H
- 2018 24H victory at Sebring (Florida)
- 2017 24H World Vice-Champion and 24H European Vice-Champion