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André Aubut, Manager of Team RONA: It’s Not About the Race
 
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 5/21/2002
André Aubut, Manager of Team RONA: It’s Not About the Race
 

By Daniel Larouche

It was the summer of 1994. André Aubut, a 38 year-old high school phys ed teacher, was working summers at Bicyclettes Rossi in Lachine, a Montreal suburb. A world class athlete, he had been a member of the Canadian canoe team – the Canadian boycott of the 1980 Olympic games had deprived him of a participation.

On that summer day, a small, almost frail, 12 year-old blonde girl entered the store with her father. André had seen her before at the shop, with the local vélo club. Since the Rossi store sponsored them, the store was their meeting point when they went for a ride.

The father approached Aubut. His daughter needed a coach, he explained. Someone to help her train. The student who used to coach her had found a summer job and had no more time to take care of her training. Would Aubut be willing to help?

André was interested in all sports, whether they involved balls, pucks, paddles or pedals. Over the years, he had become a cycling fan. Being at the Alpe d`Huez to see Andy Hampsten win a stage in the 1992 Tour de France had been a turning point of sorts. Indurain was his for his explosive style of racing.

André was also a coach. He had coached a few kayakers, including Caroline Brunet for about a year. Brunet would eventually win silver in Atlanta, and then be world champion three years in a row.

In addition to being a coach with a new passion for cycling, André liked to help. He turned to the father and said, "Yes, sure." No big task, he figured. It would involve writing a simple training program, updating it every few weeks and checking on the little blonde girl once in a while.

"What’s your name, anyway?" he asked.

"Geneviève," she answered. "Geneviève Jeanson."

"I had no idea what her potential might be," Aubut recalls. "I knew that as a pee wee she had finished second in the time trial the previous year at the Québec Games (an annual multi-sport event for youngsters aged 11-17). But she never won races. She hated climbing, and in time trials she usually finished closer to last than to first place. But she followed the program I had set for her. She trained a couple of times per week, I rode with her maybe once every two weeks, just to check her technique. The point, the only point, was for her to improve. That’s what training is about. That’s what sport is about." A pause. "That’s what life is about, right?"

And improve she did. She started to win local races. In 1996, she won the bantam Québec Cup, awarded on a point system similar to the World Cup. Aubut followed, from a distance. He didn’t even go to see her race until August, 1996. Driving back from a vacation in New England he stopped in the city where the Québec championships were being held. She won the road race, the time trial and the criterium.

"I thought she was a ‘good’ cyclist back then, but not outstanding", he now says. "Her competition was not all that tough, compared to, say, the level she would have faced in comparable canoe races."

Two weeks after her triple crown, Geneviève solemnly informed André that she wanted to race with the juniors the following year, even though she was still a cadet (15-16 years old) She wanted, she told him, to compete in the junior Worlds. And would he help her achieve that?

"Fine", he said after giving it some thought. "Except that "competing" can’t be your objective. You have to go for gold. And work accordingly. From now on we’ll have to work seriously. You’ll train year round, not from May to September. You will work hard and you will work smart. We will set out a plan, and we’ll follow that plan. You will be totally dedicated to that plan, because that’s the key to achieving your objectives. You will trust me and I’ll trust you. As long as it works like that, you’ll improve and we have a deal. If it doesn’t…"

"Deal," she answered. And that was that. Thus was sealed the covenant which, to this day, is the foundation of their cooperation.

In 1997, at age 15, she won the first junior race she entered. And the junior Québec Cup, and the Canadian junior championship – both time trial and road race. Yet she could not go to the Worlds – she was underage. But on she went, finishing on the ITT podium at the 1998 Worlds, and winning both the road race and the ITT at the 1999 junior World Championships. The rest – her spectacular wins at Snowy and Flèche Walonne in 2000, Sydney, Team RONA and her convincing victories in 2001 and 2002 -- is now relatively well known.

What is NOT as well known, though, is how things haven’t fundamentally changed since that September day in the way Aubut approaches coaching and training. "Sport is not about winning", he says. "It’s about being the best you can – and making today’s best better than last week’s. It’s about improving. Otherwise, there is no point."

Set a goal. Design a good plan. Stick to it. Change it if it turns out to be wrong (no point in being stubborn). Achieve your goal. Repeat as necessary -- with a tougher goal. "Whether you’re managing a billion-dollar business, a cycling team or coaching just one athlete, you need method, dedication and measurement. There is no other way", he says. "Not in my world, anyway."

True to this philosophy, Aubut has little tolerance for improvisation. But loves measurement. He wants to know how he stands in relation to the goal. Time after time, he and the girls go back to the same hills, the same stretches of road. So he can benchmark times and speeds. So he knows whether the girls are improving. He has his favorite spots in Arizona, where Team RONA trains during the winter months, as well as closer to home, in Quebec and Vermont’s Green Mountains.

That explains why he now works with power meters. "It doesn’t change the fundamentals. But it does give more objective measurements. The temperature may be different, the wind may be different, but wattage is the most objective measurement you can get now."

Aubut’s approach also explains Team RONA’s aggressive approach to racing – why Jeanson will kill the field on the last day of a stage race even if she’s leading by umpteen minutes. "We don’t train to race," he repeats. "We race to train. Racing is a phase in a training program, another way to improve. Racing is training in a different environment. And if a girl needs a workout, I don’t care how fast or slow the peloton is. She’ll get the workout she needs."

"Because in the end, you’re competing against yourself. That’s the only race that really counts."


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