Léandre Bouchard launches new Quebec-based UCI pro team
Foresco Holding Proco RL Pro Team's two-rider roster takes on World Cup season with eyes squarely focused on Paris
Léandre Bouchard had a banner year in 2021. The tall Canadian cross country racer from Alma, Que. launched himself into the top-15 of a World Cup race, twice. Bouchard was on the front and racing shoulder-to-shoulder with the best in the world during several of last year’s Short Track XCC World Cups, too.
That all culminated in Bouchard winning first elite Canadian XCO national championship in Baie-St.-Paul in late September. Now, the 2016 Olympian is building off the momentum of winning the maple leaf jersey to launch an all-new Canadian UCI outfit: Foresco Holding Proco RL Pro Team.
Victor Verreault fills out the two-rider roster. Also from Quebec, Verreault moved up through the under-23 World Cup ranks during the summer. He capped his last u23 season off with a silver at nationals. He’ll be moving up to elite to race with Bouchard in 2022.
I caught up with Bouchard over the phone in Alma to talk about launching the new program, winning his first elite XCO title, and the shortened Olympic cycle leading into the Paris 2024 Games.
How did the new team, Foresco Holding Proco RL Pro Team, come together?
It had always been a dream we were thinking about with my home club and some close friends. At the last national championships I teamed up with Victor (Verreault) to have a good prep for nationals. I already know Victor from training with him. He’s come up to Alma to train together over the summer and he’s a great friend of mine. The national championships in Baie-St.-Paul were really successful, with me being the new elite champion and him finishing second in under-23.
The team isn’t supported by the usual bike company sponsors. How did you connect with Foresco Holdings?
Foresco’s been one of my main supporters since early last year. They came on board to help me, and try make a difference that season. Their support then had me thinking about the possibility of making a new team. With the other few sponsors coming on board, we made it happen. But already with Foresco’s support we were taking steps in the right direction with my racing. We saw an opportunity to take that further, and this is what we’re doing.
You’ve spent time on big European teams and a few smaller Canadian programs. Are there any advantages to starting a smaller program like this?
Yeah, a smaller program is more mobile, and more individual. I like that, personally, it keeps it really performance oriented for me. Sometimes you can have both advantages on one team. But since I’ve been in the highest level of sport for some time now I like having the smaller program and being able to choose what I want to do. It will help me achieve my best, having personal support at every race I go to. Victor will have that same support, as well.
Last season, you won your first elite national title. Does that change how you’re preparing for the 2022 season? Or how you feel going into the year?
It is a boost, I think. We’re in the process of finishing the clothing for the team right now. We had to do a regular kit for Victor and myself for short track, but we get to do a national kit for all the cross country races I’ll enter. That’s pretty cool to do and I’m excited to share it when we have the final product.
As for winning nationals, I take pride in it as proof that I was the best last year. I want to bring that positive energy into racing this season.
Winning nationals wasn’t your only big result last year. You also had career-best World Cup results and you were riding on the front at several of the Short Track XCC World Cup events. Was there anything that changed or clicked to make last season so successful?
I was going the best I ever had in training, and I also improved on the mental performance side. I’ve been working with Jacques Plouffe for two years now. The longer I work with him, the more I improve. It’s helped me give my best on a day-to-day basis. Being able to extract all the energy I have on race days as well on training days, that really makes a difference. I also had the support of my previous team.
Also, I was able to stay really focused, and wasn’t playing the head-game with the COVID issue. I looked at it as a challenge and tried to improve within those conditions and not think too much about what I can’t control. That really made a difference. I made a plan to be at my best for the May World Cup, then kept going with that and showing my best at races.
So after a successful year in 2021, what are your goals for the 2022 season?
I really want to make it to the top-10 at a World Cup. I’m also dreaming of a podium, but the goal is to get into the top-10. I’m really close, it’s just one or two per cent more to get there. We want to have a peak performance at a World Cup to try achieve that.
Also, I want to keep having good results in the short track and cross country race. I really appreciate being in that top-40 so that I can do two races a weekend, those XCC are really neat. I also want to keep my national champion jersey.
The next Olympics are only three years away now, because of the delay in Tokyo. Does that change your preparation going into this season? And what do you think Canada has to do to get a second men’s spot back for Paris in 2024?
Yeah, the qualification process for cross country is already starting in May this year. So it’s a long process. We need to have three solid men putting in top results. I hope that my Canadian teammates, we can up our game and perform regularly. We’ve got some good guys there and some of them were having strong results at the beginning of the year, or the previous year. But we need to have three men consistently getting results for the country to get that spot back. That’s what we’re looking at.
For me, the team is set up to bring me at my best into 2024. We want to improve the structure this first year, and we’ll have some stuff to learn. We think we’re going to do well for year one, but I think we’ll improve, too, in year two and three.
The 2022 World Cup racing season is approaching rapidly. Cross country racing starts April 8-10 in Petropolis, Brazil while downhill racers get a head start in France in late March.