Dominique Gabellini is a French businessman and part owner of the Rapha Condor racing team. Now 53, he grew up in Montpelier and as a junior rode with the French national squad. More recently, he has twice been British crit veteran champion. He divides his time between Rapha Condor and Professional Language Solutions, a global language school he runs and which is based in London.
“I was two months into an economics degree when I dropped out to concentrate on cycling. It was my father who pushed for me to do it. He wasn’t a cyclist but I think he recognised something in me and was prepared to support me, emotionally as well as financially. A year later, I was selected for the French national squad.
The step up to that level was huge. I was a climber, a good one (I weighed 63 kilogrammes back then) but I was 21 years old, a kid. Suddenly, I was riding famous stage races like the Tour of Catalonia and the Tour du Vaucluse, a race which includes the Ventoux. These races attracted riders from around the world, from Russia and from what was then Czechoslovakia. Technically they were amateurs but they were easily as good as the French pros. How did I get on? I didn’t see the front of the peloton once and it didn’t take long to realise I wasn’t going to make it. After six months I quit and went back to university. I didn’t touch a bicycle again for 25 years.
I’ve been pretty successful in my career and I think a lot of that has been to do with my approach to life. I’ve always been a sportsman (I was a tennis coach for a while) and I’m naturally very optimistic, very positive. The language company I now run enables people to conduct business in a foreign language by teaching them in natural way rather than an academic one. It’s a cognitive strategy which means we don’t translate into their mother tongue and we don’t use grammatical terminology. It’s very innovative and I think that’s why it has done well.
I got back into riding about six years ago, after my cruciate ligament snapped. The physio who treated me recommended cycling to help my recovery. I worked near the Condor shop in London, so I went there to buy a bike. I mentioned to the staff that I used to ride at national level – they laughed.
But I knew how to train. I knew that summer races are won in winter and so I started riding in Regents Park at the weekends. I’d begin at 5am, with lights and when the park was closed. I’d do 100 miles, riding for six or seven hours. One day I met an old man, a former time triallist. He told me there was racing at Eastway [in east London] and I should consider competing again. To win at Eastway you had to be a sprinter. Having been a good climber, I had to learn to sprint.
Becoming a full-time pro was never an option for me because I wasn’t good enough but at the age of 47 I became a First Cat. A year later, I won 30 races in a year, including two Elite criteriums. I still train hard but as I have a family I have to plan everything around them. I ride three times a week, twice for three hours and a long, five-hour ride on Sunday. I also do two hours on the turbo twice a week and I try to eat well. Of course I was better at 21 than I am now but I have won the national veteran crit title twice, in 2003 and 2005.
Riding is a great form of therapy for me and I ride in the countryside around London. It’s beautiful and I know most of the lanes like the back of my hand. If you ride on your own, it’s a great to chance to reflect on what’s going on in the rest of your life. I’ve solved some significant problems in my business when I’ve been out riding alone. When you ride with other people the experience is completely different. Of course it’s social but you talk to people much more than you would normally. There’s something about the shared experience that enables you to open up to them. I always get back home with such a sense of achievement. I’m refreshed, I feel like I have a new head on, a new mind.”