In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement which defends social justice, Xavier Jourson wishes to make his contribution, but in a different way. Through sport, he wants to break down stereotypes about the black community that its members are not able to shine in endurance disciplines.
In August 2022, the former professional rugby player in France and South Africa (2009) established in Montreal for three years will tackle the most difficult event in the world in triathlon. He will start the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon which has 3.8 km of swimming, 180 km of cycling and 4.2 km of running on courses with 5,235 m of vertical drop in the fjords of Norway. The record is 9 h 52 min 10 s and some cross the finish line in 18 hours.
“If playing in South Africa has been my greatest sporting achievement, the Norsemen is the project of a lifetime,” said Jourson at the outset. I want to be a role model and an agent of change. I will be so proud if a little black boy adopts triathlon. I would have won if only five blacks from Montreal or elsewhere opt for the triathlon. ”
To mark the spirits, the athlete who will celebrate his 35th birthday on December 25 wanted to tackle a flagship event of the triathlon. “If I want to break stereotypes, I have to put difficulties in my project. They say black people are afraid of the cold. Winter does not bother me and it is to break the clichés that I chose an event where the cold will be an important factor. ”
“It's very complicated for blacks to swim,” Dayson continued. We have the heavier bones and builds. We also have a bigger pool. It's scientifically proven. It's also rare to see a black man on a bicycle. For the past five months I have been riding a racing bike and people are giving me an intrigued or scornful look, thinking what the hell am I doing here. There are a lot of judgments and prejudices. ”
Jourson points to the example of the Tour de France where only one black out of 180 riders took the start. This is Kévin Reza who is from Guadeloupe. A native of Lyon to parents from Guadeloupe who moved to mainland France at the age of 18, Jourson plans to chat with Réza after the Tour de France to find out his perception. He has been sending her encouraging messages since the start of the Tour. The parents of the two athletes are neighbors in Guadeloupe.
“I want to make my contribution through actions by pushing blacks to achieve their own Norseman,” he says. I want to bring my stone to the building. I started training in March and the Black Lives Matter movement took the project forward. My experience in South Africa in a country that has experienced racial segregation also made me walk. It was a new challenge, a new civilization and a new way of life. Finding myself in a country that lived apartheid made me understand human nature. The gaze of people made me move forward and grow. ”
“$ 5,500 and two suitcases”
After spending a year and a half in California where he was treated for a serious thigh injury, he returned to France before arriving in Montreal in 2017 at the end of his rugby career which ended in 2016. ” I arrived here on May 24, 2017 with $ 5,500 in my pocket and two suitcases and no one to greet me, he says. Even though I didn't know hockey, I got interested in PK Subban and followed the playoffs. ”
“I was alone since my sister had left Montreal for a few months, but a lucky star guided me,” continued Jourson. I arrived here on tiptoe, but immediately got involved socially. Because I am working, I quickly rose through the ranks at the National Bank where I now occupy a senior management position, an opportunity that I would not have had in France. Because I had to return to France in August when my older sister died of cancer at the age of 34, I got the job without even going through an interview in person. ”
Knowing that he wanted to leave France, Jourson hesitated between Quebec and Africa as a land of welcome. “My little sister who lives in Montreal told me a lot about Quebec. This is why I want to dedicate my project to Quebec. I want to thank Quebec, which welcomed me and which is open. ”
His “little sister” was the headliner of the Mouvement Desjardins inclusion campaign. His face was on the Tour Desjardins for six months.
A documentary to change perceptions
Beyond the sporting feat, Xavier Jourson wants to leave a trace of his project in order to change perceptions of the black community. A documentary will be broadcast between September and December 2022 which will recount the highlights of his project.
As part of his intensive training which will continue until his departure for Norway in August 2022, Jourson will immortalize his experience. Negotiations are currently underway with a broadcaster.
Scenes were filmed among others on the Gilles-Villeneuve circuit at Île Notre-Dame, in Bromont, at sea in Percé, at the Peak Center. Other images of his camps in Florida, Arizona, France and Guadeloupe where his parents are born as well as his participation in Norsemen will also furnish the documentary of 81 minutes or which could also see the light of day in the form of six 22-minute episodes according to the broadcaster's wishes.
“When I wanted to buy a racing bike at the very beginning of my project, the salesperson surprised at my interest and smiling on his lips brought me to the $ 1,500 bike department, recalls Dayson. He changed his mind when I told him that I wanted a real racing bike, that I had a real budget and explained my motivation. I then understood that I had to make a documentary to change perceptions. Same thing when I find myself at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on Sunday morning at 10 am to ride and I am the only black among the sixty cyclists. ”
“The documentary will relate my progress, my challenges, my failures and my successes,” concluded Days.
Significant physical transformation
From 118 kg when he started training in March, Xavier Days cut 16 kg.
Recycled in training after a long career in the elite of international cycling with in particular 15 participations in Grand Tours, the French Pascal Hervé did not hesitate to agree to give a hand to Xavier Days, but he warned the former rugby player that his project was quite a challenge.
“It's a hell of a challenge and it's not possible to guarantee 100 percent success, but it is achievable,” says the co-owner of Peak Center, a specialized center for cyclists and triathletes based in Montreal. It's a bit of a crazy challenge, but I like the madness. I like to help people who are a little crazy. It is an ambitious project which defends a noble and interesting cause. ”
Richard Virenque's former teammate with Festina and Polti believes the cycling portion of the triathlon is the discipline that will require the biggest challenge for the former rugby player.
“It's the biggest challenge,” he says. It's a big, big challenge because the bike is 65 percent of the event. It is one thing to drive for bread, but it is quite different to drive 180 kilometers. We will ride together. He must develop his cycling skills as well as an efficient and economical pedal stroke. He cannot push hard all the time. ”
“His advantage is that he is a high level athlete and that he is ready to make the necessary sacrifices, to continue Hervé who made his protege pass a battery of tests (VO2 max) at the beginning of June. I like her determination. He has confidence in himself and he is quite capable of meeting this challenge. He will not take the start to finish in the last row. He hasn't lost his competitive spirit. Its success will depend on its evolution, but there is no question of launching it into such a project before it is ready. Next summer, he will participate in a few triathlons in Quebec to experience the transition between the events and he is also expected to participate in a half-Ironman. Camps in Florida, Arizona and Europe are also in the plan. We want to place it in the best possible conditions. ”
In its preparation, Jourson will offer itself two mythical climbs next September. He will tackle Mont Ventoux and Alpe d'Huez which have respectively 1909 m and 1120 m of vertical drop. With its 21 bends, Alpe d'Huez is the emblematic event of the Tour de France. “With an average speed of 20 km / h, I am aiming for a time varying between 2 h 45 and 3 h for the ascent of Mont Ventoux”, explains Jourson.
From a rugby player who was in the thick of the action on the line of scrimmage and not like the sprinter who runs 40 yards in 14 seconds to pass the test, Jourson saw a major physical transformation in his preparation for the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon. “He will experience a big physical and structural transformation,” explains Hervé. From a sport where explosion was the main quality sought, he will embark on a bicycle, an endurance sport. ”
“Our goal is to awaken Xavier's slow fibers and develop them,” Hervé continues. For some reason science doesn't, athletes of color use their fast fibers more. In the endurance test he will tackle, he will not be able to use his fast fibers for 12 hours. Usually in triathlons, the cycle routes are relatively flat, but this will not be the case in Norway. Cold is another aspect that will come into play. We have no idea how he will handle the cold. ”
From 118 kg when he started training in March, Jourson cut 16 kg. “The color of my skin hasn't changed, but people don't recognize me anymore,” he says with a laugh. The goal is for me to show up at the start with a weight between 90 and 93 kg. It's been day and night on my bike since I lost weight. I was completely done after 50km while doing 130km rides now. ”
In addition to Hervé, Jourson can also count on Luc Morin, triathlon specialist and co-owner at Peak Center, to support him.