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Pascale Schyns: “I vote for cycling”

At the end of each Tour de France stage, the winner and the overall leader can be seen at the press conference in front of dozens of journalists from all over the world. Since not all the riders speak English, the international language of cycling for some time, there is a need for someone to translate what they are saying. Here steps in Miss Pascale Schyns, who is doing this for almost two decades, recommended not only by her experience in the field, but also by the six languages ​​she knows very well: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and German.

I contacted Miss Schyns after the end of the Tour de France for an interview, and she has been kind to answer my questions, which covered many topics, from the 100th edition of the race, to the fight for the presidency of the International Cycling Union, between Pat McQuaid and Brian Cookson. What came out, you can read below.

– Miss Schyns, I know that you are the official translator of the Tour de France for almost two decades. Can you please tell me how you started working here? 

To make a long story short, after being a cyclist for five years and finishing my studies I started working now and then in cycling mostly like a translator and doing radio tour in several races. On the occasion of the track and road World Championships organized in Sicily in 1994, I was press officer Claude Sudres’ assistant. I believe he was happy with my job because when the Tour de France started looking for an official translator he recommended me to his son, Philippe, who was the press chief of the Tour de France. My functions in the Tour de France started in 1996.

– How were things before the Tour de France had its own translator? 

There were no translations. French was at that time the only official language in cycling, so people were supposed to speak French otherwise they had to manage to find somebody to help them translating the interviews and the press releases. After Lance Armstrong won stages in Paris-Nice and in the Tour in 1995 they understood cycling no longer belonged only to France and Europe. More and more riders and journalists spoke no French at all. It was time to start thinking about translating! Now the situation is completely different. English is the most spoken language in cycling and most of the time I have to translate French, Spanish, Italian or whatever into English, no longer into French. French is of course still the official language of the Tour but no longer of cycling.

– You know six languages, the most important in the world of cycling. Still, have you encountered any problems in the past with some riders, because of their way of talking?

When you translate a rider (or a journalist!) for the first time, and if he has a strange or particular accent, the first minutes can be difficult, the time of getting used to that. I remember the first time I listened to Neil Stephens, for example with his very strong and typical Australian accent. The first interview with Mark Cavendish I almost lost track. But I think that’s because he also lost track! He had something he wanted to say so he did not answer the question – he just went on about something completely different. I was not sure I understood the right thing. Fortunately later he told me the translation was correct.

– Can you please tell me how a normal day looks for you during the Tour de France?

My job for the Tour de France consists in being present at the village in the morning to assist Christian Prudhomme in his interviews each time he requests translation. But not only Christian! Bernard Hinault for example is also a much requested man. Some journalists also ask me to help them translating riders’ interviews, live or recorded ones. Once the start is given I head to the finish to follow the last kilometers of the race on TV. It is important to know what happened during the stage because it can be very useful for the translations. After the finish I accompany the riders in the mixed zone and translate their terms to the journalists who request it. After that I take the stage winner and the yellow jersey to the “Video interview space”. Some journalists come there to attend both conferences live but they have also the possibility to remain in the press room as a system of video give them the possibility to see and hear everything from their seat in the press room. They have also the possibility to question the riders at distance. Once this is finished I go to the press room and help some journalists who would like me to translate what was said in their own language.

– What do you think about the 100th edition of the Tour de France?

It was a really nice and exciting one. Chris Froome was definitely the best but his team was not and many things could have happen and indeed happened. The situation was uncertain till the last moment and finally we this year saw riders who were not racing only to take the second place in Paris but were ready to take risks to try and win the event.

– As a spectator, what were the biggest surprises (positive and negative) from your point of view? 

I always see the positive aspects of things and try to make the best of it. If there were negative aspects I already forgot them. Very nice is to see the emergence of young riders who make you believe in the future of cycling like Nairo Quintana for example, even if it was not a surprise for people following his progression since he was already the best in the Tour de l’Avenir. A surprise could be the fact Mark Cavendish is no longer unbeatable in the sprints but that is also a good thing because sprints will be the even more exciting: expectation till the last centimeter and I am sure the British rider will find a way to come out of this and win many other stages in the Tour de France. I hope so because he is so unpredictable from the moment he launches his sprint that you really enjoy watching how it will unfold.

– Many journalists have accused Chris Froome of doping. Do you see this as something normal, unavoidable, because of the times we live in? 

I don’t see it normal at all, but yes indeed it is unavoidable. People cannot avoid thinking about what happened the last years. But somebody must win the race, right? With or without doping somebody is supposed to be stronger than the other ones or not? Or do people want all the riders crossing the finish line at the same time hand in hand?

– Is the UCI also responsible for this climate? If so, how much is its fault? 

Of course, it is. First of all for closing their eyes during so many years because it was their own interest. Later by making a priority of anti-doping and controls not at all because they care about riders’ health but only because of economic interests. And then accusing and putting discredit on riders, like it is the case with Lance Armstrong, in order of protecting themselves. The UCI is not the only one that is responsible but for sure it is the organization which could prevent and fight against it a long time ago because they knew. Of course they knew. And cycling cannot stand that anymore.

– Pat McQuaid is seen as the person who damaged cycling the most. But is he the only guilty one? 

He is not the only one. The world was not born with him. Fortunately. But during the last eight years he was at the head of the organization which is deciding of our sport. And look at the results! I am not speaking about doping only. European cycling is dying: how many races, how many teams, how many sponsors disappeared? Globalization? Yes it is a wonderful idea but in many cases it is just a word, promises, because the UCI cares only of countries where there is money enough so that they can do profit. There is no real long-term project. They ask World Tour teams to give bikes to help “poor countries”. And a few weeks before the elections you see that the UCI is distributing those bikes to countries that will have a vote in the next elections, and not precisely the poorest ones. Besides that, do you think giving a poor country of Africa for example will help them developing their cycling? Such fragile bikes will broke after just a few kilometers on their roads. What they need is more cyclists, coaches, technicians to come to the Cycling Center to be formed and qualified coaches going to those countries to help the federations in their job. But of course there is no money for that. Everything is going to anti-doping, to useless commissions which disappeared after a few months…

– Beside a new president, what do you think is needed in cycling in order for something to change? 

Transparency is for sure compulsory to restore cycling’s credibility. Anti-doping must be completely independent. And real globalization is the third point. By real globalization I mean aiming at develop cycling on the five continents not to use it to make money out of it.

– Do you believe that the national federations are really willing to change Pat McQuaid? Can they do that or is his influence too big? 

It depends which ones! The ones which care for cycling, which like cycling and want to save and develop our sport instead of letting it die, for sure they will vote for change. The ones which president cares only for his personal interest, the travels he can do for free and the money he can put in his own tasks, for sure they are very happy with the current situation.

– What are your predictions for this sport, what do you think will happen if Pat McQuaid/Brian Cookson will be elected?

I am a very optimistic person. I am really fond of cycling. The case is very simple. People have the possibility to choose between death and life, between Pat McQuaid and Brian Cookson. I vote for life. I vote for cycling. So let’s hope Brian Cookson will be elected.

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