There is a life after professionalism. After three years spent in the Saint-Michel-Auber 93 team, at continental level, the 2e cycling division, Kévin Le Cunff embarks at 32 years on a new adventure: that of handisport. After years of pedaling among able-bodied people despite “Two club feet and an atrophied calf”, the Parisian runner, who has not found the hoped-for new professional contract, is about to finalize a project that he has been maturing for some time.
“When I was young, I never thought about handisport. I wanted to go as far as possible among the elite. That’s what I did. But I talked about it with one of my teammates: “The day my professional career stops, I will find out a little more …” “, confided the one who finished at 17e place du latest Paris-Tours, second best Frenchman.
Performing among amateurs, where he combined his passion with a job as a technician in a Snecma factory, Kévin Le Cunff had climbed the ladder since the 3e category up to the Auber 93 reserve team. In 2016, he had some successes that opened the doors of the professional world to him.
“My pedaling gesture is not complete”
Discreet, the runner never spoke publicly about his handicap but never hid it either: “I have a completely atrophied calf. Everyone sees it, but few people asked me the question. Maybe I think it bothered them. However, in my entourage and within my team, there was no taboo. Everyone knew it. “
At ease in online races, he multiplied the places of honor during his time with professionals, winning his only victory at the Boucles de l’Aulne in 2018 or finishing still second in the last stage of the Tour de Mayenne 2019, “jumped” on the line by sprinter Bryan Coquard.
“I tried never to consider my handicap as a handicap. But it’s sure that every day it is. I’m completely restrained. I have no mobility and therefore my pedaling gesture is not complete. I was really penalized in the time trial type and less embarrassed as a dancer “, explains Kévin Le Cunff.
Head coach of para-cycling in the French Handisport Federation (FFH), Laurent Thirionet was responsible for welcoming the former professional into this new world. A leg amputee at 23, he was a two-time Paralympic champion and leads a national Division 1 team in Dunkirk just joined Le Cunff.
“Kevin is a good runner. At first he was saddened not to find a contract with the pros but after he made up his mind to do the Tokyo Paralympics, delivers the ex-champion. He has a minimum handicap to be eligible for disabled sports, the same kind as what the best French, Brazilian or American runners also have. It’s a real performance to have been pro. Without that, maybe he would have passed a milestone … “
Skip the classification step
While Kévin Le Cunff planned to start his new career at the end of March, the Covid-19 pandemic postponed his projects indefinitely. He who already saw himself shining this summer in Tokyo will now have to wait a year after the postponement of the Paralympic Games (from August 24 to September 5, 2021).
A contingency that has advantages and disadvantages. The postponement will give him a little more time to “Work on its weak points” : the track and the time trial. But it will not allow him to surf the form of his end of professional career: “I only had to maintain it for a few months to achieve my summer goals. “
At the FFH, this setback is taken with philosophy. As a new disabled athlete, Kévin Le Cunff has to pass the classification stage, an in-depth medical examination which will assign him a category according to his handicap. There are five different ones for cyclists.
For Pierrick Giraudeau, performance director, the postponement will avoid any rush: “It will give us one more year to accompany him more calmly, I hope for him, until the Games. The more the competitions were canceled, the more one despaired of being able to classify it. ”
In order to be eligible for the Paralympic Games, the rider had to align himself either on the World Cup round which was scheduled in Italy at the end of April, or on the Worlds which were to take place in May in Belgium. The transition from professionalism to disabled sport will therefore be slower.
“I explained to him that he was entering an environment where we are sometimes not yet considered to be real high performance athletes and where the races are less publicized. He’s going to have to assimilate it but he’s smart enough for that, launches Laurent Thirionet, optimist. It comes at a time when para-cycling is becoming more professional. Thanks to Paris 2024, we have more resources. I think he will make a better living by being a true hope for medals than by being a continental runner. “
Young thirty-something, Kévin Le Cunff still has many good years ahead of him. The cyclist can draw inspiration from his new coach: Laurent Thirionet was 42 years old when he won the last of his seven Paralympic medals in London in 2012.