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Saturday, September 1, 2007

Interview:  Saul Raisin
by Pete Geyer,
(interview conducted by phone August 25)

Saul Raisin
photo Copyright © 2004 Pete Geyer

Just 17 months ago, American Saul Raisin of the French Crédit Agricole team lay in a coma in a French hospital after crashing during a stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe race.  His parents caught the next plane to France not knowing if Saul would still be alive when they arrived.  They soon learned that if he did survive, he'd be paralyzed for life.

After many months of rehabilitation, Saul Raisin today will once again pin race numbers on his jersey, competing in the US Pro Time Trial Championships.  The Saul Raisin story, told so beautifully in the book, "Tour de Life: from Coma to Competition" (written with award-winning author Dave Shields) is getting brighter and brighter.  Indeed, life is good for Saul Raisin.  The book is published, he's back on the bike, and he'll be marrying Aleeza Zabriskie (sister of David) three months from today.

Anticipating the media demands on Saul's time this weekend (he'll be interviewing with reporters from CNN and "Inside Edition"), checked in with Saul last Saturday for a phone interview.  Saul couldn't have sounded happier.  The interview, "interrupted" once or twice by a playful Aleeza, touched on Saul's emotions surrounding his race today, the book, his Crédit Agricole team, his upcoming wedding, the French, and what he needs to do in order to be cleared to race a full schedule in 2008.  After informing Saul of Tour organizer ASO's threat to invite some national teams to the Tour, we asked Saul to name some teammates for a U.S. national team.  Would he pick Dave Zabriskie, Aleeza's brother?  Saul was understandably reluctant to name such a team, lest he forget someone.  But he's such a good sport, he played along anyway.  (If he forgot to name someone who feels he should have been named, blame us, not Saul!) First of all, Saul, congratulations on your comeback to the pro ranks.  This is amazing.

Saul:  Thank you.

CF:  Last year, we didn't know if you were going to be able to get back this far.

Saul:  Well, it's still in the coming.

CF:  Saturday is fast approaching...

Saul:  Oh I know, it's insane.  I can't believe it.  I'm going to wake up the day of the race and be blown away.  Emotional, completely in tears, just putting my race numbers on.

CF:  There are medical teams on both sides of the Atlantic and fans everywhere pulling for you.  What are your emotions right now?

Saul:  They're incredible, above and beyond words, like I can't describe how I feel.  It's like I tell Aleeza or I tell everyone, I feel like I've been truly blessed.  Because for me and actually my team and my family and everyone, my first goal was just to live a normal life again.  Cycling was just completely out of the question.  We never thought I'd race a bike again.  And now, I have my normal life and will be returning to racing September 1.

CF:  How is the training going?

Saul:  Good, I'm starting to really back off the hours on the bike.  Right now I'm doing a lot of interval work on the time trial bike.  I'll back off a few days before the race.  But the last month has been a lot of intensity.

CF:  Let's talk about your book, "Tour de Life."  What did it mean to you going through the process of writing the book?

Saul:  Throughout the writing of the book, I'd remind Dave Shields, my writer, "Dave, I want this book to be written to help people that either have a brain injury or any kind of major illness."  That was my whole goal with the book, to show people never to give up and to tell them it always gets better and to keep hope.  That's why the book is written where I am currently right this second before racing because if things don't get better (my progress on the bike), I'm not going to cry home...because life's great.

CF:  It's truly an inspirational book...

Saul:  You've read it?

CF:  Yes, I've read it.

Saul:  Oh cool, thank you.

CF:  So when is the movie coming out?

Saul:  (laughs)  You're going to have to talk to Steven Spielberg.

CF:  It would make a great movie.  So you'll be signing books next weekend (in Greenville, SC)?

Saul:  Oh, absolutely.  And also I'll be going to Interbike in Vegas (in late September) and signing books there.

CF:  Your team, Crédit Agricole, is special, isn't it?

Saul:  Oh yes, it's one of a kind.  The history of the team goes back about 42 years.  The actual club is called Veloclub de Paris.  Our team is more like a family than a team.  It's wonderful.  We have a soigneur who has worked for something like 30 years on the team.

CF:  A number of team sponsors are leaving the sport, for a variety of reasons.  Crédit Agricole has announced they will pull out after 2008.  What does that mean to you?

Saul:  Well, Crédit Agricole has been sponsoring the team now for....I wanna say 10 years.  They've been a wonderful sponsor over the years.  They're just backing out because they say it's time.  It's not because of drugs.  It's just because it's time and they want to move on to do other things.  What can you say...they've been a great sponsor and Roger Legeay, our team director, is looking for another sponsor to take their place.  I hope he finds one.

CF:  You and Aleeza are moving back to France...

Saul:  Yeah, January 7 we're going back.

CF:  Do you still have your condo or do you need to look for a new place?

Saul:  No, I still have it.

CF:  That's got to be exciting.

Saul:  Oh yeah, absolutely, because my goal is to have a full racing schedule next season.  And if I do a full season of racing and Aleeza lived in Salt Lake City, we would never see each other.  It would be practically impossible, other than when I come home for Tour of California.  Just for both of us....we're going to be newly married.  She's moving to France so we can spend all of our time together.

CF:  Do you have a date set for the wedding?

Saul:  December 1.

CF:  A lot of exciting things coming up for you then.

Saul:  Oh absolutely.  Trust me, the wedding is going to be more exciting than US Pro, I guarantee you.  I'm looking forward to my wedding more than US Pro, that's for sure.

CF:  It's obvious from reading your book how much you love, appreciate, and know France as a country.  The experience of the past 16 months has probably reinforced that, hasn't it?

(The subject of the wedding perhaps has stirred Aleeza who is joking with Saul in the background...)

Saul:  (laughter)  I'm so sorry.  My fiancé is joking with me.  Can you repeat the question one more time?  I'm so sorry.  She's cracking me up.  (To Aleeza:  This is the third time he's asking me this question!)

Aleeza:  I'm sorry!

(laughter all around)

CF:  Is Aleeza as hilarious to be around as her brother, David?

Saul:  Oh, no, she's NOTHING like her brother.  Night and day different.

CF:  Does she speak French?

Saul:  Does Aleeza speak French?  She knows "Oui"..."Non"...  She says she knows all the dirty words but she doesn't.  I'll teach them to her.  She took four years of French in school but she doesn't speak a word.  Actually she speaks more than she says she does but tries to act stupid.

Aleeza:  I don't!

Saul (to Aleeza):  Well, you do!

(I repeat the earlier question)

CF:  It's obvious from reading your book how much you love, appreciate, and know France as a country.  The experience of the past 16 months has probably reinforced that, hasn't it?

Saul:  It really has.  I fell in love with France as a country, the culture, the people.  Once you know and understand the language and get to know the people, you really respect or really get a sense for the people and the country.  They're really simple, good, down to earth people.  I think that's why America and France, we always have conflicts because we're so much alike.  The French are really kind, very affectionate people.  They're good people, hard working.  And it does play a role in my life.  I live in France when I'm racing.  So yeah, absolutely.  And the French saved my life...

(I mention having moved to France myself in the middle of the 1989 Tour, the year of Greg LeMond's comeback from a hunting accident.  Saul and I speak French for a bit.  His French is better than Armstrong's, closer to LeMond's, no doubt in part because Saul, like LeMond, races for a French team.)

CF:  Saul, as a rider do you follow the political battles between (Tour organizer) A.S.O. and the UCI?

Saul:  Absolutely I don't.  But you can fill me in and I'll tell you my opinion.

CF:  You're just tuning it out?

Saul:  Actually, since my accident, I've been really out of the loop with cycling and what's going on.  I've just been focusing on my recovery and getting back.  So I haven't been keeping up with things.  When I get back, I'll get up to date for sure.

CF:  ASO has talked about maybe inviting some national teams to the Tour de France as early as 2008.  There has been a good deal of debate about this in France but not elsewhere.  For fun, if you rode for a US national team in the Tour de France, who would you like to see on your team?

Saul:  Wow, that's a good question...

CF:  You'd better include Dave (Zabriskie, Aleeza's brother)...

Saul:  Wow, that's a hard question.  I don't know if I want to answer that one!


CF:  I wasn't sure that you'd want to.

Saul:  No, I don't want to answer it!

CF:  But you'd have to include Dave...

Saul:  Maybe.  (laughs)  I don't want to leave anyone off.  I'll take a pass on that one.  (pauses)  Can I change the nationality of some of my foreign friends?  (pause)  I'd like Freddy Rodriguez on the team, I'll tell you that.

CF:  Okay, so you've got Fred, and maybe David....

Saul: (not David).  I'd like Tyler Farrar on the team.  (pause)  Okay and David too, he can be on my team.  He's the time trialist.  (laughter)  So Freddy Rodriguez, David, Tyler Farrar.  That's only three guys.  I'd want more.  (Aleeza laughs.)  That's hard.  I'll take George (Hincapie) too, why not.  And then we'll just reinstate Lance.  Lance can be on my team.  (laughs)

CF:  Now, you have clearance to ride Saturday's US Pro time trial...

Saul:  Correct, not the road race.

CF:  How do things look for next season?  Your goal is to race a full schedule?

Saul:  Well this is how it works:  In July I went to France to do some testing with my team and that was the whole purpose of returning to France.  Basically what the team did is they just tested me physically to see if physically I could ever race a bike again.  Because after having left side paralysis and the significant injury that I had, they just wanted to see if I was even able.  I passed all their tests and they were completely stunned.  So what happened is my doctor in the U.S. cleared me to race.  Now it's up to my team but in order for me to race, the French doctors have to release me to race.  I have to get a release from the French government which actually I just obtained.  Now I have to get a release from the French cycling federation.  I have to go to Bordeaux for that, to see the French doctors there.  Since I've passed all the physical exams, they are now requesting psychological testing.  So I will go to Bordeaux for that in October.  And after I pass all those tests, then they will give me the green light to go back to racing.  I hope.  That's the plan.  In 2008, start off with the Tour of California, go to the Olympics and the Tour de France.  Why not?  (laughs)

CF:  Saul, thanks for your time.  We're excited about your return, so again congratulations on getting back this far.  And congrats for the book too.

Saul:  It's my pleasure.  And thank you.

Saul Raisin wallpaper
Saul Raisin Wallpaper

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