In the whir of spokes and the dance of pedals, Benjamin Pascual's journey to becoming a pro cyclist unfolded in an unexpected way.
“2009 was a great year,” he recalls as a nostalgic spark flickers in his eye. In the euphoria of that year, Benjamin soared to the top of his amateur cycling career, the taste of pro dreams on his lips after a victorious race that will forever remain etched in his mind. “I was so happy, especially considering it was the first time in my cycling career where I was reaching such heights.”
Fuelled by his trainer's encouragement, the strength and energy of youth, and the avid attention of recruiters, he “found [himself] at the peak of [his] cycling career.” He was on the path to becoming a pro cyclist.
But the following year plunged Benjamin into an obsidian abyss. “I was completely lost," the spark in his eye dims as he recalls facing the brutal reality of a serious knee injury. The weight of those dreaded words hangs heavily in the air, resonating with the universal fear that haunts every athlete.
Nevertheless, like any dedicated sportsperson, Benjamin embarked on a determined recovery journey for the subsequent season, maintaining his unwavering focus on becoming a professional cyclist. He fought through persistent knee pain, pushing his limits through training and competitions, only to brand the season a personal failure.
He didn’t pack it in, though. He persevered, returning season after season over the next few years; securing some remarkable victories and performing as strongly as he did during his peak year. But, despite the wins and a fully recovered knee, recruiters told him: 'You're too old to become a pro cyclist.’”
He was just 22-years-old.
A dark cloud settled over Benjamin. “It was a tough time for me. It was about a teenage dream that I’d touched with my fingertips, which I saw slip away because life had other plans for me. It was hard,” he acknowledges. He found himself at a juncture where a dream slipped away, leaving a profound void – a turning point not just in his career but in his life.
Benjamin’s love for cycling started young: “I was a cycling enthusiast from the very beginning. When I was a child, I was always on my bike.” Cycling had been woven into his early life by his sporty father and the accessible outdoors of his hometown, Morvan, in Burgundy. But the “real reason I chose to dive into racing was because I was watching cycling races on TV, like the Tour de France, and the Ardennes and Flanders classics. I recall seeing the passion of the big racers like Johan Museeuw, Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara, and I remember telling my mother ‘I want to do that.’”
Starting his racing journey at 13, Benjamin delved into various cycling disciplines, showcasing such dedication that he shocked his mother by shaving his legs at the tender age of 15. Juggling academic pursuits with cycling, per his coach's advice, he navigated the balance throughout university.
It was about a teenage dream that I’d touched with my fingertips, which I saw slip away because life had other plans for me. It was hard.
Fast-forwarding to the end of the 2010 season, when he was removed from the pro roster and needed to make ends meet, Benjamin found work as a technician and salesperson at a bike shop, navigating a fresh chapter while continuing as an amateur racer with the SCO Dijon club. The twists and turns in both his career and personal life only fuelled his unwavering commitment to the dream of going pro.
The dream never materialised, but the wheels of fate led Benjamin to two pivotal moments in 2019: A full-time role at Ravino Bike Parts and the birth of his son. The decision to transition from the cyclist’s jersey, which had been an emblem of dreams, to a new chapter was infused with a sense of renewal and responsibility. “I wanted to create a better personal situation for my family and try something new,” Benjamin remarks.
This transition culminated in a golden work opportunity at Specialized a few years later – “I didn’t hesitate to jump on this opportunity. I worked an entire summer when I was a teenager just to buy a Specialized race bike.”
Reflecting on the transformative power of lessons learnt from his cycling career, Benjamin acknowledges that "being a cyclist, racing alongside pros like Julien Bernard, taught me a lot for my current life. Like how to keep believing in yourself, never giving up no matter what happens, and making hard decisions.”
Watching such a big dream evaporate is hard for anyone, but it stings especially poignantly for a young athlete who has placed all their aspirations into one lane. Learning to harness these seismic shifts can be a matter of leading a life of fulfilment or one of struggle.
“You’re kind of a junkie when you’re a former high-level athlete,” Benjamin notes. “You’re so used to pushing everything to the limits that it’s easy to do that for the wrong thing after your sports career. It’s hard for a former athlete to find the right balance after their career is over. Some really struggle.” The cautionary tales of former pro cyclists, such as Christopher Whorrall, who hit rock bottom and found himself behind bars after his career was cut short by injury, spring to mind.
Amidst the twists of fate, Benjamin found equilibrium. "It's crucial to not forget who you are, what makes you happy, and what you need to be a better person, partner, parent, or colleague. It’s about being patient and finding the right balance and mindset, as well as using the tools and lessons you’ve learnt from your sports career in a positive way once it’s over,” he heeds.
Pedalling from 'baroudeur' on the racecourse to a breakaway specialist in life, Benjamin's journey teaches us the art of balance, resilience, and the transformative power of lessons learned. His saddle now cradles a new chapter, cycling with his daughter snuggly strapped into her bike seat, alongside his son, symbolising life's altered yet fulfilling trajectory.