Tour de France: the Turgis, brothers and hearts

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The Turgis family never missed a step in their photo album. The marriage of Rémy and Valérie, which brings together two great families of cycling in Ile-de-France (1990). The Birth of Jimmy (1991). That of Anthony (1994). That of Tanguy (1998). The three children’s first bike tours. The first falls. The first victories. The passage among professionals of the three. The first time they race among the pros gathered under the same jersey, that of the Cofidis team, during the Tour de l’Ain 2017. The photo of the siblings competing together in the Tour de France was to follow, launching an extraordinary saga . But the album tears up in the space of sixteen months. Tanguy and Jimmy are forced to stop their careers due to hereditary heart disease. Only Anthony remains in the peloton, engaged in Team Total-Direct Energie and in action these days in the sprints of the Tour de France.

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“Without them, the bicycle would not exist”

Rémy Turgis remembers the start of a long anxiety: “With my wife, we understood immediately … As it is a genetic disease, children have a 50% chance of being affected.” It was September 27, 2018. Tanguy’s heart is carried away as he races the Famenne Ardenne Classic, in Belgium. Hospital checks confirm he suffers from the same malformation as his uncles, arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia. Illness is a cause of sudden death. But how to be detected in time? Cyclists are not wary of fatigue. Boring routine, according to them. Basically, Tanguy Turgis had a certain “chance” to get by in 2018. The pathology triggers potentially fatal “crises”, 220 to 250 beats (extrasystoles) per minute, instead of 40 at rest.

In the spring of the same year, the little puncher had become the youngest competitor to finish Paris-Roubaix since 1939. He was 19 years and 10 months old. He had ranked 42e, right in front of Jimmy. “It felt like we were both out of training, except it was one of the biggest events in the world.” The neophyte was expected such a wonder from the peloton. By far the best French junior of his generation. The diagnosis falls in the fall. And him with: “It’s like everything is falling apart.” He quotes the words of his employer Jérôme Pineau, manager of the B & B Hotels-Vital Concept team: “He’s a kid whose dreams are broken.” In October 2018, his career as a cyclist was therefore officially closed. But there is much more to it. At least three times, Tanguy’s heart threatens to give way. In March 2019, the defibrillator that the surgeons placed under his skin went off. The emergency services take an hour and a half to stabilize it. Further alerts appear in April. In June, he engages in West France : “It’s hard to think that I’m going to keep this disease… Take Adrien Costa. He lost a leg [le prodige américain a été amputé à la suite d’un accident d’escalade, ndlr]. It is excruciating, but somewhere in his misfortune his life is not in danger. Me, I’m still afraid that something will happen to me … “


Anthony, Rémy, Tanguy, Valérie, Jimmy and the dog Laïna, in Linas (Essonne) in mid-June. Photo DR

“Since May 23, 2019, Tanguy has been doing better, reassures his father. But it’s painful to turn the page. For all of us.” The family is celebrated immensely in the cycling world, not just for the track record they’ve accumulated but for their sense of dedication. President of the bicycle section at US Métro Transports, Rémy Turgis, 60, organizes competitions for others. On July 18 and 19, it allows 2,000 cyclists to deconfin themselves on the military terrain of Versailles-Satory (Yvelines). “Extraordinary people”, “benefactors”, “without them, the bicycle would not exist” … This is what the base of this sport says about the Turgis. “I got this from my mother, says Remy. She was president of the Cyclo-Club d’Igny-Bièvres. When I was 5 years old, I accompanied him to traders to collect 10 francs and organize a race for the kids. She died when I was 15. I chose to continue. ” He worked as a mechanic at RATP until his recent retirement. The rest of the time, he trained the youngsters or made them run.

Last active cyclist

Everyone loves Turgis parents and everyone loves sons. The mother plays VHS tapes of the competitions she filmed, featuring her own brothers, uncles, cousins. Tactical science is passed on like a family secret. Passion too. Rémy Turgis defines them: “Jimmy, this is the most thoughtful, he needs to build match by match.” Anthony is quiet strength. Tanguy is the spark. ” Three sons, three pros. “Genetics, I have to believe it, it shows by the bicycle!” considers the father, who adds: “And the disease confirms …”

The volunteer had almost managed to take the shock for Tanguy. He had agreed to organize new trials for others and “to change ideas”. When suddenly bad luck fell on Jimmy. On February 7, the eldest, who is also employed at B & B Hotels-Vital Concept, undergoes a battery of routine tests. He is diagnosed with the same illness as his brother. His career comes to an end. “It was unfair because I had never felt a problem, he said. I was breaking my records in training. Doctors applied the precautionary principle. My heart could have continued to hold out for five months… or five days. ” Jimmy has the same words as Tanguy: “Everything collapses.” He has to change his life at 28. “Cycling has always decided my vacation, what I eat or when I wake up. The next day, when my wife got up to go to work and the little one went to the nanny, I found myself alone at home and realized that my whole life was the bike.” For parents, it is “The injustice which persists”.

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Jimmy and Tanguy try to ride together like they used to. They moderate the pace. They console themselves with their plans. The youngest has already converted into a sports director of the Vélo-Club Loudéac, in Brittany, the reserve of B & B Hotels-Vital Concept. The eldest, who has a master’s degree in Staps, hopes to join the staff of the professional team as a coach. They never imagined giving up cycling. On the contrary, they feel that coming back to their former teammates or opponents will be like therapy, although their throats are often lumped watching races on TV: “If I had been there …”

A question often comes up during their walks. Which of the two is more to be pitied? Is it Tanguy, whom the end of his career prevents from a probable death but who must stop before having started? Is it Jimmy, forced to retire when he never felt sick? Tanguy thinks it’s Jimmy who suffers the greatest «injustice». Jimmy replies that it’s Tanguy. The brothers want to leave the parents out of these dilemmas, because, as the elder said, “They already have a lot of trouble”. “Besides, they feel guilty for what is happening to us. While this is obviously not their fault. They who have always given everything for us ”. Tanguy and Jimmy also want to preserve Anthony. They know his possible doubts and the weight of a new mission: the last active cyclist must hang on in the effort and win races for three, propelled by three pairs of legs – five including Valérie and Rémy.

“Everything else is random”

The family is united around the one who is competing in his third Tour de France. “We cannot speak of a sword of Damocles hanging over his head. For now, tests show that he has nothing ”, recalls the father. Anthony cares about his modesty. To the site DirectVelo, he explains : “I hope I get nothing, we all hope. These are diseases that can affect any runner. The heart is a muscle that gets tired over time. Some runners have to stop, this is the case with my two brothers. Everything else is random. Maybe I can have a 20-year career without a problem. “ A West France, he indicates that his brothers “Are not completely stopped, they can ride a bicycle but it is true that these are difficult things”. Its purpose is more general: “When I see everything that is happening on TV, I can see that there are serious things. I really relativize. Being able to ride a bike, do what you love, I know it’s a chance. I will enjoy it to the end as I can. “

On the Grande Boucle this year, Anthony Turgis finished ninth during the first stage around Nice. He passed between the falls and threw himself into the sprint won by the Norwegian Alexander Kristoff. His parents tried to come see him. Because of the course “behind closed doors”, hampered by barriers and black screens, the reunion could not take place. They finally crossed paths the next day in the Col du Turini. In a gust of wind. “We didn’t give him a can, it’s forbidden, says the father. But he looked happy. We always came to encourage the kids. Ah, they gave us a good life! ”

Pierre Carrey Special Envoy in Lavaur (Tarn)

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