The interview took place at aperitif time, so Antoine Cyr had poured himself a glass of beer.

“When was your last one?”

— Probably in October. In season, it’s rare that I drink alcohol. »

Three days after the end of the Tour de Ski, the 25-year-old cross-country skier could well afford it. After two days off, which he took the opportunity to visit Venice with his parents, he slowly returned to training in Seefeld, a bucolic winter sports resort not far from Innsbruck, in Austria.

Returning from an outing with his parents, avid cross-country skiers themselves, Antoine Cyr was happy to unwind after a “super intense” start to the season and a Tour de Ski which was just as intense, with its seven stages spread over nine days and in two countries, Italy and Switzerland. Furthermore, his last phase of training was particularly stressful, when he was struck down by the flu. He spent the entire Holidays isolated from his teammates, in an apartment in Davos. Following an improvement attributable to an antiviral, he relapsed after five days of training. For a moment, he feared he would have to miss the Tour, his main goal of the season.

“When I got sick again, I said to myself: “Ayoye, I don’t have enough time to arrive at the Tour de Ski ready as I wanted.” I was super happy to just show up at the starting line healthy in Toblach [for the first stage]. The preparation was a bit of a roller coaster, but in the end, it still went well. »

Sixteenth overall in his first attempt a year earlier, Cyr surprised himself by concluding the stage event in 12th place on Sunday in Val di Fiemme. After an offensive start to the race, he held on valiantly on the famous climb of Alpe Cermis, an alpine ski slope favorable to featherweights like the winner of the stage, the Frenchman Jules Lapierre.

“It’s really a step for climbers,” he noted. I have more the profile of a powerful skier, with a fairly large build. »

A classic specialist, the Quebecer achieved the 14th time of this final stage contested in freestyle. In 2023, he finished 36th. This excellent performance, which he attributes mainly to specific work in roller skiing during the off-season, opened his eyes.

“I had always told myself that I would never be able to play general in my life at the Tour de Ski. I’m thinking maybe I’ll be able to aim for top 5 one day. It’s super encouraging. »

Sitting in 19th place halfway through the Tour, the Gatineau native particularly stood out on the fifth stage, a classic 20 km pursuit in Davos, where he placed seventh, which moved him up at the 10th level cumulatively.

Numbers are one thing, but the way he took the race head-on made a strong impression.

Twenty-fourth to set off, 68 seconds after the first, he was the main architect of the chase which allowed the peloton to catch up with the first group of pursuers led by the Norwegian Harald Østberg Amundsen, winner of the Tour and leader of the World Cup rankings. Cyr was also the last to attempt to close the gap when Amundsen and two compatriots broke away with five kilometers to go.

“It’s not my best result, but it’s one of my best races on the World Cup circuit,” agreed the 25-year-old athlete. I have often been at the forefront. When the three Norwegians left, I looked back a little to see if anyone could help me, but no one would. […] It was a tactical race, but hyper physical at the same time. It was fun and I’m proud to have had the strength to be there up front. »

Two days later, the Skinouk club representative lost around thirty seconds overall after his 41st place in the 15 km classic group start. With his teammate Olivier Léveillé (45th overall), he started this sixth stage with confidence. However, a fall and a broken stick slowed his momentum. Presented in a heavy snowstorm at a temperature hovering around the freezing point, the event was also a headache for the technicians.

Last year, Antoine Cyr finished fourth and sixth over two stages. He didn’t surpass these personal highs as he hoped, but his consistency allows him to say that his 2024 Tour represents “a big improvement.”

“Since the start of the year, he has been regularly among the top 25,” added his trainer Louis Bouchard. Now we can say that if he is beyond thirtieth place, it is a bad race. The top 20 is his average, and the top 10 is a very good race. »

In his second full World Cup season, Cyr sits 15th overall, which wasn’t necessarily a goal before the campaign began. Last winter, he finished in 24th place.

“The big advantage is that I’m quite versatile. I am able to do sprints and distance races. It would be fun to be so well positioned at the end of the season. »

“Like any high-level athlete,” he dreams of podiums, like his predecessor Alex Harvey, whom he had the chance to work with in his early days at the Pierre-Harvey National Training Center. In a way, the successes of the five-time medalist at the World Championships from 2009 to 2019 overshadow the man who is enjoying an enviable start to his career.

“In cross-country skiing, the stars have to align one day: good equipment, good physical shape, good tactics,” Cyr recalled. Alex was able to have that day a little more often in his career. I’m not necessarily at the level he was in his best years, but there is progress and it’s encouraging. I’m 25 and it feels like it’s still going up. »

The team events particularly excite him, both the team sprint and the 4 x 10 km relay. With Graham Ritchie, he finished fourth in the sprint at the World Championships in Planica, Slovenia, last year. The same duo had placed fifth a year earlier at the Beijing Olympics. The 25-year-old Ontarian’s season, however, came to an abrupt end last month due to a double leg fracture in a stupid running accident. “It was a big morale boost for the team because we spend five months on the road together and he’s also one of our best skiers. »

As Antoine Cyr often repeats, his real wish is to offer “the best version of [himself]”, with the hope of climbing on the box one day.

After World Cups in Oberhof, Germany (January 19-21), and Goms, Switzerland (January 26-28), Cyr wants to be at his peak for the round in Canmore, Alberta, in February. It will be a return of the white circus to Canada after the Quebec finals in 2019, when Cyr experienced his baptism at the same time as Alex Harvey’s retirement.

“Of course I would prefer it to be on the Plains, but the fact remains that Canmore is like home. I’m happy to come back to Canada and it will be one of my big goals. »

Enough talking, Antoine Cyr was expected by his parents for dinner. The founder actually turned the phone around to introduce them, who were waiting in front of a salad at the other end of the room. Unless I’m mistaken, a glass of red was intended for him.