Pushing through the pain
Nicolas Faquet, the Hong Kong CEO of online insurance company DirectAsia.com, ensures his own healthy life through a passion for cycling.
Before the city wakes most mornings, Faquet, 39, has already cycled his favourite route from Causeway Bay to The Peak - not once, but three times.
The bike fanatic has four top-of-the-range bikes in four locations - Hong Kong, Singapore, Spain and at his holiday house in Phuket, Thailand. And that's not all of his collection.
So strong is Faquet's passion that if he's going to be in another part of the world, he always brings a bike. 'I love seeing new places on my bike when I travel; being free, no need to prepare, no need to do anything - just get on your bike and go.'
Earlier this year, he pedalled his passion into his company by sponsoring a team of amateur cyclists in Hong Kong. Team DirectAsia's 13 riders race in the territory and the surrounding region. In time, Faquet hopes to grow the team to 20.
But 12 years ago, Faquet would not have recognised the cycling devotee he has become. A French expat living in Singapore, Faquet smoked, drank and partied regularly and never exercised. 'I was not living a very healthy lifestyle,' he admits. In December 1999, with the pending new millennium, Faquet decided he was going to do things differently and threw himself into triathlons.
While triathlons didn't stick, cycling did. He has cycled in many races in Hong Kong and overseas and logs up to 400 kilometres a week, training every day.
With each bike worth up to HK$100,000, it's a large investment and one he admits is a waste of money, given the marginal competitive advantage the extra expense provides. But for Faquet, it's also an insurance against failure. 'That way I know that if I stuff up, it's not the bike,' he says. 'It's because I'm not good enough.'
Describe yourself without cycling
Overweight, drinking a lot and probably still smoking. These days I don't go out much because of cycling, except in the off-season. When you know you're going to wake up at 5.30 the next morning with guys who are stronger than you, you don't go out partying.
What do you sacrifice for cycling?
If anything, it would be sleep. I wake up early on weekends, so I never get a sleep-in. I'm usually out and back before mid-morning. I'm lucky to have such an understanding wife.
How do you pull yourself through the tough moments on the bike?
I always rationalise that it's only five minutes of your life. If you don't give it your best, you're going to regret it; it's nothing in the grand scheme of things, and that pain will disappear. One of my favourite quotes is 'pain is temporary; shame is permanent' That gets me through.
You say it's not about winning. If not, then what is it about?
It's about pushing yourself and suffering. Yes, suffering. I think cycling is a masochistic sport. You put yourself in a situation where you're struggling and you can't breathe; everything is painful, but you keep pushing. That feeling of fighting against yourself is very rewarding. You say to yourself: 'I'm not giving up. Even if I lose, at least I was there.' That's the exciting part. Beyond that, the health aspect is also important, plus the sense of adventure. You see a lot of things when you ride as much as I do.
Do you think your French roots help you in cycling?
Probably. Even though I didn't start cycling until I was older, I have been watching the Tour de France since the early 1990s. I have always found it a great sport. I used to take a day off to watch the final stage every year. Some of my family are pretty good cyclists, but I always watched from afar.
What do you consider your greatest success on a bike?
I recently completed an 800-kilometre bike ride from the Thai border to Singapore, called the Trans-Malaysia Express. It was a big achievement. It took us - a group of 17 guys - 43 hours, during which we slept for a total of just three hours. Overall, we raised more than S$90,000 (HK$554,000) for a Singaporean charity that cures cataracts in Indonesia. My company, with its 80 employees, raised S$7,000. I like to try and set an example for my staff.
If you could change anything about cycling, what would it be?
The danger factor. I've seen so many friends get into bad crashes. You know each time you climb on a bike you may not come home. It's bad in Singapore and in Hong Kong. There are a lot of skills that are important to reduce the risk, but sometimes it's just random. The more you ride, the more experience you will gain, but on the other hand, the more you ride, the more exposed you are to danger.