The Riders Who Made The Track to Road Transition
Trackies turned Roadies: There have been quite a few track riders who have successfully turned their hands to road riding… If the power is there, then why not – Step forward Filippo Ganna. Ed Hood looks at the men who were winners on the boards and the tarmac.
The great Fausto Coppi
The individual pursuit has always seen ‘overlap’ with many of the men at the top of the pursuit tree also roadmen of quality: Coppi, Riviere, Bracke, Porter, Moser, Schuiten, McGee; with Ganna continuing the tradition.
Filippo Ganna pursuit, TT and road
But when we heard that big, 28 year-old Dutch sprinter, Matthijs Buchli, who’s reigning 2021 Olympic Team Sprint Champion and a multiple Dutch, European and World Champion across sprint, team sprint, kilometre and keirin disciplines was ‘transitioning’ to the road – he’s already finished his first road race, the 194.5 kilometre UCi 1.2 Craft Ster van Zwole – it got us to thinking about other, ‘pure’ track riders – ‘pistards’, as the French would have it – who have made the move from smooth boards to the cobbles of Northern Europe?
Matthijs Buchli in the Dutch national champs
But first, their reasons?
If, like me, you love track racing then it’s hard to accept that despite the best efforts of the UCi with their recent ‘Track Champions League’, international track racing is largely about just two events, the Olympics and the World Championship – with even the latter ‘in the shade’ if it comes after the Olympics.
Reg Harris winning in front of a big crowd in London
When I first became interested in bike racing, back in the 70’s virtually every major city in Europe hosted a sprint Grand Prix with bunch races to support it. Then there were the post-Worlds ‘revenge’ matches. All gone. If I’m interviewing international level specialist track riders, I always ask how they maintain their motivation when the race so infrequently? Some riders simply want to compete more. Then there’s the thing that makes the world go round: money. The top international track men are all now what we in the west used to get so upset about, ‘back in the day’, that is; ‘state sponsored amateurs’ and whilst a comfortable living can be maintained, the serious money which successful road riders earn isn’t going to happen for specialist track riders.
Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Beghetto having a drink with soigneur Pierrot
Let’s start with a name which I remember from when I first became involved in the sport, Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Beghetto of Italy. ‘Joe’ was Olympic tandem champion with Sergio Bianchetto at the 1960 Rome Olympics, he went on to two Worlds amateur silver sprint medals following that with the pro Worlds gold on three occasions. But with his speed perhaps not as sharp as it had been he decided to move to the road, winning two stages in the 1969 Giro de Sardegna. He rode and finished the 1970 Tour de France and narrowly missed out on winning the Italian semi-classic, Coppa Bernocchi that year. His last success came with a Tirreno – Adriatico stage win in 1971; from the Vigorelli to the high mountains – respect.
Theo Bos winning in Alberta
Big Dutchman, Theo Bos was at the top of the world sprint totem pole for a long time, World Junior Kilometre Champion in 2001 he went on to win multiple national, European and World titles across the sprint, team sprint, kilometre and keirin disciplines – and was a 2004 Olympic medallist in the sprint. But in 2009 he surprised many by moving to the road with a good deal of success; whilst he never won a Grand Tour Stage or classic, his palmarès were very respectable: six stage each in the Tours of Langkawi and Hainan, two in the Tour of Turkey, one in the Tour of Poland, one in the Eneco Tour; in single day races he twice won Veenendal-Veenendal, the Clasica de Almeria, the GP Steenbergen and Dwars Door Drenthe to mention but some of his successes. But the man wasn’t finished, he moved back to the track for 2016, competing at the very highest levels and taking silver in the World Kilometre Championships in 2016 and 2019 – one versatile man.
Guido Bontempi – Classic and Grand Tour stage winner
‘The Buffalo’ they called big Italian sprinter, Guido Bontempi but what most don’t know is that he started out as a track rider. He won the 1978 Italian Junior Kilometre and Pursuit Championships and in 1980 was fourth in the Olympic Kilometre Championship in Moscow with a fast for the time 1:05 ride. But within a year he was winning Giro and Vuelta stages. He won Gent–Wevelgem twice (1984 and 1986) and a total of 16 stages in the Giro d’Italia in all. He took six stages in the Tour de France and four stages in the Vuelta a España. In the 1988 Tour de France he won that year’s rather unusual prologue – where only one rider per team rode – entitling him to don the yellow jersey on Stage One. He also took the points jersey in the 1986 Giro d’Italia and wore the maglia rosa for one stage in the 1981 Giro d’Italia. Not bad for a ‘kilometre guy’.
Russian track star – Viatcheslav Ekimov
‘Eki’, he was best known as – but his full name was Viatcheslav Ekimov, a product of the Soviet sports system where you were moulded into a case hardened champion or left a broken man. He started training as a cyclist at the age of 12 with a bicycle school affiliated with the famous centre of Aleksandr Kuznetsov. He trained in Leningrad at Lokomotiv and later the Armed Forces Sports Society. Perhaps best known as of ‘Big Tex’s’ right hand men, riding for US Postal in 1997 ’98 before joining, ‘last chance saloon’ team, Amica Chips in ’99, he returned to the Postal fold for 2000 at Lance’s behest and was with them until he retired in 2006.
‘Eki’ also happy on the cobbles
An accomplished road man with two overall wins in the cult Three Days of De Panne, thanks to his skill against the watch, he also won the Tour of the Netherlands and in the one day arena, the Zurich Metzgete and GP Eddy Merckx time trial. He was twice Olympic Time Trial Champion, 2000 and in 2004 when Tyler Hamilton was declassed for blood doping and silver medallist Eki was promoted to gold. But he started as a track man, a member of the winning Russian team pursuit team in the 1984 junior Worlds where he also won the points race and was second to Dean Woods of Australia in the individual pursuit. He was in the 1988 Seoul Olympics team pursuit winning line up as well as holding a raft of world amateur track records – including, ‘the Hour’ – before the UCi streamlined the record book when things went, ‘open’. Season 1989 saw him as World Amateur Individual Pursuit Champion. It was the late, great Peter Post who snapped up the young Russian and introduced him to the pro peloton in 1990 with his Panasonic team; Eki repaid the Dutchman’s faith by winning the World 5000 Metre Individual Pursuit Championship and being a key member of the team’s Tour de France TTT winning squad. And not forgetting his track roots, he won the World professional points race in 1991.
Andreas Kappes with Andreas Beikirch in the Munchen ‘6 Days’
Best known as a six day man but also a highly accomplished road rider, Germany’s late, great Andreas Kappes is another who started his cycling life as a junior world track champion in the points race in 1983. He went on to become a prolific winner on the road with stage wins in races such as the Ruta del Sol, Red Zinger, Giro, Midi Libere, Paris-Nice, Tour de l’Oise, Tour of Switzerland and Pays Basque. His biggest one day success came in 1991 when, hot off another successful six day season he won Het Volk. Sadly, Kappes died at just 52 years-of-age as a result of an allergic reaction to a bee sting in 2018.
Mørkøv – Top lead-out man
‘The World’s Best Lead Out Man’, Michael Mørkøv started out on the boards; his first medal being a bronze in the Danish Junior Team Pursuit Championships way back in 2001. The Danish Championship track medals soon piled up and in 2005 he took the European u23 Madison Championship with Alex Rasmussen, with whom he’d go on to form a successful six day pairing. He was a professional from 2005 with the Danish GLS team but joined the big leagues in 2009 with Saxo Bank and started on the road which would take him to what has become his forte – ‘pilot fish’ par excellence – with Patrick Lefevere’s mighty Quick-Step team. But his first love is still the track – witness his 2021 double of Olympic and World Madison Championships.
Nothstein – Bog and powerful
Big Marty Nothstein has been back in the news recently, for all the wrong reasons but back in the 90’s he was a dominant force on the track, National, Pan Am, World and Olympic Sprint Champion he also won the Keirin Worlds twice. But in 2001 he decided he wanted to transition, shed a lot of upper body muscle and signed a contract with the ill-fated Mercury team, the following year he joined the Navigators team for whom he would ride for five seasons. He never landed a major road win but rode well on the US criterium circuit with his best result the high profile, big money 2003 New York Championship.
Ivan Quaranta getting the better of ‘Cipo’ in the Giro d’Italia
In the opinion of Marco Villa – twice a World Madison Champion and prolific six day winner – the fastest sprinter he’s ever seen was Ivan Quaranta, who started out on the track, winning the World Junior Sprint Championship in 1992. On the road he won six stages in the Giro over the years, out dragging the likes of Mario Cipollini and Jeroen Blijlevens. There’s a ‘but’, Ivan was averse to training, and didn’t live the, ‘pro life’ – when Villa was Quaranta’s team mate he had to drag him out of bed of a morning to go training and instead of a proper breakfast he’d have biscuits dunked in Spekuloos spread. Villa shakes his head at the memory. . .
Tour stage win, not bad for a track man – Patrick Sercu
This man must rank as one of the all-time greatest athletes across all sports. Imagine Usain Bolt winning a marathon or Eliud Kipchoge winning the 100 metres? The late, great Patrick Sercu started his career on the track, he was second in the 1961 Belgian Sprint Championship but within two years was champion of the world in the discipline.
The 1964 Tokyo Olympics saw him lift kilometre gold. In 1967 he beat aforementioned ‘Joe’ Beghetto to the World Professional Sprint Championship, the Italian gained his revenge one year later but Sercu was back on top for 1969, his last. During these seasons he was laying the foundations of a six day career which would close on a record 88 victories. From 1970 onwards his track racing was confined to the winter boards and all his energies went into the road. That season he took a stage and the GC in the Giro del Sardegna, a stage in Tirreno and a stage in the Giro. The stage wins piled up over the years, Sardegna, the Giro, Romandie, Dauphine, Paris-Nice – and the Tour de France where he took the green jersey in 1974. Le Tour also one of his finest hours in 1977 – Stage Seven, Roubaix to Charleroi saw him go on a solo break of some 170 kilometres, accomplished at 42 kph to win the stage by 6:28 from Jacques Esclassan of France. His one day successes included Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and GP Union Dortmund – a truly versatile and remarkable athlete.
Bradley Wiggins wasn’t bad on the road
Let’s close with a man who looked destined to be branded, ‘one of the best pursuit riders ever’, but with a very limited road palmarès – Bradley Wiggins. ‘Wiggo’ is another whose career kicked off with a 1998 Junior Worlds win, in the pursuit, naturally. Over the years the Commonwealth, Worlds and Olympic titles added up in the individual and team pursuit. Yes, he ‘got round’ the Giro and Tour but that was only to build ‘core’ for his track adventures. But in 2009, riding for Jonathan Vaughters Garmin team there was an epiphany and he took fourth on GC in the Tour [later promoted to 3e upon Lance’s declasse]. The fledgling Sky team just had to have him for 2010, he duly went to the British team as JV poured himself a large brandy before banking the transfer cheque. Wiggo fluffed the 2010 Tour, crashed out in 2011 but delivered royally in 2012 after a year of never to be repeated monastic existence. From lanky young pursuiter to Tour de France winner, think what you will of the man, but that transition certainly demands major respect.
No slouch on the track