2007 Reviewed: Bah Humbug!
He’s been an observer of cycle sport for five decades, he’s slightly to the right of Attilla the Hun, and he’s been my buddy for thirty years – he’s Viktor. I sat-down with the great man in Thomson’s Bar in Edinburgh, just before Xmas to get the “Bah! Humbug!” angle on cycle sport.
Pez: You maintain 2007 was the worst season you’ve ever witnessed?
Viktor Definitely, when a guy with a blond bubble perm [Pozzatto] wins a hard man’s race like Het Volk it sets the scene for a bad year. The only two real ‘exploits’ in the last couple of years, came from Landis and Vino – and we know about them! Everyone seems to be at the same level and frightened to commit themself.
Viktor settles in for some straight talk on cycling.
Pez: You also reckon the season is all over after the Tour of Flanders?
Vik: After Flanders, it’s a different kind of rider who comes to the fore – the tiny guys for the stage races; no disrespect, but the only other kind of sportsman they could be, would be jockeys.
Pez: Give us your ‘men of the decades.’
Vik: The 60’s would be Rik Van Looy; he was the hardest of the hard, he used to ride everyone to death – including his own team. In the 70’s there were so many great riders, I always had a soft spot for Freddy Maertens, Frans Verbeeck was a hard man; he had to have two teams to back him, the first one was wasted by the time the classics finished. The coolest guy was Roger De Vlaeminck, though; he looked amazing, drove a Ferrari and always had good-looking women around him. Ekimov is my man of the 80’s – he did his job for three decades, a real pro. For the 90’s, I would go for the Planckaerts, a hard, disciplined family. Into this decade; ‘Super Mario’ Cipollini; the man just had so much charisma.
Pez: What do you view as the most positive changes over the last five decades?
Vik: Equipment and clothing, no question. When I started racing, we were on five speed screw-on freewheels and had Mafac centre-pull brakes which everyone said were great but didn’t actually stop you in the wet. If you went out in the rain with your ‘silver’ rims, by the time you got back, they were black and you had to scrub them clean with a scourer. Shoes were terrible, they turned-into paper machй in the wet. And then, of course, we had wooden soles – about an inch thick!
Pez: And changes for the worse?
Vik: Race radio, the race should happen on the road, not in the team car, and I’d ban time trial bikes.
Pez: Your all time favourite rider?
Vik: Eddy Peelman, ‘the pro’s pro’ – he looked the part and just got-on with the job. De Vlaeminck of course, and Barry Hoban was the real-deal.
Pez: Who do rate among the current crop of riders?
Vik: Boonen is a real pro, he looks the part and is a great salesmen; his image would sell anything. Cancellara is a man and the Schleck brothers are cool – a lot of potential there.
Pez: What was the best race of 2007 for you?
Vik: The TTT in the Giro, fast, technical, spectacular and with amazing scenery.
Pez: And worst?
Vik: Hamburg, it’s so boring, just a big kermesse, and San Sebastian, of course – everyone is wasted after the Tour and just rides round until the climb at the death.
Pez: What’s your take on the ProTour?
Vik: A waste of time, there are too many races – it’s a bland competition with a bland winner. It seems pointless to me, but it must generate a lot of money for someone.
Pez: What about the Rasmussen affair?
Vik: He didn’t actually fail a test, did he? To me, there should be stringent tests in place on race day, if you fail it, then fair-enough. But I don’t agree with ‘out of competition’ tests – I think they are an infringement of human rights.
Pez: You’re not a fan of track racing, are you?
Vik: I think it’s over-rated by the British public; we’re not a force on the road, where it really counts, but on the track, if you have the money, you’ll get the medals. If you gave Patrick Lefevre a pile of money, he’d show you medals. These guys that win the track medals aren’t proper pros, they don’t go out and earn money, they are all supported by the state, aren’t they? A proper pro makes his living from riding his bike, not from ‘grants.’
Regardless of the state of cycling, a warm pub and frosty pint are always good for a smile.
Pez: If you could change one thing about the sport, what would it be?
Vik: The UCI should have a shake-up, the Unibet affair was terrible, a big money sponsor, lost to the sport whilst the UCI stood-by. They have to take a more active role in the sport. The ‘mondialisation’ thing should be forgotten – it’s a central European sport, riders shouldn’t be crossing any oceans to compete.
Pez: If you could see just one more race, what would it be?
Vik: Gent-Wevelgem, it goes through West Flanders and is always a great race.
Pez: A final word?
Vik: Ladies cycling – would you rather watch women riding a bike race or playing beach volleyball? Have a good Xmas and a great 2008.
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