What's Cool In Road Cycling

Interview: The BERT ROESEMS PEZ-Clusive

Bert Roesems is a Belgian Pro. He has been for 7 full seasons, he loves the cobbles, and is pretty fast in prologues and smaller stage races. When I talked to Bert via phone the day after Kuurne, I found that he speaks 5 languages, some inside scoop on following Flanders, and some revealing glimpses into what makes Belgian racers so tough…

As with any second language, I picked up a certain Belgian “twang” to Bert’s English – he speaks calmly and thoughtfully, and punctuates his sentences with a lot of “eh’s?” – unless he was just playing to my Canadian roots…

Bert’s new team, the Spanish-Belgian Bodysol-Brustor-Relax squad, is an interesting mix of cultures and racing focus. Outsiders could observe an unusual mix of northern European “hard-man” and fiery and passionate Spanish conquistadors. But given today’s world economy, the union of sponsors is all good for the racers and fans, giving us another team in the bunch and keeping sponsor support in cycling – where it belongs. Bodysol is, as well as Davitamon from Quick-Step Davitamon, a subsidiary of the Omega Pharma Group and is making skin care products, while Brustor makes awnings and Relax is a Spanish company making mattresses.

PEZ: First – our traditional intro question – what do you think of PezCycling News?

Bert: Well, to be honest, I don’t have a computer in my home, the computer is in my parent’s-in-law house, so I haven’t yet had a chance to have a look!

PEZ: After the snow delay at Het Volk, the “spring” season finally got underway at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne – how was the race for you?

Bert: I was 52nd, not in the lead group of 38 guys. I was in what was left over from the peloton, must have been 60-70 guys, out of about 160-180 riders. It was very cold, around 0-3 degrees Celsius. Normally Kuurne is always the second race of the season, right after Omloop Het Volk [pronounced om-looop et volluck, ed. – a newspaper that translated means “the people”] but there was snow falling on the course on Thursday and Friday, so they had to cancel the race. It was a big disappointment here – it’s not like Paris-Roubaix or Flanders, but it comes very very close for the Belgian people… it’s a “classic”. If you win Omloop Het Volk, then your name is made.

We were all at the start, and they made the decision at the last minute. The police decided that they could not guarantee the safety of riders and the people in the race with the cars and the motorbikes… the roads so narrow,

Most of the roads were open, but it was the side of the roads that were the problem, because when you have to call up your team car, it has to pass all the other cars, and maybe some riders, and must go on the side of the road where there is snow and ice. There could have been a lot of problems.

PEZ: How did your race go at Kuurne – how were you feeling?

Bert: I’m not yet in top condition, but feel pretty good for the moment. And with some races to come – this week and next we have a smaller stage race, I know I can do something there (3 Days of West Flanders), and then leading up to the big races.

I was feeling good, but the problem with Kuurne, it’s like all the races – very specific – because it’s held the day after Het Volk, normally it is not so difficult. But the Kwaremont is the breaking point of the race, so it’s all or nothing to get to the bottom of the climb. If you can make it there in the top 20 guys, then you know you’re gonna ride in the final. If you can’t place in the top 20-30 guys going over the hill, then you know it’ll be very very difficult to ride for a top result, eh?

The “Oude Kwaremont” – short, steep, and verrrry bumpy.

PEZ: Tell us about the Kwaremont – how tough is it? There must be hundreds of fans crowding the side of the road to see the race?

Bert: Oh yeah, there are 3 or 4 rows of people standing beside the road. It’s a cobbled climb, and the climb itself is not even a kilometer, and then at the top you have a section of 1500 meters that is cobbled but flat, but it’s also narrow – maybe only one car can pass. So you know you have to be in front, because even if you are in the top 60 riders, even if you have the legs, you can not pass because there are riders everywhere. And in the front they are really riding to break the race… It’s where the really good guys are separated from the rest.

PEZ: How important are Het Volk and Kuurne for the Belgian riders?

For most of the riders it’s not the first race because they did the Tour down Under, and Qatar. Like our team is a Belgian-Spanish team – a third are Belgian riders and 2/3 are Spanish riders, so I already did the Ruta del Sol and Mallorca, so this is my 10th race already. But this weekend is the start of the spring classics in Belgian. In the Belgian newspapers, for weeks all the articles are leading up to the start of the Classics season. It’s a big part of a successful season, so it’s important to get results here.

It’s like a report card – where “oh yeah – you worked well in winter, or you did a little bit less…”

PEZ: What’s your specialty – do you prefer the one day races or the stage races?

Bert: I like the one day races because it’s part of my upbringing. You live here in the country and you hear it from when you are young – it’s a part of our heritage. I can time trial well, and therefore my aim is a little bit more small stage races. To be a top competitor in the one day races you have to be a certain kind of rider – you have to be a strong rider, of course today you have to be strong everywhere okay? – but you have to be pretty… explosive. The short steep hills that you have to reach in one effort, so it’s not like riding in the mountains where you can find your rhythm, here the climbs are only one km long, so it’s all or nothing.

PEZ: I’m coming over to Belgium to see Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, and Paris-Roubaix – I’m really excited about it – riding the cobbles and the climbs. Tell us what makes the Belgian races so special? As a rider what are the things I should see when I’m there?

Bert: You are gonna be overwhelmed – you’re gonna be amazed! If you are going to Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem, then you can already smell the atmosphere – you can taste “cycling” then eh? Agh! – you have to do the climbs that make the Tour of Flanders so special! On that day there are thousands and thousands of people who are going from one hill to another to see the riders as many times as possible – it’s incredible! For the fans it’s a race within a race – there are guys who say “last year we saw 22 times the riders, and this year we are gonna try to see them 24 times!” It’s amazing!

PEZ: Haha – well that’s me! I’m going to try to do some of that, but what’s your advice to see as many of the climbs as possible?

Bert: You have to really know the countryside by heart, the small roads. A good thing is to follow family members of famous Belgian bike riders, for example follow Museeuw’s father, or Van Petegem’s father – you know they’re gonna cut corners to get form one point to another to see their riders… And once they’re rider is passed – whup – they don’t even walk back to the car – they run back – !

PEZ: What about following your family members?

Bert: Oh, my father-in-law- for sure he’s gonna do that.

PEZ: Maybe I can give him a call! Do you think he’d mind if I followed him around?

Bert: No, no no…

PEZ: Well that could be very interesting! [We’ll stay close and keep you posted on this strategy! – ed.]

Bert Lives in Halle, about 20 km southwest of Brussels, on the linguistic border between the Flemish and French speakers, with his wife of seven years, Inge, and 2 children Siebe (2-1/2) & (Joni 6).

PEZ: Okay, so over here we think everyone in Belgium loves the beer and frites – I know I do – but what are some of the other great foods I should have when I’m there?

Bert: It depends on which part of the country you’re in, eh? Each region, each town has a little bit of it’s specialities… when you’re in Oostende you have to eat mussels, mussels with frites. Normally in Belgium we eat frites with mayonnaise, but if you don’t like, you can order whatever you want…

PEZ: What about in other regions, like the Ardennes?

Bert: Well, when you are in the Ardennes and you want to eat a really good piece of meat, it’s never a problem. Me I like it cooked on the grill. It’s best to go with people who rent out rooms for tourists, a family. Two summers ago we went training in the Ardennes and then we stayed with a family from Flanders who moved over there, and they had a really big fireplace, and they cooked meat that was so fresh… ah, it tastes, very very different than when you cook it at home.

PEZ: What about drinking Belgian wine?

Bert: Agh, there’s Belgian wine, but it’s not so popular, but Belgian beer is very popular, even all over the world. The best is TRAPPIST, made by monks in a monastery and a little bit higher in alcohol than pils, which is the lite beer
Then lots of regions have their own beers, dark beers, lite beers…

PEZ: It sounds like you know a lot about beer, do you like beer yourself?

Bert: Oh… I’m not really a beer drinker. I can appreciate it but not all types or all kinds… I more prefer dark beer.

PEZ: Now that the season has started, are you watching your diet fairly closely to keep your weight down?

Bert: Well, now in the team, we’re monitored by the University of Leuven (just northeast of Brussels). We get tested there. Our fat percentage is measured there the most accurate way, submerged in a water tank. When I went in November I was 11% bodyfat, now it will be down to 8%, then normally the lowest I went was 4% -but that was measured at a stage race with the calipers – which are not as accurate.

PEZ: The podium girls – generally when you go to Spain and Italy, they take pride in very beautiful podium girls and it’s hot so they are dressed – appropriately, but in the north, where you are now, it’s freezing and cold, and everyone’s always bundled up in parkas, so you don’t get to see them so much. Doesn’t that drive you crazy?

Bert: ooh, umgh… well…. Sometimes! But you have to win a race or have a jersey in a stage race to get to the podium, eh?… to get really close to them… maybe you can say a few words to them when you sign the start list at the beginning of the race – but it’s very superficial, you don’t have time…

PEZ:… to make some time… So which country do you think has the most beautiful podium girls?

Bert: Italy!

PEZ: The new team – this is the first time you‘ve been on a Belgian-Spanish team.

Bert: Well, we’ve done 2 training camps, and some smaller stage races in Spain. The Spanish riders now will go to race mainly in Spain, and the Belgian riders will return here for the north classics. They’re not really mixing the team. Spain has it’s own cycling culture – they have many important stage races

PEZ: How do you like the Spanish guys – are you speaking Spanish now?

Bert: Yes, I studied Spanish for two years, so I look forward to speak my Spanish, then for me it’s okay, not like you’re in a foreign team because you speak the language.

PEZ: It must be tough being away from home for long periods when you’re away racing?

Bert: Here in Belgium, we have a big cycling heritage. For example, my father in law raced also, so it was not something new or strange for my wife, she was used to it. It was almost normal that her husband is a professional bike rider. And now, in March and April they can come and see many races because Belgium is a small country.

PEZ: Here the big sports are basketball, baseball and football, and the stars are recognized wherever they go. In Belgium, since cycling is so big, do you get recognized when you are out?

Bert: Sometimes, when you are in a crowd, you hear “look – that is Roesems” behind your back, but I’m not really that famous, like Museeuw or Peter Van Petegem – when they go out they are always recognized…

PEZ: How many more years will you ride as a professional?

Bert: [without hesitation] As long as possible! Now it’s my 8th season, so at least another 2 years.

PEZ: Is racing “fun” for you?

Bert: Yes, I really enjoy it, and every year I enjoy it more. I’m having more fun riding my bike now than when I was starting in the sport. Now, I have better results, I have a bigger name, and because you’re a little bit more mature, you can really see the advantages of being so lucky to be someone who does his hobby as his profession…

PEZ: Bert – thanks so much for talking with us and offering a few insights and the Belgian perspective. Now – about chasing you around Flanders – ?

Bert: When you come to Belgium. Let me know and maybe we can meet before the race…

There you have it PEZ-Fans – if that’s not an invitation, I don’t know what is… !

Be sure to check out Bert’s personal website:

And the Bodysol-Relax-Brustor team website:www.Bodysol-Brustor.be

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