What's Cool In Road Cycling

Paris-Tours Up Close: Big Bert Roesems!

Philippe Gilbert (F des J) finally made the transition from the “very good” to “best” folder in winning Sunday’s Paris-Tours. PEZ talked with two riders who represent opposite ends of another scale; Bert Roesems (Silence-Lotto) – the archetypal Flemish hard man and Steve Cozza (Garmin) – all the way from San Francisco, man. On the basis of “age before beauty,” we spoke to Big Bert first.

PEZ: How’s the recovery going, Bert?
Bert: I’ve had to struggle hard to get back after my crash in last year’s Vuelta, but I feel that I’ve cleared a hurdle and arrived at a level where the work I’m doing is all having an effect – I’m definitely back to where I was.

PEZ: The Silence Lotto team plan for Paris-Tours?
Bert: We were trying to get our sprinters into as good a position as possible. We knew that it wouldn’t be easy to keep it together for a bunch sprint – we knew that Gilbert would take off; he’s done it the last couple of years, but hasn’t had a good understanding with the riders he’s been away with. This year he had a teammate in the break and that made all the difference for him.

Both Robbie and Bert will be moving on in 2009.

PEZ: Who was your best finisher?
Bert: Robbie McEwen was sixth, that’s an acceptable result in the circumstances. It’s always better if you win, but bike racing doesn’t always go like you think it will.

PEZ: How was your own race?
Bert: I did a lot of work for Robbie until 20 or 30 to go, where Sentjens and Tjallingii took over. I kept close to him, kept him out of trouble and went back to the car for him when it was required.

PEZ: How many times have you ridden Paris-Tours?
Bert: It’s my third time, it’s a good race if the weather is nice, like it was on Sunday.

No worries about bad weather this weekend. It was perfect.

PEZ: Was it a poor/good/great edition?
Bert: I think the finalй was one of the best, better than the last few years – and of course, it’s always good when a Belgian wins!

PEZ: Do you ever use the inside chainring?
Bert: No, I think if you do, you’re not in the race anymore!

It’s always good when a Belgian wins!

PEZ: What ratios do you ride on those long, flat straights?
Bert: I was in 53 x 14 or 15 most of the day, it was a steady pace for the whole race, somewhere between 40 and 45 kph. You try to sit in the wheels, save your legs, keep the gears down.

PEZ: Isn’t it hard to keep your concentration on those long, flat straights?
Bert: No, no, no! Often it’s single file and you have to watch not to slip too far back. It’s tricky with the wind too, and if you have specific duties to carry out, that keeps you focussed.

Attention is a must when the race is tough.

PEZ: Were the “late season blues” in evidence?
Bert: Not this year, I rode the race in 2006 and you could see that a lot of riders were really tired, but this year it was just like your average classic – it could have been April.

PEZ: What does the rest of the season hold for you?
Bert: Tomorrow (Tuesday) is my last race, the Sluitingpris Putte Kappelle – it’s the last race of the Belgian season. After the race, they keep the finishing straight closed and the supporters all stand chatting to the riders and maybe have a few beers. In fact, most supporters come on buses and don’t have to drive, so maybe they have a few beers more than normal! It’s a nice race, 12 laps, 180 kilometres and it’s always a big peloton.

PEZ: When does training start for 2009?
Bert: Mid-November, but I’m not with Silence-Lotto next year. I have contacts with other teams, but turning a contact to a contract isn’t so easy. The beginning of the year was shit for me and it’s only now I’m coming into shape. I’m back, I can feel it and see it but it hasn’t been reflected in results. It’s harder to sell yourself, when you reach a ‘certain age,’ they think maybe I am satisfied with the career I have had so far. But that’s not the case, I’m still highly motivated and I know I have at least one more good season to offer and don’t want to stop. I’ve made a big mental and physical effort to get back to fitness, it’s an endurance sport – age and experience count for a lot and so much of it is inside your head.

PEZ: Your man of the season?
Bert: Jurgen Roelandts from our team. He has won the Belgian Elite Championship in his first full year and stages in the Tour of Poland and Franco-Belge.

PEZ: Lance?
Bert: We live in a free world, it’s up to him what he does. The people and the sponsors will welcome him back. Knowing him as a person and as a rider, he’ll be sure of himself – he’s not coming back to be a joke.

PEZ: Schumi?
Bert: Another big scandal but despite what the Olympic Committee is saying, I think it’s good that the cheats are being caught – with no distinction made between little riders and big names.

Words of cycling wisdom, as always from Bert, we wish him all the best in his quest for a new team and look forward to sharing a pils with him when PEZ is over for the Gent Six, next month.

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