PEZ: A little background on you first, Bernie?
Bernie: I came-up through the Tasmanian Institute of Sport system; it’s excellent for helping young sportsmen get established. I could have been pro three seasons ago but I decided to have a year amateur in France. I was with DFL for the last two seasons, the team wasn’t perfect, there were little aspects of the organisation which could have been better, but you could say that about any team.
PEZ: Were you getting results?
Bernie: It’s a big step from racing amateur in France to riding pro in Belgium; there’s so much to learn when you first go there. The racing is hard all-day and in the finale it gets even-harder, at that stage you can either go with the big guys or you can’t. In my second year, though I was in the first groups at the death, finishing top 60 in races and getting round at places like De Panne, which is really tough. I wasn’t achieving super results, but I was finishing and definitely progressing, I was happy with the ride I did in last year’s Tour of Britain for example, I was in the race, contributing not just hanging-on.
PEZ: And 2008 was all-set, or so you thought?
Bernie: Yeah, there was to be a new sponsor (Pedaltech, a British internet cycle equipment retailer) but it was basically the same squad, with Eric Vanderaerden still as manager and Nico Mattan involved in management too. We still don’t know the real story, we heard that the sponsor (Mike Matts) had contracted cancer, then we heard that he had been in a car crash, really we’ve only seen what’s in the cycling media; but basically the team collapsed. I’ve sent emails and text messages to Belgium, but have had no answers at all. I’d organised a house for 2008 and my girlfriend had obtained a work permit to enable her to come over and get a job there. There’s been no clarification at all.
PEZ: This kind of thing is all too common in cycling, why?
Bernie: I think that potential sponsors get their ambitions and their capabilities mixed-up.
PEZ: So, what now?
Bernie: I’m back staying at home in Tassie now and I’ve sent-out a load of resumйs to teams, but it’s not a good time to be looking for a contract. All the teams have a full complement and it’ll be June or July before you can start talking seriously to them, again. I’ve sent a lot of emails and made a number of phone calls, but I’ve really only had one response, and that was a “no.” If I can’t get a contract, I’ll probably be staying in Tassie. I’m riding the Tour of Wellington in New Zealand at the end of the month, I’d missed the closing date, but the organisers very kindly agreed to give me a place, due to my circumstances. I’ve been trying to contact Matt Gilmore. (recently retired six day star) but he’s in the States; he’s from Tasmania and has a lot of contacts in Belgium, I’m going to ask if he could get me a place in a Belgian club squad, it’s risky but better than nothing. I’d consider the States too, if someone made me an offerI might have to think about going back to my trade of watch-making, part time to make some money.
PEZ: Did you get to keep your bike?
Bernie: Yeah, that was something, at least.
PEZ: What would a sponsor be buying, if they signed you?
Bernie: I can climb well – I won the mountains classification in the Sun Tour last October – and I have a good sprint from small groups, I also have good mobility in within the bunch. I think that I still have a lot of potential to develop, I’ve been getting stronger and more experienced every year and don’t see why that progression should stop. I’m also very comfortable in the domestique’s role if the situation demands.
We’d heard that Bernie perhaps isn’t the best at blowing his own trumpet so decided to “ask around” about the young Tasmanian, who was ‘Australian Junior Male Road Cyclist of the Year’ back in 2001. First out of the BlackBerry memory was his DFL team mate and former Ghent-Wevelgem winner, Nico Mattan . First of all, we enquired about the Pedaltech team; “The new team?
Nico: There is no new team, just big shit! I think the sponsor-guy is a phantom, he got a lot of publicity for nothing. I spoke to the guy from Morgan Blue (bike cleaning and lubrication products & massage oils) he visited this Pedaltech shop; he said it was only 60 square metres with three bikes in it, you can’t support a pro continental team from this!”
PEZ: And how about Bernie?
Nico: Yes, he was one of the strongest at DFL him and the other Australian, Rhys Pollock. I think that he was perfectly-suited to four of five day stage races.
Nico asked what Bernie was doing and when we explained that he was back in ‘Tassie,’ he continued; “that’s a shame, like I say, he was a good rider. He still had things to learn, but when you explained something to him, he always listened carefully and did what you said.”
Nico was supposed to take a managerial role in the team but for the moment is contenting himself with managing an amateur squad in Belgium; Pez hopes to share a Carlsberg-or-two with Nico at Het Volk, in March.
Further scrolling of the track wheel on the BlackBerry and we stopped at an ex-DFL team mate – who shall remain nameless, for reasons of having a big crush on Bernie’s rather-lovely girlfriend! He explained; “His strengths are that he’s strong, a good climber with a fast sprint, but he did have a dodgy hair cut.
Seriously though, he did a very good ride in the Kermesse of Geerardsbergen in 2007 where he was second on a very hard circuit with a big field of top riders. He had a good sense of humour too; he was a good guy to have around for keeping team morale up.”
ATTENTION TEAMS: * If you think you have a place for a Tasmanian with good climbing legs, a decent sprint and a sense of humour, send Matt Conn firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get this man back in the peloton!