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Pez: Het Volk isn’t really a race you would associate with Peugeot?
Graham: No, but I’d ridden it a couple of times before, so I knew what to expect. The team tended to have the second string riders at Het Volk, the riders preparing for Paris Nice were riding the Tour of Corsica.
Pez: Who was designated team leader on the day?
Graham: Duclos Lasalle (the Frenchman – who would go-on to win Paris-Roubaix twice – had been second in Het Volk the previous year) was riding for us, but there wasn’t really a nominated leader, that meant you had more freedom than usual to ride your own race.
Pez: Was it the same parcours as now?
Graham: Very similar, with the Oude Kwaremont, Tiegemberg, Vakenberg and all the other “ramps,” but if I remember rightly, it was a bit longer at around 220 kilometres. [217 km in 5-00-00, current distance is 200 km.] One thing I do remember was that it was a nice day, cold but dry and bright, short sleeves would have been fine towards the end.
Weather is often a factor – Het Volk has been cancelled twice in recent times, due to snow and ice – 1986 & 2004.
Pez: Every Belgian wants to win Het Volk, don’t they?
Graham: Maybe its lost a little of the gloss in recent years, but all you need to do is look at the list of winners from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, they’re all there [Vanspringel, Merckx, Maertens, De Vlaeminck, Verbeeck to name but a few].
Pez: You must have had great form?
Graham: That was my fourth year at Peugeot and I was in reasonable shape, but I’d had a very heavy programme in 1981, they’d had me riding more races than any other rider on the team, so I’d started ’82 steadily. There had been a change of management at Peugeot and Roland Berland was manager, for reasons I’m still not sure of, he didn’t take to me, so I wasn’t on the Paris-Nice squad. But I had been training hard coming into Het Volk, even doing extra miles after races.
The 2008 parcours have changed slightly – moving the finish to Ghent for the first time since 1995.
Pez: I’ve heard this said, that Peugeot ‘over-raced’ you?
Graham: Yes, definitely, as I said I rode more races than anyone else on the team in 1981. I guess that part of the blame is mine, I should have been more selective and said; “look, I’ve raced too much and need a break”, but I didn’t because you’re enjoying being on the team and riding the big races.
Pez: Did the mechanics make any concessions to the cobbles of Flanders?
Graham: No, we just rode our standard Peugeots with Stronglight, Mafac, Simplex groupsets and Clйment tubs. Equipment was never a problem at Peugeot, everything worked just fine.
Pez: When did you realize you had good legs?
Graham: Quite early really; there was a big, flat loop, then into the hills. The race is a process of elimination, it splits, comes together, splits again, merges – I was making the selections all day, so I knew I had good legs.
Fons de Wolf takes an unseasonably warm Het Volk in 1982.
Pez: Tell us about the finalй.
Graham: There was a break away, including Jan Raas, Sean Kelly, Roger De Vlaeminck and the eventual winner, Fons de Wolf. I was in a group of about 40 and we caught the break, or at least most of them, what I didn’t realize was that De Wolf had slipped-away. I jumped-away with four or five kilometres to go and thought I was going for the win; but as I was coming into the finishing straight, I could see a car and a rider ahead – then his arms went up. I’m glad I saw him, it spared me the embarrassment of giving a victory salute! The gap at the line was only 26 seconds, at racing speed that’s not far.
Pez: Any, “with hindsights?”
Graham: No, not at all – it wasn’t my kind of race but I had good legs and took my opportunity; nine times out of ten I would have been chased-down.
Pez: Very few English speakers have stood on that podium. Graham: No, Shay Elliot won it in 1959, but apart from him, only Sean Kelly [3rd in 1980 and 1982; 2nd in 1989] has been up there. I suppose it’s something to look back on, but maybe Mark Cavendish will up-date things?
Pez: De Wolf was a class act.
Graham: Yes, he won Milan-San Remo, which is one of the fastest classics and the Tour of Lombardy, which is one of the hilliest – I think he could have won just about anything he put his mind to, but he had this image of enjoying a good time. I knew him from our days in Belgium, I raced against him there for a year when we were both in the amateur ranks, but he never lived-up to his true potential when he turned pro.
Pez: Was it a good pay day?
Graham: I can’t remember, the prize money all went ‘in the pot’ and was split at the end of the season, it’s not something I would have paid attention to at the time.
Pez: Did you ride Kuurne, next day?
Graham: Yes, I can’t remember where I placed, but I definitely finished it.
Pez: Were Peugeot happy?
Graham: Well, I got on the squad for Paris-Nice, after that!