PEZ: You’ve called ‘time,’ Bert?
Bert: I didn’t want to over do my time in the sport and end up a bitter man; I’m leaving the sport with a lot of happy memories.
PEZ: A few more frites, now?
Bert: I don’t think my diet will change that much; but you have to be careful because the pounds begin to stick – you don’t have that four or five hours on the bike each day and without trying, the weight goes on. But it’s good that I don’t have to be troubled too much by all this snow – I’m not training, I’m looking for work.
PEZ: The family must be happy to be seeing more of you?
Bert: I’m a little sad a little my career is over, but I’m glad to see more of my family and I’m happy I’ve made the right decision. I actually started training and was preparing for another season right up to mid-December; but I’d come full circle and I began to feel that 2010 was going to be a hard season, mentally. Maybe I could have done another year but it was about perception of how my career ended, I didn’t want to do ‘one year too many,’ like some riders do. I was never a Boonen or a Van Petegem but I was there, I could perform and I didn’t want to be the oldest guy in the peloton having that last, bad, shitty year.
PEZ: How many seasons did you ride pro, Bert?
Bert: I rode 13 full seasons, I tuned pro on January 1rst 1997. The teams are much bigger, now – when I turned pro, there would be 15 guys on a team, that’s just enough to do one programme. Mapei changed it all, having nearly 30, and now, with the Pro Tour, it’s 25, 28 riders.
There are maybe 60 people involved in a team, now – that’s like a medium sized company, too much for one man to run. The DS’s run things at the races; the manager has too much other work to get involved at the races. I think now that there’s a big difference between the big teams and the small teams – more than before. You have the big Pro Tour teams and the Continental teams but there’s less and less in between, at Pro Continental level, they lack the budget.
PEZ: Your best year?
Bert: There was something good to say about every year I raced, I think I progressed each year until I had that bad crash in 2007. I think 2004 was a nice year, I was with Bodysol – that was the Under 23 feeder team for QuickStep – I was there to give the young riders my experience. The ambiance was good and it was nice to be with the young guys; I was Belgian time trial champion, that year and won the Chrono Herbiers, too.
Of course, 2005 was a big year – Lotto with the likes of Robbie McEwen and Peter Van Petegem. I liked riding with Robbie, he was very appreciative of your work, there was none of this, ‘I’m the man’ he knew the value of his team. On my account, I won Brussel-Ingooigen that year and was second in the Tour of Belgium.
Bert: No, 20 years in the sport, 13 as a pro, always learning – I can’t regret that.
PEZ: What about that bad crash in the Vuelta in 2007?
Bert: I regret it, but I didn’t ask for it to happen; I tried to make the most of things after it – you should only have regrets if don’t give it 100%. It took a lot of mental energy to get back in shape in 2008 and 2009; when it’s snowy and cold it’s hard to go and train.
PEZ: Were you a ‘scientific’ or ‘traditional kilometres’ trainer?
Bert: A bit of both, I used SRM’s latterly and tried to take a scientific approach, setting specific targets, primarily in March and April – the Classics Season.
PEZ: Do you feel the current Belgian scene is healthy?
Bert: I think there’s room for one more Pro Continental team; we have two Pro Tour teams but you need fresh energy at all levels. But the UCI bonds make it difficult for a team to afford to go Pro Continental. I like the fact that the Anglo-Saxon teams have come along, they’re not pre-occupied with 70’s and 80’s methods and ideas and they’re bringing cross over ideas from other sports.
PEZ: Is the drugs war being won?
Bert: Yes, two years ago we’d never have imagined that they’d be catching riders who were taking CERA, so quickly. Before it would have taken two or three years to catch up with the ‘naughty boys.’
PEZ: V de B?
Bert: I think that the stars of today can benefit from seeing what happened there. But I think the authorities handled the situation very badly; there were images of him on TV in hand cuffs – I don’t think the way he was treated respected his human rights. He was a nice guy, friendly, polite; but I think there were a couple of V de B’s – there was a small devil in there , some where.
Bert: It’s a free world, if a team wants him, he’ll attract a huge amount of attention in the media – and it’s not about doping, it’s about races and racing, that has to be good.
PEZ: The future?
Bert: I’m hoping to to do a degree in sports management at university; I already have one in communications. I’m at night school too, studying teaching, in fact, when I finish talking to you, that’s where I’m going – to make a 20 minute oral presentation!
PEZ: Are you ‘training down?’
Bert: Yes, you have to, the heart is a muscle and in a pro it’s bigger, fitter and leaner, it’s very bad for it to stop suddenly. I go out a couple of times a week, but I’m waiting for the snow to go away – that’s the difference, now I can go out when I want. When you’re a pro, you have to go out!
We’re sure which ever path Bert chooses, it’ll be a successful one, he was never a ‘half measures’ kind of a man. And we’d like to thank him for all the insights into professional cycling he’s given Pez readers, over the years – we’ll miss you, Bert.