PEZ: You were born in Liverpool, you rode for Wales at the Commonwealth Games, was GB under 23 TT Champion and you are now Irish road race Champion. So where is home?
Matt Brammeier: Home now is Belgium, it’s where I spend 99.9% of my time, I’ve had an apartment here with Nikki for a few years so I’m pretty settled, I’ve got a cat and everything!
PEZ: How did it all come about that you went to Belgium?
Matt: I first came over when I was 15, I stayed a few months with a scouse friend Dave Grindley who lived in a place called Nederzwalm which is in the heart of Flanders.
After that I was hooked and took every chance I could to come back. I stayed a few weeks with Tim Harris when I was with the GB academy and it grew on me even more.
When I left the academy at the end of 2005 the natural destination was always going to be here. I came to ride for the now defunct DFL CyclingNews team and have been here ever since!
PEZ: You and Adam Blythe (Omega Pharma) have been “under the wing” of Tim Harris (and Jos), what’s that like?
Matt: “Under the wing” ha-ha, he’s under our wing! He would be foddered without me and Adam!
Matt Brammeier shares a ride with Tim Harris.
PEZ: Tim must be good for the morale (most of the time)?
Matt: Most of the time yeah! But I’m sure he’s cracked a few riders over the years. He says it like it is. Generally if someone is a donkey, Tim will usually take pleasure in telling them they are a donkey!
PEZ: Which coffee machine do you have at home?
Matt: After I signed my contract I treated myself to a Fraccino Cherub. My friend and ex training partner Marc Perry has just set up his own Italian Import business (He was a bike rider until Tim cracked him) and sorted me out with a good’un!
What’s life without good coffee?
PEZ: And favourite coffee?
Matt: I’m still sampling but at the moment it’s Attibassi Espresso also from Marc’s company Fiandre.
PEZ: What about a favourite Belgian beer?
Matt: I’d have to say Duvel, when I rode the junior worlds here in Belgium a few years back I was let loose in an Irish bar after the race. I was introduced to Duvel there. Crazy, that’s all I’ll say!
PEZ: Would you drink much of it during the season?
Matt: To be honest, not really. I’ll have a few bottles of wine and the odd mad session but I’m a bit of a lightweight to be honest. Alcohol just tends to send me to sleep!
PEZ: Your girlfriend is Nikki Harris (top GB road and X rider), does it cause any problems?
Matt: Only when I go out on the cross bike with her. She leaves me for dead! It makes a big difference having a girlfriend who understands cycling. She helps me make a lot of decisions and I’d like to say I help her out a bit too.
PEZ: Do you ever see each other?
Matt: Off and on really, when we’re both home we spend a lot of time together, we do a bit of training together and don’t have any other commitments outside of cycling so that’s pretty good. On the downside there’s also a lot of times when we are away from home too. It happens a lot where for example Nikki goes away for a couple of weeks when I’m at home. Then when she gets back, I’ve just left for a stage race or training camp so sometimes it can be 3-4 weeks without seeing each other! Thank god for Skype!
The good thing is when Nikki is away racing, Adam’s other half Lizzy Armistead is usually away on the same race so we’re left to our own devices! Sometimes dangerous!!
PEZ: Obviously Belgium is the centre of the world for cycling, but how different is it from say; living in England?
Matt: You don’t get driven over by cement trucks here! Ha-ha! Funny but true, the roads in the UK are just not safe for cycling anymore; there are just too many cars on the roads and not enough space. Over here the culture is totally different concerning cyclists. Here we are respected for what we do; back in UK we are hated for slowing their journey down by 30 seconds.
Apart from that it’s just the general way of life, everything here is a lot more relaxed and things just happen at a slower pace with less stress. Another thing I like is the absence of the Health and Safety culture that’s developed in the UK. No such thing as Health and Safety here, they just get on with it.
PEZ: Now that you have lived in Belgium for a while, would you want to live there if it wasn’t for cycling?
Matt: I’m not sure, I love Belgium and would be happy to live here, but there is a lot of the world I haven’t seen yet.
PEZ: Do you have a good group of friends/riders around where you live?
Matt: Yeah there’s always a good group around, Tim normally has a gang of riders staying in his houses and Adam lives just down the road so we spend a lot of time together.
Brammeier earned his fair share of glory at the amateur level before heading to the professional ranks.
PEZ: Next year you will be riding for HTC-High Road, do you know your team role will be?
Matt: Yeah it’s going to be a pretty big step up for me next year. I’m going to the team to do my job, it’s the biggest and best team in the world and I know where I stand. I’m not going to be one of those riders who are going to spout off about what races I want to ride and what races I want to win. I will do as I’m told and give 100% to whatever role that may be, I feel privileged to become a professional for such a good team and will gauge my success in cycling by how long I can earn my pennies riding my bike. I’d dream to become a rider like Servais Knaven, he rode as a pro for 17 years, has worked harder than anybody I know and has bagged loads of vedetta wins in his day!
PEZ: And your ‘hoped for’ calendar?
Matt: As I said, I’ll do as I’m told really, I was just looking at our programme and there isn’t one race that I wouldn’t want to ride. If you asked me for my dream programme I’d like to do the northern classics and then build up to the Giro. I’d like to be a part of Cav’s lead-out team again and be a part of the team’s biggest successes.
PEZ: Was the An Post team a good stepping stone?
Matt: Yes, for sure. I think the way the UCI are doing things with continental teams is a good idea. In the past they have kind of been teams that are for the mediocre riders who aren’t quite good enough to be Pros, but now they are turning into developmental teams.
AN Post was great for me; we did all kinds of racing. One day I could be riding a Kermesse with an overweight Belgian with Duvel in his bottle and the next day riding alongside Cancellara in an HC race. So we raced at all ends of the spectrum. It taught me how to race and how to win races and also gave me an insight and a chance at the top level of the sport too.
The AN Post team proved a perfect stepping stone for Brammeier en route to HTC-High Road.
PEZ: When I interviewed Sid Barras a few years ago he spoke very highly of you and he pushed for you to get help from the Dave Rayner fund, how important was that help?
Matt: I can’t really put into words how influential the fund has been to my career so far. Putting it simply if it wasn’t for the fund I would probably be back in Liverpool now robbing cars and wasting my life away! They gave me the chance of a lifetime, to become a Pro bike rider, and for that I will be forever grateful to everybody involved there.
When I got ran over a few years back Sid was one of the first people to ring me. He told me straight away not to worry and that the fund would support me through thick and thin and make sure I was back racing again where I belonged.
PEZ: The Irish Champs win and your epic ride in the Worlds must have opened a few eyes; did they have any bearing on your HTC contract?
Matt: Being Irish champion opened a lot of doors for sure. Every now and then I have a super day on the bike, that day was one of them! I beat some top riders that day and I’m very proud of it. My contract was signed already before the Worlds but the amount of publicity and attention it generated was unreal!
Brammeier and Harris after a tough Tour of Great Britain stage.
PEZ: Was there much talk in the break at the Worlds?
Matt: I wish there was! None of the guys there spoke any English so communication was hard. I was trying to tell them all to ride flat out on the first of the finish laps; we were only 1:40 from lapping the bunch. I tried to get the message across to the other guys but they all thought I was crazy. I should have just attacked and tried on my own. It would have been a good story if nothing else!!!
PEZ: With the Cross season starting (for Nikki) you’ll be staying on in Belgium?
Matt: Yeah we stay here all year round, when my season ends Nikki’s starts so there not much time for a trip back to the UK. I’m hoping to spend a bit of time in South Spain this winter and also have a few weeks in California with the team which will be pretty nice.
PEZ: Do you ride Cross?
Matt: Nope, too hard for me! I can barely walk to the shops never mind all that running up and down fields.
I do a little bit of riding every now and then and have a cross bike here in Belgium but to be honest I’m rubbish. I went and did a lap of a cross circuit the day before one of Nikki’s races last year in Asper Gavere. Nikki rode off and left me, she was so embarrassed!
PEZ: Will you get a chance for a holiday?
Matt: Unfortunately not. Nikki’s season had already started before mine was over so no chance of going anywhere together. I spend so much time away from Nikki and away from home I’m quite happy to chill out in Belgium and annoy Tim and Jos.
So that’s what you need to do; go to Belgium, get a house, a cat, a coffee machine and a top class cyclist girlfriend and the ProTour contract will soon come along. You will need to train, win a National Championship and get in a long break at the Worlds as well though!
Good luck next year, Matt.