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PATRICK SERCU INTERVIEW
STAR OF THE SIXES, TOUR DE FRANCE STAGE WINNER, SPRINT WORLD CHAMPION AND OLYMPIC KILO CHAMPION SPEAKS TO BRITISHCYCLING.ORG.UK
Last Saturday’s Revolution track meeting in Manchester was graced by the presence of one of the sport’s all-time greats, Patrick Sercu of Belgium. Since the end of his own career as a rider in 1983, Sercu has become the hub of the European winter Six Day scene, not least as the man behind the Ghent Six, which is the nearest thing to a home Six that British fans have.
Patrick (pictured right with Revolution organiser Gordon Harling, left) has been helping the Revolution team secure some of the big names, who have in turn helped to make the four-event series such a breakthrough success this winter. His decision to come along and see the Revolution phenomenon for himself is an indication of just how far Track racing has come in this country, both in performance terms in the last few years and as a spectator sport during this winter.
Phil Griffiths, an regular contributor to britishcycling.org.uk was a big fan of Sercu in his racing days and so we invited him along to speak to the great man and capture his words for the website. Phil and Patrick spoke just before the meeting got underway.
PG: Patrick, in your role as Six Day race promoter and director in Europe what’s your opinion of the current world track scene and the direction it’s going in.
PS: Currently you have two quite different scenes in some ways: on the one hand you have the Olympic Games, World Championships and the World Cup Series; and then you have the Six Days and the other meetings where the professional rider has to earn a living. You see, the Olympics and the Worlds are where you make your reputation and the Six Days and the other races are where you make your money, if you like.
PG: So the national and international focus is on the big games?
PS: Yes, for sure
PG: But for the working track professional….
PS: You need the Six Days and the rest. The Six Days are, I would say, the stage races for the track riders.
PG: Hein Verbruggen and the UCI are seeking to turn track racing into a winter sport. What’s your view?
PS: That is no problem. For me track cycling is a winter sport. All the big competitions are in the indoor velodromes and in the summer the public have other interests to follow and of course there is the road scene. I think it is good for the track scene that it could be concentrated on say September through to March. Except for the sprinters, all the riders are racing through the summer on the road.
PG: Your career included world championships and Olympic gold medals in the Sprint and Kilo, stage wins in the major tours and the green jersey in the Tour de France. Is there too much specialisation now?
PS: No, I don’t think so: you must go where your talent takes you. I started as a sprinter and then I started to win the Six Days and then came the endurance to win on the road. I was no longer a track sprinter: it was not possible to do both at World level.
PG: You took the professional kilo record down to 1.07.35 in 1972 and now the World contenders are doing around 1.01. Where does that improvement come from?
PS: I did Milan-San Remo, the Six-Day races and the kilometre record in the same year. Now you have to be a specialist to have success at the sprint disciplines. You cannot achieve these times without many years of specialisation. The Six-Day rider has to be able to do many things well: they are all good road riders.
PG: We’ve seen big changes in British cycling since the opening of Manchester in 96 and now the GB Team is amongst the top 5 in the world rankings. What’s happening in Belgium?
PS: In Belgium now we only have the Sportpaleis in Ghent, which we can use all year round. We have no sprinters, no kilo rider or pursuiter at the world level. Belgium is at the other side of the world, if you like, to what you are doing here. At the moment Matthew Gilmore is our only world-class talent and he comes from Australia (Laughs). I mean Matthew is not a product of Belgian cycling. You have this facility, which is one of the best in the world, and now you are attracting younger people into the sport.
PG: We have been able to secure government funding to develop young talent….
PS: Yes, that is the key. Facilities like you have here are very expensive. There is no private money to build the tracks so we need government funding. There are plans now to put a roof on the outdoor 250m track in Ghent, so that will I hope help.
PG: Do you see this direct connection between funding and success?
PS: Yes, I do. The government in Belgium are now investing some money. To turn things around will take time. You can have the best ideas and the people who will work very hard but without the money it is not possible. When I look back at Britain perhaps 10 years ago at the world level, you had one or two riders that had made it really on their own, but now you are at the top of the sport with champions and riders who can compete. Your team is, how can I say, like a machine: you have the coaches who can work with the young riders; you have the facilities where they can develop their talents and it brings you success. This I think was the idea behind the UCI facility in Aigle, Switzerland. Hein Verbruggen is saying, if you have facilities such as this, then you can grow the sport.
PG: When we look at mainland Europe from Britain we see perhaps the culture of the bike as transport for all whereas here we have been encouraged to seek cycling specific facilities because of traffic congestion and parents’ worries about children riding on the road. What’s happening in Belgium?
PS: In Belgium it is a problem too. You know, before, all the riders in Belgium were ‘born’ on the way to school. If there were four or five youngsters, then on the way to school they would have their own little competition. Now, times have changed and we have your problems also. Young people need to be active in their life: they need to play sport, any sport. It is not necessary from 12 years of age to sit on a bicycle everyday to become a top rider. You can be a good athlete and be healthy and say perhaps from 15 you can learn the skills and techniques to be a bike rider. You must encourage children to swim, run and play games and to be active.
PG: Turning to the Six-day season for the coming winter, what are your plans?
PS Once again I will be race promoter and director for Ghent and race director for the Six-Days of Bremen and Amsterdam. I hope many British fans will again come to Ghent.
PG: Will we see Bradley Wiggins and Matthew Gilmore defend their 2003 Ghent title?
PS: Maybe: I’m sure they will both ride. It depends what happens at the Worlds and the Olympics perhaps. If Matthew Gilmore and Tom Steels ride the Worlds and Olympics and they make a good team, who knows? It is good for the racing when the Germans, the Dutch, the British and the Italians ride against each other. Matthew and Bradley were both born in Ghent so maybe the crowd say ‘ Bradley Wiggins is a little bit Belgian’. Also, last year we missed having a British under 23 team in the amateur six, I hope we will see one this year.
PG: Patrick, the music has started and the crowd is starting to come in to the velodome, so I’ll ask you just one more question. Can you tell me what your best moment has been from all your victories?
PS: I would have to say the most important was what was happening at the time. At the time of my World Championship victories in the Sprint and then the Olympic Gold in the kilo they were very special but also my 88 Six-Day victories and then the road success and of course the Tour Green Jersey. As an athlete you set goals and you achieve and then you move on like a journey.
PG: That’s a great note to end on. Thank you, Patrick, for your time and I hope you enjoy the evening’s racing.
PS: Thank you.