I knew that Ian Whitehead had finally gone native when I received the email to inform me that his mail address no longer ended in “dot uk” but in “dot be” — that was the last link with the ‘old country’ gone.
However, English Christmas pudding was consumed on the 25th — so there are still links to the ‘old ways,’ despite what he says.
Ian is one of the men behind Kingsnorth Wheelers, the Belgian Team with an English name that’s been home to so many good Commonwealth riders over the years — the most recent success story being Endura Racing’s New Zealand champion, Jack Bauer.
I was supposed to spend a bit of time with Ian at the Gent six but the slot just didn’t appear — the Kuipke was hectic.
Instead, we recently gave him a ring to get the insider low-down on what’s going on in the Flatlands as 2010 fades away and 2011 shines on the near horizon.
How was 2010 for the team, Ian?
“Mario Willems was top kermis winner on 29 victories beating Guy Smet to the top spot — so it was a good year for us.
“Our Aussie rider, Dougie Repacholi had got a load of placings for us too — and Mario’s back for 2010, so we can’t complain.
“We’re not sure if Dougie will be back; he can be a bit of ‘party animal,’ but you never know, he’s liable to call us a couple of weeks before he gets here.”
“Not really, Mario had a bad crash in 2009 but he stayed healthy all through this year.
“Like I said, Mario will stay with us next year — and I’m involved in the start up of a new team for 2011, but I’ll still be with Kingsnorth. It’s for U23 and juniors the name is Don Fredo Cycling Team, he was a real person, his actual name was Alfred Hamerlinck and he was a pro back in the 20’s and 30’s – before that a prolific winner of amateur races.
“There’s a cafe named after him and that’s where the team is based, it’s not a new team but up until now they’ve concentrated more on sportiv type event.
“The bikes, staff and clothing are all in place and we have riders already — not just Belgians, we have Tom Black from the Isle of Man and Kiwis as well.”
And what of your big success story — Jack Bauer?
“We got an email back a month or two ago that Patrick Lefevre was trying to get hold of him to talk to him about a deal with Quick Step; but apparently he’s staying put with the Scottish team — that Lefevre connection was a big opportunity.”
How about your Kiwi lad Chris Macic, he was getting a few results?
“He stayed all winter, riding the track, to get a ride in the amateur Six — but as you know, that ended badly when he brought half the field down.
“Still, it got us lots of publicity!
“He had a lot of second places on the road but no wins.”
Any new sponsors for Kingsnorth?
“No, its status quo — the Augustijn brewery, Nico Sport clothing and Euro Premium dog food.”
Would you ever take the team Continental?
“No, we’ve no interest in that, it would be too expensive — and to go Continental takes a lot of admin, it’s all so regimented, now.”
Predictions for 2011?
“It’s hard to say — there’ll be new names from abroad; look at Jack Bauer, no one had heard of him when he arrived here.”
And you’re working at the Plume – Vainqueur shop, now?
“I was working for Dirk Dekeyser at Cycles Dirk in Drongen but things went quiet and he had to let me go.
“Plums have been going for 100 years, they’re not a really a racing shop any more — places like Van Eyck knock out the racing stuff at cheap prices.
“Gent is a university town and Plume has found its niche with the student bikes — they have plenty of business from there; there are thousands of knackered old bikes going about the city.
“Having said that they’re Trek and Merckx dealers; but if you came in to the shop it’s not changed since you first came to the Gent six in the 70’s!
“The Dosche Sport shop is still there too — but it’s not like it used to be.”
As a Gent man, what about Iljo winning the six after four months out?
“He’s a Gentenaar, a man of the city, it’s very important to the people of Gent for him to win; he’s very popular – the Boonen of the six days.
“But when he didn’t get to ride at Manchester it let you see how complicated it’s become.”
And for young men seeking to find fame and fortune in the Flatlands you’re still the guys to call?
“Just go to our team website and get in touch with us.”
Thanks for your time Ian, and best wishes for a healthy winter and great 2011 season.
Thanks to Chris Macic and Heidi Lanoo for the use of their photos.