It must be the water in Mol in the Province of Antwerp, Belgium; not only is it Tom Boonen’s home town, it’s also the home town of the man who was in the team car behind him for so many of the ‘Tornado’s’ triumphs. Wilfried Peeters, sport director with the Deceuninck ‘Wolf Pack’ was a ‘Man of the Northern Classics’ in his own right. He rode five full seasons with paint company Sigma’s team under the tutelage of 100 plus race winner, former Belgian Professional Champion, Willy Teirlinck.
There was an unfulfilling season with Telecom before two seasons at powerful GB MG. His next move was to Mapei where he would stay for six seasons, when the team became Domo-Farm Frites he rode one season with them before moving in to the team car. Domo-Farm Frites begat Quick-Step where he’s been an integral part of the ‘Wolf Pack’ success story ever since.
As a rider there were victories in Gent-Wevelgem, Schal Schels, GP Jef Scherens, Putte Kapellen, numerous pro kermises and two team trial victories in the Tour de France. His ‘Hell of the North’ credentials too are impeccable with three top five finishes – not to mention the ones he won from the team car.
Wilfried gave freely of his time to VeloVeritas, discussing his own career and his role as one of Deceuninck Maestro, Patrick Lefevere’s right hand men.
Your first race, Wilfried?
“I went with my brother, I was 15 years-old got dropped and abandoned.”
You signed with Sigma in August 1986 and stayed for a further five seasons – a good team then?
“I wasn’t a guy who liked to change teams; the ex-70’s Classics rider and Belgian Professional Champion, Willy Teirlinck was the manager at Sigma; he contacted me and asked if I wanted to ride for him and within 15 hours I was on the start line of my first race for them.
“I had some solid results, the podium in the Belgian Professional Championships, good finishes in Paris-Tours, Ville de Rennes, Brabantse Pijl, Championship of Flanders and the GP Jef Scherens, which I won.
“I was good in the pro kermises too, winning three or four each season.”
Then one season at Telekom, 1992.
“I spoke to Patrick Lefevere and Jan Raas about going with them but in the end settled for Telekom with Walter Godefroot.
“It wasn’t my best season, I was sick at the start of the year and didn’t rest after it so I didn’t recover properly.
“I’d ridden the Tour de France during the last three seasons but not that year.
“I rode the pro kermises during the Tour and I signed with Patrick Lefevere and GB MG for 1993.”
A very successful team.
“Yes, we had Cipollini, Jaskula, Baldato, Museeuw, many big riders – 29 UCI wins in 1993 and 38 victories in 1994, we won the team time trial in the Tour de France both years.”
Then you were with Patrick Lefevere at the Mapei ‘Super Team’ for 1994.
“When I was young the ‘super team’ was Peter Posts’s Raleigh squad – Mapei was the Raleigh of its day.
“We had so many big name; Museeuw, Cancellara, Rominger, Ballerini, Baffi…”
Perhaps the result you’re best known for is winning Gent-Wevelgem in 1994, is that the performance which gives you most satisfaction?
“No, I’m most proud of my rides in Paris-Roubaix; I was second to my team mate Andrea Tafi in 1999, third behind another team mate Franco Ballerini in 1998 and fifth behind Servais Knaven in 2001, he was also a team mate.
“I never won but came close, I just needed a little more luck. It was a race I focused on; I liked the cobbles but as you get older you’re not as explosive as you were when you were younger so you’re less suited to events like the Tour of Flanders – but Paris-Roubaix suited my characteristics.”
Do you have any regrets about the professional rider part of your career?
“No, 1992 was my worst season, I was designated leader and I sat in the peloton instead of my usual aggressive racing at the front.
“In 1993 my mentality went back to how it should be – active early but still in the front for the finals.”
You went straight from being a rider with Domo in 2001 to driving the team car in 2002…
“When Patrick Lefevere told us that Mapei were pulling out a group of us followed him to Domo.
“The results were good; my own results were good in 2001 with second behind Niko Eeckhout in Dwars door Vlaanderen, I was poor at Flanders but fifth in Paris-Roubaix after having been away and was only caught late in the day.
“But I remember like it was yesterday, in the Tour de Suisse, Patrick Lefevere speaking to me after a hard mountain stage, he said; ‘Wilfried, next season you can still ride with me but I can’t guarantee you’ll be in the Classics team – or you can move into the team car and be a DS with the team?’
“I said I wasn’t sure but thought about it for an hour then said, ‘yes’. It’s the best decision I ever made and I had no problems adapting; I love my job.
“The 2002 season was the last with Domo, Patrick brought Quick-Step in as sponsors for 2003 and of course I went with him – that’s 27 years now I’ve been with Patrick Lefevere.”
How do you account for all the Quick-Step/Deceuninck wins, year after year?
“We have the best person at the top and he has the ability to find good people – people who have team spirit, staff and riders.
“Look at me and one of our other DS, Davide Bramati [Bramati was a professional on the team before he became a DS] we’re not ‘school’ guys, we’re ‘street-wise’ people who have ‘feel’ for the job.”
Your best moments in the team car?
“Our successes in the cobbled classics with riders like Tom Boonen – as a DS I have the most success in the Northern Classics.”
What are your feelings about the current crisis?
“It’s the hardest period, ever.
“It’s OK waiting if you can plan towards goals but the problem right now is there is no future to work towards.
“Sure, the guys are on the Turbos and doing stuff on Zwift but mentally it’s hard.
“What we’ve done is to set up WhatsApp groups so the DS’s can speak to a small group of the guys regularly; and the riders can speak to each other and keep each other strong.”
Will the team have to accept salary cuts, as Lotto have done?
“It’s not up to me to speak about that.”
And what about your motivation, Wilfried?
“I speak with Patrick, I speak with Bramati, it’s hard for him; he’s in Italy where they’ve been hit very hard by the virus.
“When we speak, it’s not all about racing, we speak about the small things too – we keep strong, we help each other … we’re the Wolf Pack!”
Thanks to Wilfried for talking to us at the tough time.