It was too good an opportunity to miss – Viktor with his pils; me with my Diet Coke; Ghent-Wevelgem and De Panne winner, Nico Mattan with his Carlsberg.
I was interviewing Nico thanks to his DFL team mate, Evan Oliphant, who set the meeting up. Last year I did a series of interviews coming-into the classics with riders who had won, or sprung a surprise in a certain classic, we had Barry Hoban for Ghent – Wevelgem, Rolf Sorensen for Flanders and so on; it was well received, so we decided to do it again this year.
First-up we had Brian Robinson for his third place in the Primavera in 1957, then Barry again for his 5th and 7th in Flanders in ’67 and “69.
Nico won Ghent-Wevelgem in controversial circumstances in 2005, and he was still happy with his Carlsberg when I finished the Ghent-Wevelgem questions, so I pushed-on and asked a few more:
Who were you heroes as a young cyclist?
“Freddy Maertens and Greg Lemond.”
Who do you train with these days?
“Niko Eeckhout, Leif Hoste, Cedric Vasseur – I used to train with V de B (lost talent, Frank Vandenbroucke) too, before he went to Italy.”
What went wrong there?
“He was under pressure to win from the time he was 15, pushed too much; the family is like that. I have two girls, but I don’t push them in any direction, it’s best they find their own way.”
How are you enjoying DFL?
“It’s good, Eric (DS Vanderaerden) let’s my do my own thing, my role is pretty-much that of ‘DS on the bike!’
“I try to speak with the guys as much as I can, explaining where they should be and what they should do. At Cofidis the DS’s didn’t talk to the riders much, they just sat in the car and looked forward to a good drink at night!”
Who is impressing you in the team?
“The Australian, Rhys Pollock has potential, I hope to be able to work with him over the next year or so and develop him; Daniel Lloyd is a strong rider and the Dutchman, Jens Mouris is very athletic, I think he could be good on the cobbles.”
What about the future?
“I was out on my bike for one-and-half hours with Johan Museeuw the other day and he was saying not to do a year too many. It’s difficult not being at the front like you used to be in the races, I find as I get older I have more bad days than I have good days, but I guess that’s normal.
“I’m not sure about going down the DS route, I think I’m good at giving advice to the young riders, but I’m really not decided yet. My wife has a clothes shop, but I can’t see myself being in a shop all day, I’m used to the pro life and being on the move. I’ve been a pro for 14 years so it will be a big change not to be riding.”
Whatever choice he makes, it’ll be the right one: he’s got charisma and the gift of the gab. Thanks Nico!