We chat to Peter Murphy about racing in Belgium. Scottish bike racing; let’s face it, no matter how well you do in the Super Sixes, or how quick you can go around West Ferry, you’re going nowhere if you stay in Auld Scotia.
Please don’t quote Graeme Obree – he’s a one off, crazy, marvellous, gifted, but impossible to emulate. John Kennedy, Billy Bilsland, Robert Millar, David Millar – they all crossed the channel.
The track? Then you best get down to Manchester and see if you can get on ‘the Plan,’ that’s what Chris Hoy and Craig MacLean did.
It’s a scary thought, but if you want to “make it big” it isn’t happening among the hillies and glens.
Cross the channel; go to any kermis around Gent – capital of Flanders – and the chances are you’ll see riders of all ages, shapes and sizes in a blue and yellow strip, covered in advertising (last season one of the main ads was for dog food!).
Another of their main sponsors is Nico Sport; manufacturers of team clothing ‘since grass.’
The team’s name is a bit surprising, though; Kingsnorth International Wheelers – what the heck is a British registered club doing in the flat lands?
Peter Murphy is the man behind it, back in the 90’s he decided that British and Commonwealth riders needed a helping hand to establish themselves in international cycle racing’s heartland – Flanders.
For our second installment of racing as an espoir in Belgium, we decided that it would be interesting to talk to this Englishman who loves the cobbles and whose day job is selling Nico Sport clothing.
It’s a labour of love, Peter?
“It’s no labour at all; I’m happy to do it.
“I stayed at Mrs. Deene’s [boarding house for racing cyclists, frequented by our VeloVeritas editor during his racing career ] for eleven years, back in the 70’s and 80’s, and I was involved in a golden age where there was a thriving community of British and Commonwealth cyclists based in Flanders – in and around Gent, in particular.”
Not now, though?
“No, now they expect five star luxury and beautiful bikes now – they want to watch MTV all afternoon and not train.
“Everyone wants easy living, nowadays!
“The Aussies and Russians don’t expect that, though – that’s why they do so well.”
Give us some names of good riders who have come through Kingsnorth.
“Gordon MacAulay from New Zealand; Nathan Clarke from Australia, Kirk Obee from the USA.”
Do you still want British riders?
“We need them or otherwise the club will go.
“We want to give then the chance to race with riders like the ones I mentioned; learn what bike racing is about.
“Dean Downing was with us, so was Peter Williams [recent Drummond Trophy winner] and Tom Murray [stage one winner and yellow jersey holder at Girvan, this year].”
: How did you get the dog food sponsor?
“That’s Staf Bonen’s side of things; he organises the sponsors and the accommodation for riders who come over.
“This year he has the Saint Augustyn Brewery as one of the main sponsors.
“Staf is also the man who can fix up accommodation for riders at really good rates.”
What’s your role?
“I try to find the British riders; I remember when Tom Murray came – he was struggling to finish a race; last year he was Russ Downing’s main man and now he’s a team leader [at Plowman Craven].”
What do you get out of it?
“I’ve never been a rider but I was there in Gent in the great days and it makes me sad that it’s not like that anymore.
“Danny Clark (six day king) lived in Gent for many years; the American 7-11 guys stayed there – you’d see Bob Roll in town wearing his stetson with the feathers in it.”
“Apart from people looking for an easier life, the weakness of the pound hasn’t helped.
“When I stayed at Mrs. Deene’s, you paid 350 Belgian Francs per day for your dinner, bed and breakfast – the exchange rate was 90 to the pound in those days, so it was good value and you could live cheaply.
“Sure, it was cold in the winter time, but Hugh Porter stayed there, Tony Doyle, then Phil Griffiths and his ANC riders.
“Roger Hammond says that if you want to make it; ‘go to Belgium!'”
Indeed, ‘Go to Belgium’, or France, or Italy. Check out that Kingsnorth website now – just remember to talk to us VeloVeritas guys (and Viktor of course) when we’re hanging over the barriers at the Tour of Flanders start!