“Ed! All this Tour de France nonsense – you should be talking to Mario Willems, he’s the top man in the Flanders kermis’ right now!”

What Viktor wants, Viktor gets.

After a long tenure with John Saey, Mario changed camps this year, heading across to Kingsnorth International Wheelers. We couldn’t get a direct interview, but Mario was kind enough to answer our questions by email…

Mario in familiar pose - winning.
Mario in familiar pose – winning.

How many wins, this year, Mario?

“Well, at this moment (26th July) I have 17 victories.”

What was your best year for wins?

“27 wins , I think it was 2005”
[Consultation of our sad reference books confirms this – Mario was top winner in the ‘over 22’ category that year.]

How many total career wins?

“I’m not sure , but it’s about 268.”

Enjoying life with the Kingsnorth guys.
Enjoying life with the Kingsnorth guys.

Which win gave you most satisfaction?

“I think that would be my first win, when I was a debutant.”

Which is your favourite race – which town, and why?

“I don’t have really a favourite race. I always try to do my best.

“But certainly no mountains for me!”

How many seasons have you been racing?

“21 – since I was 15 years old, and I’m 36 now.”

Mario recieves more flowers for the family.
Mario recieves more flowers for the family.

How many races per week do you ride?

“It depends, there are not some many races as before, so you can’t choose so much.

“But normally once in the weekend and once in the week, if possible.”

Who was your idol when you were young?

“Oh, I can’t remember.”

Why leave John Saey?

“New team, fresh air and new motivation!”

What do you like about Kingsnorth?

“Staf [Boone] is a great person. I can choose where I want to race. I can do what I want, and that’s what’s important to me.”

Perhaps the season record is out of Mario's reach, with only two or three races a week on offer.
Perhaps the season record is out of Mario’s reach, with only two or three races a week on offer.

Why did you never turn pro?

“I don’t like all the medical stuff that goes with it.”

You are 36 now, but Patrick Cocquyt is 48, how many more seasons will you race?

“I don’t know, as long as I find the motivation I go on.”

How do you rate Guy Smet?

“Strong cyclist.”

Who do you respect among your rivals?

“Everyone that shows what he can do in the race, I respect, but cyclists that always stay in last position and say ‘I can’t come through,’ I don’t like that.”

How far will you travel from your home to race?

“That depends, most of the time it’s about half-an-hour in the car but somethimes (for example for championships or when there are no races in the neighbourhood) it’s about one hour or one-and-a-half hours.”

Describe a typical week for you, during the season.

“It varies, I work one week in the morning, one week in the afternoon, full-time.

“Lets take a week when I work in the morning. I wake up at 4.20 and start at work at 5.15 (half an hour in the car to get to work). I come home at 2 pm and when the weather is good I cycle for two hours or more.”

Mario Willems.

Changes you’ve seen during your career?

“That cyclists who cheat (especially taking drugs) mostly get caught. That, and that most of the young riders can’t fight in the race; they give up too soon.”

Traditional or scientifical training?

“I don’t use a heart monitor, I train on my feeling!”

With thanks to Mario for his time, and to Peter Murphy and Ian Whitehead at Kingsnorth for their help.

And the record for kermis wins in one season?  Benny Van Itterbeeck, 1996,  60 (yes, sixty!).