Bike broken, nearly poisoned and having to face ‘Kermesse King’ Mario Willems four times in a week — it ain’t easy when you forsake the smooth tarmac of Westferry for the hard granite sets of Flanders — but ‘a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.’ Dooley’s Michael Nicholson is just back from the flatlands; he took time to tell VeloVeritas the story.
How long were you out there, Michael?
“From the start of July for six weeks, we stayed at Callum Gough’s place in Oudenaarde.
“I’ve finished my electronic engineering course at university so I have nothing on the go — although I’m going to get a part time job for the winter so as I can train properly for next season.”
What sort of results were you getting?
“I didn’t go out with the best of form because I had a lot of university work to do and the first few weeks I was getting to 20th/25th — it really was savage.
“I took a wee break from racing after four weeks and when I went back to it I felt a lot stronger, I was getting in the breaks and managed an 8th place.
“Ruaraidh McLeod – who you interviewed – was there that day.
“I rode four races that week and Mario Willems won every one of them!”
How do the finances work out?
“Callum letting us use his place is a great help; that 8th place got me 25 Euros and primes are usually 20 Euros each — that helps pay for the food.
“The other thing is that it’s only three Euros to enter – not like the £17 you can pay in Scotland — and that means it’s not expensive to race, especially if you ride out to the start.”
Biggest difference about racing out there?
“The speed out of the corners, in Scotland the bunch kinda moseys back up to speed after a corner; in Flanders you’re back up at 52 kph almost instantly.
“And of course it’s faster by a couple of kph at the top end; that takes a bit of getting used to — and bunches are so much bigger.
“If there are 140 riders on a narrow twisting circuit, it’s a real challenge to move up.”
How did morale bear up?
“I finished all my races so I had no problems that way — but with me being a big rider, the style of racing suits me.
“And we were lucky with the weather, it was 36 degrees, one day.
“But if you were on your own, the weather was bad and you weren’t getting the results then I could imagine that it would be easy for your head to go down.”
How did you use your spare time?
“Endlessly cleaning the bike but not that much training; you’re either racing or resting so it’s just easy runs on the bike.
“You spend a bit of time on the internet, a bit of time reading, and there’s the cooking to do.”
“We shared it between the seven of us, we got by all right, but one of the juniors — he’ll remain nameless, but comes from Stirling — served us up nearly raw sausages and potatoes that were solid in the middle.
“He needs to buck up his ideas!”
Did the equipment withstand the punishment?
“My bike took a pasting on the flight there; they managed to crush the seat tube.
“I spoke to Callum Gough and he put me onto Ken Jones – who imports the Flanders frames into the UK — and he gave me a really good deal.
“The frame was a smidgeon heavier than mine but coped with the cobbles really well, it seemed to float over the top of them.”
Who are the ‘Daddies’ out there?
“Mario Willems must have about 20 wins by now, he just smashes it up.
“Patrick Cocquyt is 50 but just so strong — we were in a break of 17, all of us flat out into a cross wind and Cocquyt attacked on his own, rode the last three laps on his own and won it.
“I got away with another guy but we couldn’t get near him — the break only caught us in the last kilometre; that was a pity.
“Tony Bracke is another guy who’s very strong, I was on his wheel when he went for a prime, he didn’t even get out of the saddle but he just rode me off his wheel, I couldn’t hold him.”
What about the ‘Anglos?’
“Dan Patten — who blogs for you — I was in a break with him, he’s strong and has a win out there; any win in Belgium is awesome!”
“I don’t think I was ever in the running, although last year I thought I maybe had half a chance.
“This year was my last year at university and I had a lot of work to do for that, I didn’t have the time to train as you need to.”
Back to Flanders, next season?
“Definitely, this year was really just to see what it’s like but next year I’d like to get my finances organised then come across for the whole season.
“I’ve spoken to Callum and to Brian Smith and they say that if I’m going well enough then a team will soon pick me up.”
VeloVeritas awards full marks to Michael. Watch this space; we hope to bring you Callum Gough, Dougie Young and — Patrick Cocquyt interviews in the near future.