Oudenaarde is Heartland, the Tour of Flanders museum is here, cobbled classics pass through the town, the Flanders cycling team is based here and Vik and I have seen Robbie McEwen, Johan Museeuw and Peter Van Petegem pedal past us on the roads and canal paths of the area. The square in Oudenaarde suffered badly in World War II but has been restored in all its glory; there’s a nice assortment of bars to chose from and ours for the morning was The Carillion, the venue for our meeting with a man who has made Oudenaarde his home and who — despite the fact that he’s about as Liverpool as you can get — is fighting his own personal crusade to improve the standard of Scottish road racing. Callum Gough is a life member of Liverpool Century but races now as a vet for Onimpex Racing Team — back in the 80’s Gough’s name was one that appeared regularly in “the Comic” [Cycling Weekly] as a winner of road races both in the UK and on the continent.
He raced in Germany, Belgium, Holland and France with club and GB teams – citing his best performances as winning the Col d’Aspin stage of the 1983 Tour of the Pyrenees and winning the Tour of the Ramparts around the old city walls of Boulogne.
He originally came to Belgium
“To improve my speed and cross wind riding, I was light at 53 kilos and used to get blown around, I could finish third in the Cotswolds but would get belted in the Lincoln.”
But he did finish 15th in windswept hard man’s race, the Essex wearing Dunlop Green Flash ‘gutties’ as we call them in Fife — ask him about that one.
The ‘love of a good woman’ brought about a premature end to his international riding and a pro career in the UK didn’t appeal; ‘too many crits!’
A career in composites, managing factories — ‘aerospace and high end carbon bike kit’ – all over the world was next on the agenda and the bike took a back seat for many years but a comeback was perhaps inevitable.
Veterans race wins and placings followed thick and fast – VeloVeritas watched him take second in the Sandy Wallace Cycles road race at Wellwood at the end of September, his sense of position in the bunch and fast finish too good for all but one rider.
When his company took over a factory in Oudenaarde in 2007 there was no doubt about where Callum was going to set up base camp.
Although he tells us that ‘good communications’ was the reason for buying the spacious, light filled apartment just two minutes walk from the square.
The apartment has become ‘open house’ for aspiring young Scottish roadmen wishing to gauge themselves against those mythical beasts, ‘the Belgians.’
This year the likes of Dougie Young, Andrew Leith, Finlay Young, James Smith and Michael Nicholson based themselves in Oudenaarde to get a taste of real bike racing, where it doesn’t cost :£17 to enter and trying to ‘sit in’ means rapid oblivion.
But what’s in it for Callum?
“I’m just trying to help, to put something back, whilst French races probably suit British riders more, it’s hard to make contacts there and get established.
“I have the house here, there’s an open door for the young riders to come and stay — there’s so much racing within easy pedalling distance of Oudenaarde.
“This is can be a permanent base for riders; serious ones that is, guys like Michael Nicholson who came over and right away established his routine — up in the morning, cleaning his bike, doing his recovery rides, planning his schedule.
“All of the juniors we had over showed potential, Leith and Hamilton had podiums here and it was great to see them over here.
“The Belgian folks like the Scots, there are great opportunities here, even if riders wanted to come over in the winter and ride ‘cross?
“But there are other lads who came over and were out for a beer ‘til late, then laying in bed all morning, almost treating it as a holiday, they take up a valuable bed and won’t be back.”
Callum has strong views road racing back in his adopted home of Scotland.
“James McCallum did a good job of re-jigging the calendar with the Super Six idea, faster races, less hills, quality fields and taking the racing to the public, but we’re slipping away from that, again.
“A ‘Road Review Group’ has been set up — I’m on it — to look at how we can improve things, maybe nothing will come of it but at least we’re sitting down and talking about it.
“But if a rider wants to come here and experience it then all they need to do is to contact me through Facebook and they can talk to me.
“I remember arriving at Gent St, Pieters station with my bike and bag, not knowing where to go — it was horrible, but there’s no need for that now, I have the experience and the knowledge and I’m happy to pass it on.”
Coffees finished at the Carillion, Callum took us back to the apartment, the main door opens right off the street — bikes and cyclists were everywhere and so was the good natured banter that goes along with cycling, especially when VeloVeritas blogger and member of the Flanders squad, Dan Patten’s team mate, ‘Paddy Clark’ dropped by for a chat.
Dan was headed for Passandale to ride a kermis, Paddy was going home to bed to recover from a hard race — Callum?
He had a race to ride that afternoon — how did he do? Yet another podium finish.
If you want to race in Belgium and you’re serious, get on Face Book now and find Callum — maybe you won’t make it, but at least you’ll have been there and tried.