Our pal Viktor has been hard at work; it’s not everyone who could do his job, those long hours huddled over a computer screen, day in, day out – checking those Belgian cycling results websites.
Lifting his head only to make another coffee (“sometimes my fingertips tingle with the caffeine“), or to phone me;
“Ed, there’s a boy you should be talking to…”
And that’s how I came to be parked up in a lay-by talking to 25 year-old Irishman Peter Hawkins on the mobile; he was on his way from Edinburgh Airport to a friend’s wedding in Newcastle.
Why Belgium, Peter and not France or Italy?
“There’s a guy at home called Peter Blondeel, he’s Belgian but lives in Northern Ireland; every year he organises for a small group of Irish riders to go over and race in Belgium.
“That was how I got introduced to the scene and it grew from there.”
You were studying for a degree – did you finish it?
“Yes, I graduated in 2007 in maths and statistics at Newcastle University.
“It was during that time I was studying there that I first started to get decent results on the bike.”
But mid-2009 to mid-2010 was compromised by glandular fever, I believe?
“It’s a virus transmitted from person to person – that’s why they call it ‘the kissing disease.’
“I had it in 2006 for a few weeks but it can lay dormant in you and flare up if you run yourself down.
“The first half of 2009 I was fine, but after the Ras I realised something was wrong – I had to stop from June 2009 until June 2010.
“Since then I’ve been trying to get back to my old level.”
You’re with Decock-Sportivo, how much help do you get?
“It’s good club but I got most help from the guy I lived with, Marnix Vercruysse.
“He put me up at no cost, took me to races and we became very close.
“But he was diagnosed with liver cancer last year and passed away in January – I still stay with the family, but it’s no longer the same now that Marnix has gone.”
And where is ‘home’ in Flanders?
“Kuurne, in West Flanders; Marnix used to drive me to races but now I go in the team car.
“I do my own cooking but that’s no problem, I used to do that at university and quite enjoy it.”
I saw pictures of you on a Dolan?
“For the first two years I had to supply my own bike, the Dolan, but this year I have a Sportivo from the team.”
Do you get any funding from Ireland?
“There’s lottery money in Ireland but I get some help from the David Rayner fund, and friends and family help.
“In the winter I work for an accountancy firm but I have to be careful with money.
“It does help develop your drive in the races though – you have extra incentive when going for the primes !”
You’re getting back into the results.
“I was 12th from 241 at Ichtegem – I was happy with that for my first race of the season.
“I was late starting to race because I’d hoped to get a Belgian licence but couldn’t and had to get an Irish one – that cost me time.
“In my most recent race – on Wednesday past – I was 23rd from 140.
“I’ve had a lot of seconds and thirds but I find when the races go up to 150 or 160 K then I go best – the Belgian guys are used to 120km races and tend to tail off above that distance.
“I think maybe my best result was the third place I got in my very first kermis here in April 2009 but I was consistently in the top ten and top five in my pre-glandular fever days.
“The amateur racing in Belgium is very hard but it brings you on and it’s where the talent scouts are.
“In Britain you could perhaps make more money at amateur level but the opportunities in Belgium are much greater.”
What are the positives for Belgium?
“The reason it’s so hard is that bike racing is such a big deal – it’s a passion with the people, a massive part of the culture.
People want to help you, especially if you’re foreign; they’re sincere and try their best to assist you – they don’t just talk about it.
“And there are no distractions, you don’t really have a social life so it’s easier to keep focussed.”
You seem pretty disciplined, you talk in your blog of training twice on some days.
“I think I am, but being in Belgium makes it easier to be disciplined, I don’t have a problem.
“But if I was home in Ireland I’d be among my friends who are all out on the weekend – in Belgium you’re away from temptation.”
And what are the negs about Belgium?
“If you’re going well on the bike then it’s great; but if you have a crash or the form’s not so good then it’s tough.
“I speak Flemish OK and I can communicate fine one to one – but if there’s a groups situation and they’re speaking in the local dialect then it’s difficult to understand what’s being said.
“But as I said, the big advantage is that if you do the work then you do see the fruits of your labours.”
You look pretty solidly built.
“I played rugby before I cycled and I tend to put on muscle quickly if I go to the gym.
“I have maybe two-and-a-half kilos to lose; but being strong in Belgium is more important than being light.”
Which riders do you admire?
“To be honest, I don’t really look at riders and think they’re better than me.
“Three years ago I rode the Tour of Turkey with the Irish team and we were racing against some of the guys you see on TV.
“Initially I was thinking; ‘I shouldn’t be here !’ but as the race went on I began to realise that they were suffering, just like me.”
Do you have an agent?
“No, but maybe it’s something I’ll have to think about in the future.
“I started here in 2008 but lost half of 2009 and 2010 through having the illness.
“I would like to have been with a Continental team by now riding 1.2 UCI races but I don’t have the palmares to justify that – yet.”
Your website says that the big goal is to be a pro?
“There are other things I could be doing with my life, having the degree – if I didn’t think a pro contract was achievable, I wouldn’t be doing this.”
Check out Peter’s site for his blog, palmares, and pics.