Just before his dominant performance in the Four Days of Grenoble finale with Iljo Keisse, World Madison Champion, Kenny De Ketele took time to talk to VeloVeritas.
De Ketele has been around the track scene for a long time, always there and knocking on the door.
But it was the winter of 2011/12 when the man from Oudenaarde finally arrived.
The European Madison Championship went his in the autumn when he paired with QuickStep star Iljo Keisse; the Ghent Six fell to him in November, this time paired with Germany’s ‘Potsdam Bear,’ Robert Bartko – with the jewel in the crown coming when De Ketele paired with youngster Gils Van Hoecke to pull on the rainbow jerseys in the World Madison Championship in Melbourne in the spring.
His first results of note came back in 2003 with second in the European Junior Points Championship – behind Dutch flyer Wim Stroetinga – and second in the Junior Ronde Van Vlaanderen.
The following season he was on top of the European podium – winning the U23 Madison with a certain Iljo Keisse.
That year he also part realised a dream – winning the UiV U23 race at the Gent Six Day with Steve Schets.
For 2005 the top spot of the European U23 Madison podium was to be denied De Ketele and Schets by a team that’s now one of the very best – Michael Mørkøv and Alex Rasmussen of Denmark, with the Belgians taking home silver.
But the Flandrians did take the Munich UiV race.
A year later and the Belgians were crowned European U23 Madison Champions.
In 2007 De Ketele became European U23 points champion – endorsing the versatility which has seen him win Belgian titles in the pursuit, team pursuit, scratch, kilometre, points, omnium, madison and omnium.
The Olympics saw him just miss a medal – finishing in fourth spot with Keisse behind the Argentinean duo of Curuchet and Perez, who produced a surprise but dogged win in the madison.
But the Belgians did take an Elite European Madison title.
A win in the Hasselt Six Day and European Derny Championships were the highlights of 2009.
It was a change of partners for the 2010 European Madison – where he took silver with Tim Mertens.
Last winter saw him re-take the European Madison title with Keisse, then his win at Gent which set things up nicely for the win of his life in April 2012 in Melbourne.
Has becoming world champion changed your life, Kenny?
“Yes, in a positive way I think I’ve become more confident, less modest.
“I think I can deal with the ‘stuff’ that goes on around cycling much better, now. Maybe I’m a little bit harder – and it’s easier to get contracts with a rainbow jersey!”
How was your road season, Kenny?
“My road season was designed to prepare for the Olympics, where I rode in the team pursuit.
“I rode the Tours of Norway, Luxembourg and Slovenia before London – and then after the Olympics, I didn’t get a lot of rest with three stage races in Italy.
“But then I broke my hand and had to take two weeks off the bike.
“I believe that everything happens for a reason and I needed the physical and mental rest.
“Maybe it set me back a little and I’m not at quite as high a level as I’d like but I think that preparing for the World Cup in Glasgow will see me reach the level I want for the Ghent Six.”
Isn’t it difficult to find your track legs after a long road season?
“It’s not a big problem; I always ride lower gears than most on the road so I don’t find the transition too hard.
“The positions on my track and road bikes are very similar now too.
“The track bike is just a little bit lower than my road bike – but higher than it used to be with the bigger gears we ride these days.
“When I started riding in the Six Days, we rode 52 x 16, really spun the gear – but in the Berlin Six I was riding 51 x 15, which used to be my World Championship gearing.
How’s your Six Day programme looking, this year?
“I ride in Zürich after Ghent then for the month of December I’m in Australia – riding criteriums, the Aussie Open Madison Champs and the Tassie carnivals over Xmas.
“I’ll ride Rotterdam and Berlin – but not Bremen, we have a team training camp.
“Copenhagen is out too, due to road commitments.”
You didn’t defend your European Madison crown, this year?
“It wasn’t possible; last year it was because the championships were in Apeldoorn, not so far from Amsterdam – we went directly from the Six Day and won!
“Whoever set the track calendar needs to have a think about what they are doing; there are not so many track races but we had the Cali World Cup, Amsterdam Six Day and European Track Champs all within 10 days of each other.”
You’ll want to be in your best shape to defend your title in Ghent?
“It’s coming together; I had really good legs in Amsterdam which boosted my confidence after the time off through breaking my hand.
“I trained with the Belgian Team Pursuit squad for the Cali World Cup and from past experience I know that team pursuit training is good for my Six Day form.
“I have more team pursuit training for the Glasgow World Cup – I’ll combine that with some endurance work and I’ll be in good shape for Ghent.”
Grenoble is much different from the other Six Days – what do you think of it?
“I enjoy it – I like racing here; the system is good with the primes for the points you win.
“If you combine the racing with road training during the day, it’s good for your fitness – and you can make some money!”
The Worlds must be a big objective, again?
“Of course – they’re very early, this year – 20th to 24th February, in Belarus.
“I’ll take a rest after the Worlds and start back racing in late April or early May – I don’t like training in the shitty weather!”
How is your Worlds and Ghent partner, Gils Van Hoecke keeping in shape?
“He’s in Spain, training with the National Track Team, there are five of them – they’ll be doing endurance and interval work.
“We’ll get back together when we prepare for the Glasgow World Cup team pursuit.”
How is your 2013 road programme looking?
“It will be similar to 2012 – Norway, Slovenia; then try to peak for the Belgian Elite Road Nationals.
“The course is for Gilbert – but you never know…
“After that we have the Lombardy Week in Italy and the Tour of Burgos, in Spain.”
Have you ever considered a 100% road programme?
“I have thought about it, but at this point I couldn’t.
“Track racing is my passion – the Six Days are in my heart, I love them.”
What about going the other way – a privately sponsored track rider, like Marvulli, Aeschbach or Müller?
“I like to be part of a team and besides, it would be hard to get that kind of sponsorship in Belgium – if people are putting money in then they want a team, not just a single rider.”
What’s still left to win?
“An Olympic medal – they’re the hardest to win.
“I’ve been Regional, National, European and World Champion – I want an Olympic medal.
“You have to have new challenges – Rio is a long way away, but I’ll set myself goals along the way to keep my motivation.”
“To be honest, I don’t follow the story so closely, I don’t give a shit.
“I do my stuff and know what I have to do to do – I have nothing to do with taking anything I shouldn’t. I think the sport is much purer, now – but there will always be cheaters who are prepared to take the risks.
“As for Armstrong – the teams in that era were all fighting with the same weapons and it’s too late to do anything about that, now.”
Tell us about your ride up l’Alpe d’Huez.
“This is my third ride in Grenoble and the city is so close to the Alps.
“When I rode it before with Tim Mertens, we thought about going to l’Alpe, but we hesitated.
“But now, I’m more confident and decided I wanted to do it – then I mentioned it to my soigneur and he was really keen; ‘yeah, let’s do it!’
“I’ve never climbed one of the legendary mountains before – so I can tick that off my list.
“It was good training too – but my legs hurt a little, that night!”