Monday, July 26, 2021
HomeInterviewsPierrot de Wit - Bradley Wiggins' and Eddy Merckx's Soigneur

Pierrot de Wit – Bradley Wiggins’ and Eddy Merckx’s Soigneur

Pierrot de Wit is famous for looking after Eddy Merckx, but he also took care of Tony Doyle and Bradley Wiggins during his lengthy career.

-

If you look at those sharp black and white cycling pictures from the 70’s and 80’s on social media, beside or behind the featured star rider there’s often an uncredited figure – as likely as not that’ll be the rider’s soigneur.

Pierrot de Wit
Pierrot de Wit just behind Joop Zoetemelk. Photo©supplied

The word comes from the French word ‘soigner,’ ‘to take care of’ and covers a whole spectrum from masseur through driver, medic, mentor, father figure, coach…

And in the case of some of the biggest stars of the eras from Eddy Merckx to Bradley Wiggins that soigneur is liable to be the gentleman we’re about to present to you; Mr. Pierrot de Wit from Brussels.

Pierrot de Wit
Pierrot de Wit (back, right) with Marvin Smart (back left), behind Graeme Gilmore at the Berlin Six Day. Photo©supplied

How did you get into being a soigneur, Pierrot?

“I was a rider when I was a young man but one day at the track at Brussels a rider approached me after we’d both been training and asked if I could give them a massage, so I said; ‘OK.’

“After it he asked me how much that would be, so I said; ‘the usual soigneur’s fee will be just fine, thank you.

“I looked at the money and thought to myself; ‘this is better money than I get for riding a bike!

“I took my diploma in massage and the first road team which I worked for was the famous French professional Alcyon Leroux squad.

“Over the years my favourite DS to work with was the Italian Pietro Algeri, he worked with Del Tongo, Lampre, Mapei and Saunier Duval.

“I worked with Alcyon Leroux also with the Groene Leeuw, Doctor Mann and Lampre squads – at training camps and at races.

I also did the Tour de France with the Belgian national team; never with trade teams because I was doing races in Northern Europe with teams at that time.”

A young Pierrot De Wit. Photo©supplied
Pierrot De Wit
Pierrot De Wit and Beghetto in a Gent cabin. Photo©supplied

I remember you best as former double World Pursuit Champion Tony Doyle’s soigneur.

“Tony was at my home in Brussels to celebrate my 85th birthday with me.

“I was with him through much of his career; from when he when he won his first title in 1980 in Besancon right through to when he won his second world title in Colorado Springs in 1986 – and then was with him in the Six Days right up until when he had that terrible crash in Munich in 1989.

“He was hurt very badly in the crash then the first aid guys dropped him out of the stretcher and it took an age to get him to the ambulance in freezing conditions, outside the race hall.

“But you know, he came back from that crash to win the Six Day there in Munich in 1990 with Danny Clark.

“I also worked many times on the Six Days with the Swiss rider who was World Points Race Champion eight times and World Keirin Champion – twice; Urs Freuler.

“And of course, the greatest Six Day rider of all time – Patrick Sercu who won 88 Sixes during his career.

“He was an amazing rider, as well as being the best in the Six Days he was world sprint champion, Olympic Kilometre Champion and Tour de France green jersey winner…”

Pierrot De Wit
Pierrot De Wit giving Tony Doyle advice and a massage in Dortmund. Photo©supplied
Pierrot De Wit with Urs Freuler. Photo©supplied

And you worked with Eddy Merckx?

“Yes, many times and right up to his last race on 18 May 1978, the Omloop van het Waasland. He told me that day after he climbed off that it would be his last ever race – and he was true to his word.

“When he was a young rider and lived in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre in Brussels he lived just a kilometre or two from me. 

“I’m 85 now but still go for a ride with Eddy every Saturday and Sunday, we do maybe 70 kilometres, his old team mate Jos De Schoenmaker comes along too.

“I didn’t just do the road with him, I did the Six Days with Eddy also; but over the years I worked with 50 riders in 420 Six Days races, we were doing 17/18 races each winter.”

Pierrot De Wit
Pierrot De Wit and Eddy Merckx chat. Photo©supplied

That’s a lot of jail time! 

“Yes! I did my first Six when I was 27 years-old and I’m 85 now, but I’ve retired. 

“In the Sixes it used to be crazy, the organisers had them racing until 05:00 am then back on the track at 09:00 am the same morning.

“The longest drives were Bordeaux to Gent and Copenhagen to Paris – overnight in the car, very dangerous if it snowed.”

Pierrot De Wit
Pierrot De Wit and Eddy Merckx’s friendship goes back a long way. Photo©supplied

And Bradley Wiggins was a client too?

“Yes, I did his first Six Day with him at Gent when he was just a young guy.

“I worked with his father Gary, too – I did maybe 50 Six Days with him.”

Pierrot De Wit
Pierrot De Wit with Bradley Wiggins (l) and Mark Cavendish (r) at the Gent Six Day. Photo©supplied

Out of all those legs you rubbed – who had the best ones?

“Merckx – no doubt about that!

“The kindest was Tony Doyle though, such a nice guy.

“But Patrick Sercu was a very nice guy too, when he quit he came to my place with two suitcases full of jerseys as a gift to me, maybe 50 of them.

“I gave some away as gifts but still have most of them.”

Pierrot De Wit
Pierrot with the classiest of bike riders; Eddy Merckx, Tony Doyle and Patrick Sercu. Photo©supplied

What was the hi-lite of your career?

“Without doubt Tony’s win in the World Pursuit Championship in Colorado Springs in 1986 where he beat Hans-Henrik Ørsted in the final; Tony was like a son to me.

“But also the worst moment of my career was with Tony when he crashed in Munich; he was so bad that time that he was given the last rites.”

Any regrets about your time in the sport?

“None, I was just a little rider on little contracts but I made much better money as a soigneur – and no one talked about me as a rider but as a soigneur I got a lot of attention – even now I still get a lot of attention, on FaceBook for example.”

Pierrot De Wit
Pierrot De Wit is still riding regularly with his pal, Eddy Merckx. Photo©supplied

With thanks to Pierrot for the photos from his personal collection and we wish him a speedy recovery from a recent cycling accident.

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

Related Articles

John Nicolson MP – Background to the Parliamentary Select Committee Hearing; “I found some of the answers unconvincing.”

If you watched the recent live stream of the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee hearing (part of the inquiry into "Combatting Doping in Sport") you'll know the bulk of the session focused on the key question "what was in the jiffy bag?" which was transported from the UK by Simon Cope, handed to Dr. Richard Freeman at the end of the Critérium du Dauphiné, for use by Sir Bradley Wiggins. Committee member John Nicolson (Member of Parliament for East Dunbartonshire and the SNP spokesperson on Culture, Media and Sport) demonstrated an amazing ability to ask logical, 'boiled-down' questions which presented a narrow set of options as answers.

Robyn Taylor – CSC Soigneuse

So what brings a surfer dudette to West Flanders? The smart answer would be-ha! The team car! Robyn Taylor is a CSC soigneuse, she comes from Brisbane and has arrived in the male dominated world of pro cycling via water polo, surfing, The AIS (Australian Institute of Sport), and the now-defunct Team Fakta. Robyn found a few minutes to talk to us between stages at the 2006 de Panne 3 Day.

Andy Hillman – Soigneur to the WorldTour Stars

There are no palmarès to check for this guy, he’s one of cycle sport’s back room, ‘unsung heroes’ – but he’s worked with some of the sport’s biggest names; he takes us behind the scenes to look at the life of a soigneur in modern cycling. Mr. Andrew Hillman, aka ‘The Hillmanator.’

At Random

Dan Patten Blog: All the bad luck at once!

So it's been a few weeks since my last Dan Patten Blog post. This is because I was waiting until something went my way again... I'm still waiting! The last few weeks of racing has been filled with bad luck, with mechanical problems at the wrong times and a few crashes to go with, not to mention a national championships that was reduced to a training ride.

Robert Millar – Let’s give the guy his dignity

"Elusive cyclist (Robert Millar) is rediscovered as 'queen of the mountains' "- so says the headline in the Sunday paper, The Star? The News of the World? The Sport? No, it's our "quality-read" for the sabbath - Scotland on Sunday. Whilst George Best drank himself to death, and as "Hurricane" Higgins trots down the same trail, many of the gentlemen of the press struggle to conceal their admiration for these 'lads'.

Theo Hartley – Racing for Belgian team Illi Bikes, thanks to the Dave Rayner Fund

The David Rayner has been helping young riders realise their continental dreams since 1995 with David Millar one of the first to benefit, and Theo Hartley from Bolton in Lancs will be one of the grant recipients in 2018. He'll be joining the Belgian Illi Bikes squad, run by long term Six Day soigneur and track aficionado, Etienne Illegems and his son Ken who was for a time a mechanic with Team Sky but could get round a tough kermis on his good days.

Eddie Alexander – 4th in the Seoul Olympic Sprint; “I wish I knew then, what I know now”

Whilst Seoul in 1988 was no ‘Beijing Gold Rush’ the performances of the GB riders opened eyes and proved that Olympic medals weren’t just a pipe dream. A young Englishman called Colin Sturgess narrowly missed bronze in the pursuit and a Highlander called Eddie Alexander took fourth in the sprint.

Scottish Team Time Trial Championship 2008

Despite loosing roadman sprinter, Graeme McGarrity within ten miles of the start and short distance specialist, Gary Robson thinking that the finish would never come, Dooleys RT successfully defended their Scottish team time trial title on a dry but windy Saturday afternoon in the rich farmland of Strathmore near Forfar. Scottish ten mile champion and freshly crowned European Masters pursuit champion, Arthur Doyle did much of the work in ensuring the title stayed with Bob Taylor's band; ably backed by man who knows more about team trialling than most, former British Champion in the discipline, Dave Gibson.

Photographer Gary Main – “My Favourite Photographs”

Here at VeloVeritas we’re pleased to inform you that we’ve hooked up with ace cycling snapper, Gary Main. You may already have seen some of his images in our Mark Stewart and Dan Bigham interviews? We thought it might be a good introduction to his work for our readers if he picked out some of his favourite shots for us - over to you, Mr. Main...