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The Scott Sunderland Diary 2000
Returning home and changing teams - Fakta 2001
Inverell/Brisbane, Australia, October 31, 2000.
It has been a while, I know. Many e-mails and faxes later, the World Championships seem like last season, while it's been ridden only two mad new millennium weeks ago. It has been that crazy since, that I haven't had the time for it to hit me (and I do mean this figuratively!!)
During the week following the World Championships, after the exhausting trip back home to Belgium, I had so many things to take care of! I am only now finding myself relaxing and getting into an après-season mood. This, twenty thousand kilometres from my apartment in Zottegem where I live for 9 months of the year.
While I probably could go over the World Championships' race again, I think Neil Storey captured the spirit and excitement of it in his story. (Thanks for that Neil, I really, really did not have the time, nor energy to write something myself.)
I have received dozens of mails filled to the last letter with exciting remarks. Well, all I can add to that is that it is to you, those sitting on the other side of that computer screen right now, and all the people who kept believing in me, that I dedicate the result. Thanks to you I kept going after the hell of April '98. It took almost two years to get back to where I was before being jerked out off the top of the cycling world while riding the Amstel Gold race - but I'm back, to stay.
7th in the World's means a hell of a lot, I have noticed that well since that moment I crossed that line in Plouay. But it is thanks to believe and support of so many people around me that I have been able to prove I am not finished; I am not out and I am not to be overlooked just yet. I highlight the fact that you can be sure I'll fight for my spot in the next Commonwealth and Olympic teams with more panache and more determination than I've ever showed.
"You're a legend," many people congratulated me with those words; I was flattered of course but most legends are told in the past tense, I still have my cycling story to finish of and I hope to do it with style.
"So, what made the last two weeks so hectic?" you might ask.
Ok, here I go. On the Tuesday, I went into Brussels. My employers' insurance company asked for a complete examination of my body and mind in order to calculate not only the degree of invalidity they need to stamp all over my dossier; also to find out what financial compensation for remaining injuries I need to receive.
The 'social status' of a professional bike rider in Belgium is not determined. In other words the minimum salary is applied in pay-outs for work related accidents - which means, if I were one hundred prevent invalided, I would receive about 20,000 Australian dollars (gross) per year, until I am 65, I think. Loss of a not unimportant percentage of smell and taste, weakened sight from the right eye, whiplash, damaged vertebras, etc. were taken into account but didn't seem of major importance that day.
I was answering questions, had my private, professional and social life turned inside out, I suffered through math, language, general knowledge and psychological tests for over 4 hours to enable a yearly pay of max 15% (= percentage requested by my medical advisers) of that sum. After the high of riding the World's, I can assure you, my self-esteem took a serious nose-dive (especially during the math exam). All this had nothing to do with the examinations I'll have to go through concerning the court case against TVM/Priem.
The next day, the calendar in the kitchen had "court-case" marked all over the number 18. Another fun day, driving the car for two hours to get to the court in Tongeren where the whole sad incident was rehashed. A verdict is to be expected mid next year, my lawyer told me afterwards.
Guess Mr. Priem will be sitting in court a bit more than I'd like to. The whole situation in Tongeren felt awkward and uncomfortable to me since it was the first time ever that I had to see the inside of a courthouse. To me, Priem behaved like my son's goldfish put in a bowl of fresh water.
Then, a day of paperwork, another day packing and on the Friday morning, 8 am, we boarded a 747, direction Australia. Although normally it feels like a weight drops off my shoulders when the plane takes off - having another season over and done with - this time, it felt like that weight was stuck in my head. I nursed an incredible headache all the way and I for sure wasn't of much help to my wife Sabine who took care of our 4 and a half year old by herself for most of the journey. We landed in Kuala Lumpur and I managed to get my energy levels up a bit but as soon as we got back on the Malaysian Airlines' flight to Sydney, I again felt the uncontrollable need to sleep.
I had the traditional barbie at my parent's place in Inverell (NSW) and afterwards, coming down on me like a rolling thunder, some kind of bug I carted all the way over there from Belgium struck and swept the legs straight from under me. My wife insisted on a doctor's visit on the Tuesday, after spending most of the time knocked out in bed. The doctor diagnosed a mild case of bronchitis and infection of the sinuses; hence the mega headaches.
I've been on antibiotics since then, and although I enjoyed riding my Harley up to my friend Lawrie Cranley's place in Brisbane yesterday, I realize I'll need a week of rest and little training leading up to the Criterium held in Noosa next Saturday. The Noosa triathlon and criterium are super and the town is just buzzing with the energy of sports fanatics. It is just a fantastic weekend for which organizer Mr.Garth Proud and his assistant Donna work hard all year round. The field of participants is carefully selected and very well taken care of once gathered in this coastal village. Lawrie Cranley manages to have a big flock of international cyclists starting the cycling criterium every year.
The pouring rain (it has been pissing down since we arrived here!) is a bit of a bummer and as I am sitting here in the 'simply brilliant Emerald Resort' in Hastings Street, I wonder if it will ever stop. Wednesday promises change, and Saën is craving to play on the beach. I truly hope, for my wife's sanity and mine that the sun does come out soon, the pool just doesn't do it for him. On the other hand, coffee shops and restaurants are numerous and will help me to put some weight on - I was down to 65kgs for the World's...
Ok, I'll talk teams now.
I can finally announce my transfer to the Danish Fakta squad for 2001. Kim Andersen and Peter Nielsen were so professional in their negotiations with me that I decided to give it a go with the Danish formation, ending my three-year engagement to Palmans. Some might ask why I leave the team which was that supportive and helpful to me after the Amstel Gold tragedy. Truth is I'm still very close to the Palmans family, and they still treat me like an adopted son. I did get their blessing for changing colours for the coming two seasons as the cooperation with the new team director Hilaire Van Der Schueren simply didn't look like working.
Charles Palmans is immensely disappointed things didn't work out with Hilaire but it would be crazy for me, being 33, to work with someone I don't completely see eye to eye with. So, that's why. Fakta however will be another challenge, just like Palmans was beginning of '98 and after my recovery.
The team looks great, we've got experienced professionals and some very talented youth, the atmosphere seems right and the people who will be managing and directing the team are my kind of people in that way that straight is straight, white is white and black is still black and not grey as it seems to be for many directors and managers nowadays.
We will be riding a less extensive program than the first category teams, but Fakta has got big ambitions, aiming to reach that higher category within two years from now. And, although I have felt in person that bigger is not always better, I have had the rewarding experience of riding strong for Palmans, lifting them to first division matched class. I also did see and admire how Henk Vogels and colleagues have put second category team Mercury amongst the most victorious teams in 2000.
So, I do look forward to assisting in helping a young team grow. I have engaged myself in a two-year project. Two years should be enough to accomplish my initial goals with Fakta, although the sponsors already gave the team certainty of existence for at least three seasons.
The riders in Fakta have some really good credentials and I believe, if it all clicks into the right place we can kick some serious butt next season. Peter Nielsen and Kim Andersen are convinced we can make the team a smooth running piece of cycling machinery and I was enthusiastic from the moment they contacted me. It feels right in the guts I must say and although I did get some other interesting offers, the fact that I can work in the same way as I did with Palmans gave the deciding push.
Mr. Noel De Meulenaere, Belgian cycling mecenas and my "big boss" with Palmans contacted me after the World's, which he had seen live in Plouay. He said he'd miss me in the Belgian formation but he also told me to follow my instinct and what I did in Palmans, putting 'his' team at the front in many big races would be possible for another team - that's my aim and I'll be working damn hard to get there with Fakta. (I've already changed hair colour trying to blend in with my new team! No, not to try and hide the grey!)
Thanks again everyone, for the support and the many, many e-mails and calls. I hope I've answered them all; if I did forget one here and there, I apologise but I think you can see how busy things have been!