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News feature, April 14, 2007

Van Petegem relaxed and ready

Tom Boonen was making sure his back was covered while being interviewed by multiple TV crews and simultaneously dealing with the crush of local fans begging for his autograph, but at the same time, one rider stepped away from the scrum and into the sun. Characteristically tan, Peter Van Petegem stepped out to bask in the rays while being interviewed by some Belgian journalists, and Cyclingnews' Brecht DecaluwÚ was there to find out how one of the most experienced riders is feeling about this year's 'Hell of the North'.

Van Petegem
Photo ©: Brecht DecaluwÚ
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Van Petegem radiates experience, and it was impossible to make him worried about Sunday's appointment in the North of France. "What can you say? Everything depends on how the race develops," Van Petegem said to Cyclingnews. Fortunately, it isn't just about luck in a race of 259km. The Belgian former winner of the double Tour of Flanders / Paris-Roubaix is known to enjoy longer distances.

Current star Boonen had just called Van Petegem the fastest man of on the cobbles of the past decade, referring to the moment where Van Petegem blasted past him and George Hincapie after puncturing in 2004. "Ah, Boonen and Steegmans can do it as fast as I can," Van Petegem remained modest. "But it's true that some can pedal a bit faster than some others after that distance; the adrenaline of the moment helped as well, that's probably the 1% which can make the difference in Paris-Roubaix."

"If you're hesitating than you'd better stop racing; it's our metier."

-Van Petegem on the NO FEAR attitude needed to tackle Paris-Roubaix

When asked about favourites for the 2007 edition of Paris-Roubaix Van Petegem picked some less expected names. "Who did well in those dry editions? [Magnus] Backstedt, Steffen Wesemann, Roger Hammond... in the present it's more about the teams; I expect CSC and Lampre to be strong," the 'black one from Brakel' explained.

Last week in the Tour of Flanders, Quickstep was performing less well than expected, but there was no sign of disappointment in the words from Van Petegem. "Tom [Boonen] came a little short for the victory and there's only one who can win! I think there was someone feeling more disappointed than we did last week," said Van Petegem, referring to Predictor's Leif Hoste who was out-sprinted by Alessandro Ballan.

In the Belgian press there were some remarks on what was perceived as a haughty attitude in Van Petegem's comments before the Ronde van Vlaanderen, when he was quoted saying the team had nine chances out of ten to drink champagne after the race. "That was a good quote from me," Van Petegem smiled, "but it was put into the title and you have to put it into the proper context. With a team that wins so many races, we didn't want to walk away from the favourites role; imagine that I would've said we had only one chance out of ten! And to tell you the truth I drank champagne that night," Van Petegem laughed. "To be exact, it was a glass of red wine which I drink almost every night."

Van Petegem
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
(Click for larger image)

During the past two races - Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders - there were more than a fair share of crashes. With Paris-Roubaix being considered among the more dangerous races, and Van Petegem having had his share of nasty crashes in the race, it would be understandable if he was going into Sunday with a bit of fear in the back of his mind, but Van Petegem insisted that this isn't the case. "No, if you're hesitating than you'd better stop racing; it's our metier.

"On Wednesday I was extremely lucky to survive the crash on the descent of the Kemmelberg; the rider before me crashed - it must've been Fabio Sacchi or Marco Velo - with the bike falling to the left and the rider to the right, so I could pass through in between. The lesson is that you need to be in front all the time," Van Petegem said. An ironic comment coming from a rider who enjoys relaxing at the back of the peloton.

In the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Van Petegem was set back by a crash before the finale had started. "Then you need to pursue on the Taaienberg and Eikenberg, you get jammed in the corners, a few moments later you can't follow the bunch... you're riding to your best but it's better to save all that energy two hours later. At that moment you're riding for Joe Blow," Van Petegem stated. So who will the winner of the 2003 edition ride for then? Probably for Tornado Tom again, although both need to survive the 28 dusty pavÚ sectors first.

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