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An interview with Erik Weispfennig
Coming to Australia
Placing second in the Bendigo Madison three times hasn't dampened Erik Weispfennig's liking for Australia. In fact, as he tells Karen Forman, he'd like to come and live here. But before we get to there, how about that second place? And how much of a factor was the absence of usual Madison partner Stefan Steinweg?
After two very close second placings in the past two years, German madison champion Erik Weispfennig was extremely hungry to win this year's Bendigo International Madison title.
Having picked up the Australian Madison championship in neighbouring Melbourne a couple of months ago, the 33 year old from Kirrlach, a town of 9000 people 100km south of Frankfurt, felt that a win at Bendigo might be well within his reach. Other people thought so too. The official bookmaker started him favourite at 5/4 odds and the vibe around the track was very much in his favour.But Weispfennig didn't win Sunday night's event. He came second - again. "Again the bridesmaid," he lamented.
The question is, why? While the father of one (with another on the way) suggests he "just wasn't good enough", the fact is, there were possibly a lot of contributing factors to his five-point defeat by the NSW Institute of Sport team of Rod McGee and Steve Wooldridge. And although he wasn't making a big deal of it, the main one was probably the absence of his long-time German teammate, Stefan Steinweg.
Steinweg was pulled out of the race a week ago by organisers after he was convicted in a Melbourne court on charges relating to bringing prohibited substances (growth hormones) into Australia. At the time, spokesman Rik McCaig said although they had regretted having to do it, committee members felt they had to do "the right thing by the sport of cycling". They paired Weispfennig up with handy Tasmanian sprinter Darren Young and although his performance on Sunday night was superb, it was obvious that as a team, the pair weren't the same well-oiled machine as were the German duo.
It was Steinweg whom Weispfennig had won the Australian and German championships with. It was Steinweg with whom he had been second by just a few points the previous year. The pair is known for liking fast races, with plenty of attacks and lap taking. Perhaps because Steinweg wasn't there to help initiate some of the team's most successful moves, Sunday night's race was tame in comparison, with the result decided solely on points won in the relentless sprints.
Later, in an exclusive interview with Cyclingnews, Weispfennig admitted that he was very disappointed in the race, but still wouldn't lay the blame entirely on the loss of his partner. "It makes me sad, yes, to be coming second for the third time," he said. "Sure, this year I thought that maybe I could win it. But then I thought that last year, too.
"Last year it was very close - we were second on count back. And the year before that, it was only a few points. This year it was close all the time. But I wasn't good enough. That was all." He had suggested immediately after the race that perhaps he hadn't arrived in Australia in time to acclimatise and prepare and reiterated that during the interview.
"I arrived only on Thursday from Germany, which has a 10 hour difference," he said. "It was pretty hard for me then to race on Friday, Saturday, Sunday. It was not enough time for me to acclimatize, I know that. "I think that when you have to travel so far to race, you have only two chances - to arrive two weeks before the event to acclimatize, or as late as possible before the race, so that your body doesn't have time to get jet lag. I was going to come earlier, but my wife Barbara, who is pregnant, has had some problems and I wanted to stay with her."
He is leaving Australia on Tuesday. "Four days of travel for six days of staying here . . . crazy, yes," he said with a wry smile. "But I wanted to come, even when I knew my wife was having problems. I wouldn't let the promoters down. I said I was coming, so I came, even with the private problems I had."
As if jetlag and the stress of worrying about his wife and unborn child wasn't enough - Weispfennig then landed in Australia to learn of his partner's arrest by Customs at Melbourne International Airport a few weeks prior. It wasn't only losing him as a partner for the race he so badly wanted to win, either. It was the fact that Stefan is a friend.
"Stefan and I have been partners for many years. We were German champions in 98 I think and in the junior national team together before that. I thought that after winning the Australian Madison Championship against very good riders, that maybe we could do the double (with Bendigo), but shit happens…"
Steinweg's actions not only affected Weispfennig's ride at Bendigo, but also possibly into the future. The pair was supposed to be riding the Mexico World Cup together, but Weispfennig says he doesn't know what is happening now.
"I don't know the rules," he said. "But I can say that we are still friends; there is no problem between us. I am very sad about what happened, but I don't want to talk much about it."
What he DOES want to talk about are his plans to move his family to Australia - and more particularly, to Bendigo. "I would like to come and live in Bendigo," he said. "It is very hard to get a permanent visa to live in Australia but I am going to try. I think Australia is a good place to grow up the children, much more quiet and not as hectic as Europe. The children are able to play in the streets here. I like the style of living in Australia. I like Bendigo, it has everything. It is a cycling town. The only thing missing is the ocean.
Of course, having been a regular visitor to Australia, he is already half settled in. "I think I have more friends in Bendigo that at home," he said. "Besides, I hate the German weather. Although I was very disappointed in the weather here today. It's so cold!" He was referring to the 12 degree temperatures, which froze but didn't manage to scare away the 8,000-odd people who had gathered to watch the two-hour event.
Meanwhile, Weispfennig has his career to concentrate on. He says his dream remains to win the Bendigo Madison. He also hopes to have a chance at the world track championships to be held in Melbourne next year. And maybe the Olympics, but he doesn't think so.
"I think the first team will go to Athens and I might go to Melbourne," he said. He says at 33 he does think about retirement but would like to ride another three or four years. "As a track rider you are not really old," he said. "But I don't want to ride until 40, 41."
And after that? "I don't know, I am not really sure. I would find something. I have had a few offers in Germany but that doesn't really help me because I want to be in Australia! I don't want to be a coach, I know that."
He started riding in 1977 and has been pro since 1994. "I remember how I started. There was a birthday of a grand aunt or something. Their children were cyclists and they let me sit down on a racing bike. I liked the speed so I started to cycle too. I was very successful in the beginning, third at the German championships after three years. I like the sport. I like being on my own . . . okay in a Madison you have a partner but it's not like soccer where there are 11 players."
The immediate future, of course, is a tad uncertain, because he doesn't know whether he will get his Madison partner back. It's a thought that obviously concerns him, but nothing he can do anything about. "If not Stefan in Mexico the Federation will find me someone," he said. "But because we are a team . . . we know each other, we have a lot of history. We are very different people, but that is good in a team."
"I don't know what will happen now."