Iljo Keisse Interview: “It’s been three difficult years for all kinds of reasons”
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Iljo Keisse Interview: “It’s been three difficult years for all kinds of reasons”

by Ben Atkins at 1:33 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Doping, Track
Suspension is almost over for Belgian track star; will miss Gent-Six this week; denies rumours that he’s signed with Christina Watches

iljo keisseThe Six-Days of Gent kicks off this evening without its local hero. Quick Step’s Iljo Keisse, the rider at the centre of one of the most confusing anti-doping cases in history, was born in the Flemish city but will not be riding because he is still banned from racing in Belgium. With the road season over this would not matter to a lot of riders, but for a track rider – and one who draws the crowds in his home race – this week will likely be a painful one.

Because of a number of verdicts in national and international courts over the years that saw him allowed to race in Belgium and then anywhere but, the 28-year-old’s suspension in his home country ends on January 27th.

“For sure, it’s been about three difficult years now; for all kinds of reasons,” he told VeloNation at the Revolution event at the Manchester Vélodrome, in the UK, were he is legally allowed to race. “The sports part of course, everybody knows now: the positive test in Gent and the whole fighting about it, which made it three years instead of two years; or instead of nothing because at first the anti-doping commission of the [Belgian] Federation I was freed.

“It was like this,” he added. “I did everything I could to fight it as hard as I could; but then there were also other troubles. I lost a lot of young friends – four to be exact – so totally different problems without much to do with cycling; except that they were all cyclists…”

Things weren’t all bad for Keisse though; despite tough times on the bike there were some happy moments in his personal life.

“Then crazy, hectic, terrible three years,” he said, “but I also had good moments like the birth of my son and things like that. Those good moments make it worth fighting for it.”

With his overseas ban expiring in the summer, Keisse has been able to race; being a member of a Belgian team – as well as being short of race fitness – has not helped though, and he has faced a fight to get fit for his usual winter track season.

“I could race since August, but there are not so many races that the team are doing, so I’ve only done about twelve days on the road,” he explained. “So I’ve been working really hard to have a good track winter; good Six-Days; the Europeans were important, and then the second part of the Six-Days is even more important.

“There are four Six-Days really close together,” he added, “then the London World Cup, so it’s quite a good programme.”

One of track cycling’s biggest names is not interested in the Olympics

For many cyclists, but especially those on the track, the Olympic games is the pinnacle of their career. With most of the endurance events replaced by the Omnium for London 2012 though, the summer’s main event is not something that Keisse is aiming for.

“Not really,” he said. “My best events are the Points and Madison and they are no longer in the Olympic programme; but they’re still in the Worlds, so I would be happy with a World title. I hear that there are more and more rumours that maybe it could come back – to Rio [in 2016] – so I hope for that. I’m not too old for that; I’m 28 now so I think I can go on for at least ten more years.”

The Madison is regarded – by this correspondent at any rate – as one of the most entertaining races to watch; with two riders from each team on the track at the same time though, with only one of them racing before handslinging the other into the action, it can be a little tough to follow for the uninitiated.

“It’s a difficult race to follow,” Keisse admitted, “and that’s the only good explanation to why it’s not in the Olympics: that it’s too difficult for people who don’t know track cycling to follow it. But when I’m watching other sports, for me it’s also too difficult to follow it; if you’re not into a sport, a certain sport, then it’s always difficult.

“I hope it comes back,” he added. “The Olympics are the biggest thing you can achieve as a track rider. I was very, very close in Beijing [in 2008, when he finished fourth with partner Kenny De Ketele] and I’m dreaming of that Olympic medal, that Olympic title.”

Searching for a spot in a Belgian team

iljo keisseIt was widely reported early in the week that Keisse had signed a contract to ride for the Danish Christina Watches team, which was set up around controversial rider Michael Rasmussen; this is not the case though, and he is still searching closer to home.

“That’s not true, that’s just a rumour,” Keisse declared. “I was racing in Denmark in September in quite a big race – 200km race – and I was there on my own, and I asked these guys to help me out a little bit. I slept in the same hotel, things like that; so now they made a press release that says: extra sponsor and a big name coming to their team, and some Danish journalist though that would be me; then he wrote it in his newspaper and on the internet, and then it goes fast.

“But it’s not true, I didn’t sign.”

“I’m looking for a Belgian team,” he explained, “and if that’s not possible – if I don’t find a Belgian team – then maybe it’s possible, but at the moment I’m searching in Belgium.”

Keisse has spent the last two, troubled, years with Quick Step and, while the Belgian ProTeam has been patient with him throughout that contract, he was told that he would not be retained next year. The 28-year-old has not lost hope with staying on with the outfit that takes on Omega Pharma as a co-sponsor for 2012, but is also pursuing options elsewhere.

“Quick Step has one spot left,” he said. “They have 29 riders now, and they can have 30. I’m also speaking with all the other Belgian teams, and I also hear that Vacansoleil[-DCM] has another spot free because [Ezequiel] Mosquera is suspended. So that might be an option because it’s a Dutch team but they do a lot of races in Belgium; they’re more or less a Belgian team.”

For the time being though, Keisse’s attention is focussed on the upcoming races on the track, with a heavy load of Six-Days leading up to the World championships in Melbourne, Australia, in early February.

“I’m doing Zurich now, which is four days,” he said. “Then I’ll do Rotterdam, Bremen, Berlin and Copenhagen, then London – that’s the last World Cup – and then the Worlds, and that’s it.”

This, should he find a team, will be followed by a full – international – season of road racing.

“I hope so,” he smiled.


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