Interview: Iljo Keisse
Iljo Keisse, track and road star of Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team, recently participated in Paris-Roubaix. He is also selected for De Brabantse Pijl, a 194.9km race on Wednesday, April 11. We spoke with Keisse about those topics, and much more, on Tuesday.
What was it like racing Paris-Roubaix on Sunday?
It was like a dream to me, it's my dream race. If you see how the team has been doing the last few weeks, especially these couple of races where, you know, you have three super strong guys. First Tom, then of course Chavanel, and Niki who can finish a race like that, it's very special to be a part of that team. For me, it's the most special race in the world and to race with the best team in the world, it's a dream come true.
What was going through your mind at the start line?
I was thinking about a lot of things. My job was to stay in front, and to go with the first break if there was a big group going for the long escape. I had to make sure I was in it. If that works, if you're in the group and you escape in a race like that, then it's kind of a hard day. But it's an easy race that way too, not so much stress in a break than in the peloton. I was thinking about that, and day dreaming a little bit that I could make the escape and then go as far as possible. I was also thinking about my best friend who died last year, Wouter Weylandt. He was once part of the Quick-Step team. This was also his dream race. We were always talking about how crazy it would be if we could do Paris-Roubaix together and finish on the track and sprint, not for victory, but maybe a nice place. I was thinking about that. There were all kinds of emotions.
Can you explain what happened during Paris-Roubaix that cut your day short?
There was a crash just in front of me, and I managed not to crash but to stop. But the guy behind me didn't manage to stop. He just ran into the back of my bike. I don't really know what happened with it. The frame wasn't broken but I couldn't steer, so at that point I knew my day was over. It was just a very long day. I was trying to get somewhere to find a car of the team. Then I tried to get to the velodrome, which I did. I saw the last part of the race on TV in the bus. That was not really part of my dream. I wanted to finish the race and make it to the velodrome, even if not for 20 to 25 minutes after the winner. It did not matter. That was the not so nice part of my day. But on the other hand, I could see Tom finish, winning his most beautiful race of his career. I had goosebumps, and even just thinking about it, it gives me goosebumps. It was an incredible day, and now I know I have to come back and finish it the way I am supposed to finish it.
What about your upcoming race, De Brabantse Pijl? What are your thoughts about this race?
I think I am recovered. I should be good tomorrow and do my best as I did for all the races for the team. I am very happy with what I can do. I am not a guy at this part of the season that has to make results. I have to work for the team. So we start normally eight riders and only one of us can win. The others have to work. I think the team has been really happy with my work otherwise they'd never put me in races like Paris-Roubaix. They liked what I did, that's what I hear from the team. They're happy with what I do and I am happy I can do it. I had some difficulty here the last two years, but I made it through all these troubles and now I am just very happy. I am a pro that can start in big races and do a good job in big races. I am happy, the riders are happy, the team is happy. It's a good feeling that I can do my job like I am supposed to.
Can you talk about what it's like to race both the track and road?
I did all winter only track racing. I didn't do training camps with the team. I only did 6Days. Then, after 6Days, I decided not to do the World Championships in Australia and focus more on the road. For me, it was only about one or two weeks I needed to make the switch from track to road. The most difficult part would be if I had to do that all the time. Track, training camp, back on the road — that would be very difficult. But if I do what I did this year, track, track, and more track, then road, road, and road, it works. I am also getting older. I am 29 so for cycling, getting a little bit older means more experience and I can use that when I make the switch. After all these years I know what to do to be good on the track and road. I think so many riders who make that combination of track in the winter and road in the summer, like for me, it always works really well for them. I think what I have been doing is proof that being a top track cyclist and being on a top team in the top races on the road is possible. It's maybe not bad for the future of track. They see I can do it, so probably more riders will try and do it.
Is your training off the bike different, being a track and road cyclist?
No, because what I do on the track is only endurance — the longer races. What I do as a pro on the track leans very much to the road. If I am in good condition on the track I can do good on the road and if I do well on the track, I may need a few days but I am also good on the road. What I do for training is not so different, but the big difference is I race at night during 6Days. Normally cyclists train from 9 a.m., come back at two in the afternoon with a little bit left of the day. For track, races are completely the opposite. Normally during 6Days I will sleep from 4 a.m. until 2 p.m. and then it's like doing a job at night, say at a factory or something. Your life is completely the opposite from road. That's the biggest difference and hardest change coming from the road and all of a sudden you have to switch to a life where you race at night. It's difficult for your body, but also your brain. If you've done a 6Days race, I find I need two or three days to get back to a somewhat normal rhythm I never feel that normal sleep rhythm of road cyclists. I can start training sometimes at 7 p.m. when all of the riders don't think about the bike anymore and are eating and preparing to go to bed. For me, sometimes it's a little bit strange and different.
OK Iljo, anything else you would like to add?
The most important thing is I am happy with my part on the team. That is very important. The fact that they ask me to do these things, it flatters me and I hope to do it for a lot of years like I do now.
Best of luck tomorrow!