Fire and ice
Belgian Davitamon-Lotto riders Serge Baguet and Peter Van Petegem are good friends despite their different personalities: Baguet reserved, Van Petegem more outgoing and even pugnacious. Baguet has made a remarkable comeback this season with two stage wins already, while Van Petegem has his sights set on the Classics. But there's far more to life than just racing bikes, as Cyclingnews' Sabine Sunderland found when she caught up with the duo on a cold and wintry February afternoon.
The smell of fresh coffee greets us at the door of the romantic and classy farmhouse in Letterhoutem which Serge and his wife have built in the midst of the rural landscape. The cobblestone driveway, lined with copper garden lights and the copper drainpipes underneath the red tiled roof give the picture a typical Flemish feel.
"This used to be a tiny, old cottage you know," Serge smiles when we make a remark about the size of the house and the garden. "My family and I did most of the work ourselves; the roof of course was done by my father-in-law. Remember, I worked for him for three years."
Indeed, from 1996 till 2000 Serge disappeared completely from the cycling scene while he worked for his father-in-law on rooftops all over Belgium. It wasn't a decision which was made overnight. Serge, who was always a very promising junior and young pro experienced what we could describe as a burn-out in the mid-nineties.
"I was so disappointed about how the sport was evolving at that moment. I mean, I was a good rider when I became a pro; but suddenly, guys who couldn't get out of my wheel as youngsters, started flying past me on climbs and in the sprints. There's no need to draw a picture I think. I had only won eight races since I turned pro and that was not enough for a guy who was considered as one of the most capable riders in the Belgian peloton. The whole situation got me depressed and disappointed, so I stopped."
"But the fire wasn't dead. When Scott [Sunderland] started training again after his accident in '98, I often joined him and I found joy in riding again. After a while, Scott said jokingly, 'mate, you're riding as good as all the others, why don't you give the pro life another go, it's different now, you'll see.'
"Supported by friends and family, I went looking for a team. Besides Jeff Braeckevelt, there were few people here in Belgium who believed I would still be able to do it, but befriended people in the Lotto board of direction wanted to give me chance."
And Baguet didn't let them down; in his first year back in the pro peloton, he thanked his sponsors with a solid season and in 2001 Serge took a brilliant victory in the Tour de France, stage 17 to Montluçon.
Click here for the full interview with Serge Baguet and Peter Van Petegem.
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