News feature, August 25, 2007
The faces of the Spring Classics have been slowly changing over the past few years, and now the start line of the Tour of Flanders in Brugge will be without another of the hard men of the past decade as Peter Van Petegem has announced that he will retire in two weeks. The Belgian veteran confirmed rumours that have been circulating for weeks when he made the announcement on Friday in Knokke, Belgium, and Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé was there to find out why.
"My career is due to end this year," Van Petegem confirmed to the gathered press in a quickly organized press conference in hotel La Reserve after stage two of the Eneco-Tour where Van Petegem is taking part in the ProTour event. The Classics specialist will compete in his final race on September 11 at the GP Briek Schotte in Desselgem.
"It wasn't an easy decision, particularly because I'm already retiring after only one year at the Quick.Step - Innergetic team," Van Petegem explained. The 37 year-old Belgian joined the biggest Belgian team last year, but functioned mainly as lieutenant for team leader Tom Boonen in the Spring Classics and never approached the form which made him one of only nine men to in Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders in one year in 2003. Still, he said "I had a super year with Patrick [Lefevere] and I prepared to perfection for the Spring Classics, but I had bad luck in the Tour of Flanders and in Paris-Roubaix there was maybe more possible."
His 16 season-long career may have peaked in the early part of this decade, but Van Petegem denied that poor performances led to his decision. "I'm not retiring because I'm riding bad or because I'm riding with a bad grace. There are many small factors that brought me to my decision, but I'm afraid one more year would be too much," Van Petegem explained, adding that he still enjoys the bike, training and hanging around with the team.
When asked why Van Petegem will retire in that particular 'kermiskoers', Lefevere explained it had to do with a promise he made to Flandrien Briek Schotte. "A few years before he died I promised him that I would keep his race in honour. Richard Virenque already retired there and now Van Petegem and Serge Baguet will do the same," Lefevre explained why the choice to end at the race in Desselgem was made.
Lefevere went to bat for Van Petegem when his contract was openly put into question by sponsor Marc Coucke from Omega Pharma, and he was happy to finally be able to sign the rider. "We maybe met each other in the same team too late but that's how it is," Lefevere said. Despite going out of his way to support Van Petegem's inclusion on the team, Lefevere encouraged him in his decision to stop. "His decision was already 90% sure when we talked about it, he only needed a little push to help him make that final decision. We've already seen a few riders who rode one year too long, and although his heart wants to stay I think this is the best decision," the Quick.Step - Innergetic manager said.
What the future holds for Van Petegem is unclear, but the Belgian expressed an interest in staying close to cycling to help young riders. "Right now I'm still riding for two more weeks and then we'll see. I would love to stay in the sport and work with youth. I've always loved to make sure everybody was pulling the same direction but I need to take time to look at that."
However, Lefevere said that he couldn't guarantee a job for Van Petegem as a youth coach since the Quick.Step - Innergetic team's future is still uncertain. "The day we're sure about our future I can start to think about our youth teams. Were it not for the stories like those from Het Laatste Nieuws I would've surely found a big investor," Lefevere claimed, referring to reports in the Belgian newspaper in January 23 that alleged doping in the team.
Being a triple winner in the Omloop Het Volk is well appreciated when you're a Belgian, but Van Petegem's two wins in the Tour of Flanders and victory in Paris-Roubaix gained the reserved man from Brakel well deserved respect outside Belgium. Winning the two biggest Spring Classics in one single week may have been the highlight of his career, but he also performed strong in the World Championships. In 1997 he finished second to Oscar Camenzind and in 2003 he was third.
"After 16 years in the peloton I think I can say it was good," he said. Good is an understatement when just a glance at the palmarès of 'De Zwarte van Brakel' makes it clear he was a great rider, but he never got the rainbow band jersey he always desired.
"That's the only gap in my palmarès. If I could swap my two podium spots for a single title I would love to do it," Van Petegem said. When asked about the most beautiful moment in his career Van Petegem opted for Paris-Roubaix. "The wins in the Tour of Flanders were fantastic but my win in Paris-Roubaix was special because many people believed that I couldn't win that race. Besides the wins there was also my work for Tom Boonen to help him capture the world title," Van Petegem pointed out that he also enjoyed allowing other people to win.
Peter Van Petegem began his professional career in 1992 with the PDM team as Belgian amateur champion and joined the Lotto team the year after. Lacking impressive results in his first two seasons, the Belgian moved to the smaller Trident team in 1994, where his first win in the Scheldeprijs showed his talent again. He received a contract with the famous Dutch TVM team where he enjoyed five successful years. 1999 was one of his most impressive seasons, with wins in the E3-prijs Harelbeke, the 3-days of De Panne and the Tour of Flanders.
The TVM-Farm Frites team folded at the end of 2000, and the Belgian moved over to the American Mercury team for 2001, where he invested his time and money in a team that was doomed to disappear shortly after its foundation. He joined the Belgian Lotto team again and continued to be one of the best Spring Classic riders, together with compatriot Johan Museeuw.
Never one for the Grand Tours, Van Petegem focused on one-day races and short stage races throughout his career, but did pick up a stage of Paris-Nice and a third overall in 2001 with Lotto, his best stage race finish aside from the wins in the 1999 and 2002 Three Days of De Panne.
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