The Big Interview with the 2010 World Champion
Tuesday 21 September 2010
by Ben Swales
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Monty/Red Bull rider Kenny Belaey struck a huge blow in Mont Sainte-Anne two weeks ago: he took his fourth Elite world title with great panache, four years after his last win in Rotorua, with a massive 14 point lead over the other medal winners! The Belgian Champion dominated the final competition of the season and it was on his terms that it was played out.

Tribal Zine interviewed the new World Champion for you a few days after his return to Belgium and his “Worldchamp Party”, talking about his victory, his new title, his thought on Mont Sainte-Anne, his view of the competition, his preparation, the people who contributed to his success and his vision for trials and his projects for the 2011 season. Happy reading!


PNG - 262.8 kb Hi Kenny! First of all, congratulations of your new title, which you won in the best way possible! Your fourth Elite title, ninth world title, you must be made up! We saw some photos of your party – it looked like you celebrated properly!

Yeah, each world title is a massive achievement, it’s so satisfying. It’s the compensation for all of the work and sacrifices made throughout the year. Afterwards, people ask me “what are you going to do now?”… But in sport you just start over again – everyone’s level is constantly improving and there’s always something to work on. It’s the personal challenge that keeps me going rather than collecting titles. I did celebrate well, you’re right! In fact, each year we celebrate the end of the season here in my village, the third weekend of September, but this title deserved its own party!

JPEG - 836.7 kb Of course! You dominated the World Championship from start to finish, from the qualifications through to the final, with a massive lead each time. Tell us a bit about the competitions, which were very different form each other and not what we were expecting from a UCI competition… The first round resembled a BIU competition with its sections made up of muddy slopes, technical rocks, etc. and the second with it’s large, spectacular obstacles and jumps… What did you make of all that? Gilles didn’t like the final at all, he said it wasn’t “worthy of a World Championship”, with too many jumps for his tastes, too many passages aimed at “left foot forward” riders, etc. What did you think? How did you find Thibaut Veuillet’s sections?

Firstly, I was feeling really good on the bike and I felt like I had wings, haha… In the two weeks that led up to the trial I had already prepared myself physically and mentally. There could have been any kind of sections and it would have been the same… I was only thinking of one thing… Winning, winning, winning… Last year I was robbed of the title and those that know me well will know that I need a challenge or an important competition to really push myself and in Canada I had both! I took the lead mainly because of that and not because the sections were like this or that. As for the sections themselves… It was a trial and in true trials things are difficult, even if it looks easy. It’s not just each individual obstacle, you have to take into account things like the ground, mud, incline, etc… You have to be a well-rounded rider to manage with all of that. I spoke to Tibo about the sections in the final and the reason that he set them like that was to get a bit more movement going. I think that’s great – trials has a tendency to be too static these days. Believe me, it’s better with more movement – it’s more spectacular, which is a blessing for our sport. I spoken with Red Bull and Adidas a lot on the subject and they always say the same thing, it needs more flow, more action, and Tibo obviously felt the same way. He set the sections in the way he thought would be best for the sport. I think he did a good job, there was a bit of everything over the weekend. JPEG - 126.9 kb Hooks, jumps, pedal-ups, precision, gaps, everything! It was a trial for well-rounded, versatile riders! There were those two impossible moves, but that happens in every World Championship, the section setter sometimes gets a bit carried away and thinks that we can do anything on a bike… but we all have limits! The answer is simple though: if it’s impossible to get through clean, you have to make sure with a dab, even if it’s not the prettiest approach. Ideally, in the future we won’t have passages where you’re obliged to take a dab, or passages that are easy for everyone. A lesson for the future. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s human. Unfortunately for Gilles he struggled with the kickers, which I was surprised at. I was also surprised because when we walked the sections he thought they were too easy (I was getting a bit worried!) but after the second section of the final I knew that it could be my day to shine… Despite all that, nothing’s changed, he’s still had an extraordinary season – bravo Gilles!

We’ll pass the message on! What was the atmosphere like at the Worlds, how were the crowds? Did they contribute to your victory?

Of course! Like everyone, the support of the crowd really helps me and there were a lot of spectators there, supporting each of the eight finalists. As they saw me taking on the biggest obstacles last I began to take on the role of favourite, which motivated me even further to ride well. The atmosphere was amazing, the after party was great, with bands like Pennywise playing on the Friday… I hope that in the future all big trials competitions, whether they’re World or European rounds, are organised like that!

JPEG - 150.4 kb Ah yes, Pennywise... Excellent... Let’s talk a bit more about the competition and how it went… We’re aware of your qualities in the big events, but Gilles seemed truly unbeatable this season – he dominated from the off and won all of the European competitions… You brought the big guns out in Canada though and dominated the whole competition… What do you think made the difference between you and your main rival? Was it a mental thing? Is there less pressure when you’re an outsider than when you’re defending your title?

Yeah, like I said, I like a challenge! Especially as I’ve been riding at the highest level for more than ten years now… At 17 I was riding against Canas and co., then against Vinco, Caisso, Hermance… I don’t think I could ride all year like I rode in Mont Sainte-Anne with my hectic schedule etc. there’s often too much going on – I have to focus on several objectives at once. Gilles won everything, that’s true, but I handed some of those victories to him on a plate. In Ripoll we were neck and neck and then I put a foot down on a flat 2m x 2m obstacle… In the European Championship, I dropped three stupid dabs and the difference was just two points. In Biella, I wasn’t on form at all – I’d been off the bike for three weeks with tendinitis in my left knee – I also broke my brake in the second section which threw me off a bit for the rest of the trial. In France he was untouchable and it’s always been difficult for me to beat him on his home turf. In Belgium he rode how he needed to ride and I didn’t… I was way off form. I’ve always known that it was possible to beat him, no one is unbeatable! That’s my analysis of all that (or my excuses at least, haha!) I’d also like to add that it was my mental attitude that was decisive… Is starting a competition last a decisive advantage? Yes and no. Imagine if the rider ahead of you got through every section and you fived them all… that’d be no good. JPEG - 75.4 kb But if it’s the other way round, that can give you wings and you can ride even better, like happened in Canada, It’s a personal thing really, an athlete often needs something to believe in to feel good and I believe in that, it gives me a good feeling which makes me ride well, simple as that.

In this competition you were visibly sharper thane ver. Can you tell us a bit about your physical preparation? Do you still work with Paul Vandenbosch?

Yes, I’d been focusing on this competition since Antwerp. I worked like a madman afterwards both physically and on the bike. With Paul, we analysed all of my mistakes and faults over the season; one of the main problems was that I wasn’t really fresh throughout the whole season, neither mentally or physically, due to all of my ‘extra-curricular’ commitments. We started by cancelling all of that out, then we integrated some proper rest into my programme so that I’d be ready [for Canada].I also lost a bit of weight from all the work and the rest is history.

César Canas was with you in Mont Sainte-Anne?

César Canas has always been my idol and those that saw him ride 12 years ago and compare our styles will see a lot of similarities. He’s always been a big influence on my riding. And of course, if I know he’s there watching me, like he was in Canada, the last thing I’m going to do is ride like a tourist!

JPEG - 37.5 kb Who are the people that have contributed to your quest for the Champion’s jersey? You had a bit of an entourage. Your girlfriend Fien Lammertyn was by your side… she’s a mountain bike champion too isn’t she?

My parents are my team; they’ve always supported me for the 20 years that I’ve been riding. There’s no doubt that without them I wouldn’t be where I am today! My brother too, he comes riding with me, analyses my mistakes, minds me through the sections when he can, which helps me a lot. And then of course, there’s Fien, the great woman behind the man, who sacrifices a lot in her life for mine. She rides cross country and although she doesn’t have much time to train, when she’s at her best she’s very good! Last week she even beat the Belgian champion in a friendly race! Not bad considering she was only having fun…

The podium at this final surprised everyone… The Spaniards came along and really rocked the boat… Benito and Abel finished ahead of Gilles and Vincent! Are the Spaniards really that good? Abel’s very impressive at the moment isn’t he? And then Marc Caisso, who bowed out in style… How do you analyse the 26” competition overall?

I’m always amazed when people are surprised that Benito finishes ahead of everyone else. In my eyes, Benito is the rider who deserves the most respect from the others, myself included. He’s been riding for so long and has always been at the top, no matter what the competition! In Canada he became the 20” World Champion and the 26” Vice-Champion! I’m just glad he doesn’t ride 26” more often! Abel will soon be serious competition for Benito, without a doubt! It’s goof for the sport, and for Benito, to have a bit of competition. Trials is really big in Spain, especially 20”. But the Spaniards have a history in the sport that no other country has so it’s natural, I think, that they’re so good! JPEG - 185 kb Marc Caisso... he’s too cool! On and off the bike he’s a great man! He showed that with a bit of motivation we can expect his best even after so many years, he’s such a smooth and supple rider and a true champion! I-d like to thank him for all of the great years we had while he was on the circuit and for being such a nice guy. Win or lose, he was always happy; an example for a lot of other people.

Yeah, we’ll miss the Cat! What are your plans for the next few days? You deserve a holiday!

A holiday? My whole life is one big holiday isn’t it? (Un)happily, I’ve got a lot of trips planned for demos and other projects. On the second of October I go away for two months! I’m going to Pakistan… Red Bull insisted that I go, despite all of the problems that the country’s having, but I’ll be in towns far away from the catastrophes. After that I’ll be going to the Maldives and then to South Africa, Ghana, Ivory Coast and then back to South Africa to film the fourth and fifth episodes of “Kenny Belaey’s Big Time Trial Adventure”. On the one hand I’m happy, I love travelling, it lets me make a bit of money and escape the miserable Belgian winter, but on the other hand it’s a long time not to see my family, which isn’t cool. Fien’s going to follow me to South Africa. It’s amazing there and if she likes it as much as me she’s going to organise and XC holiday. That way she’ll be with me for the whole winter. I need to find some new training grounds, where I live I know every rock by heart and there’s nothing bigger than 1.3m, I’m bored of it. I think if I lived in a country like France or Spain my level would be even higher!

JPEG - 93.8 kb 2011... A tenth world title? What are your projects for the next season? Defend your title, or do you have other projects in mind? We know you’re a big showman and that you put on shows all over the world… What are the World Champion’s plans for 2011? And for the future? Gilles isn’t going to quit international competition until his son is old enough to see him on top of the podium. What about you?

I realise that to stay at the top I have to calm down a bit, but that’s hard to do when you get offered demos all the time. I’m going to continue in the same way, with the only difference that Wesley will take more control of the Monty importing and Fien will take over more of my management, answering 50 emails a day and organising your demo contracts before and after training is too much work at this level. I ordered a 20" a few hours ago and I’m going to try that again. If it goes OK, I’ll try and ride both in Switzerland. Knowing that I can beat Gilles, I don’t want to stop so much. I think that I have pretty much the same plans as him at the moment. In my life, I’ve never taken the easy choice; I’m going to carry on like that for a while. But you never know, maybe in two months I’ll start training again and I’ll say to myself “I’ve had enough”, but for now, I want to show the jersey off in the sections.

JPEG - 636 kb Let’s go back to the 2010 World Cup for a moment… It was very difficult this year and Gilles was relentless – you had to give up the cup to him… Tell us about your World Cup experience… Antwerp was difficult too wasn’t it? You took a contentious five for missing a flag at the end of one of the sections; was that a difficult moment?

That is a competition to forget. My sponsors were very happy as it generated a lot of media, but my riding was hopeless on the first lap. Too much pressure I think… The five on the concrete pipes, just where Guillaume had that fall (so you could say I was lucky!), followed by missing a flag… That particular observer was very strict on that day, but I think the following week in Saint-François, he was a bit more lenient. Missing flags is an important rule for certain passages, but for others it’s a bit ridiculous, like in this case.

Yeah, we were next to the observer, we didn’t really understand it. By the way – congratulations to your dad and his team for an incredible trial… they really brought trials into the heart of the city!

Oh thanks, I’ll pass the message on! I think all trials should take place in city centres (or in places like Saint-François and Melsungen), it generates much more value for the sponsors, without whom we wouldn’t be able to organise anything… It’s a very simple theory.

JPEG - 95.6 kb You wear a lot of different caps, not just your Red Bull one, haha, I mean to say, you seem to have your thumb in a lot of pies… You compete at the highest level at the same time as putting on shows all over the world! Do you think both sides of the sport carry the same importance? Does a champion and showman like you make a living from trials?

You’re not wrong! Sometimes I have to check in the mirror to see which ‘cap’ I’ve got on! The shows and projects are mandatory, to keep my sponsors happy. They like to be able to say that they sponsor the World Champion, but the competition itself doesn’t often interest them as there isn’t much publicity to be had. That’s why I have to do both. At the same time, I know I could stop competing if I had too… the value of demos and projects is much higher. So I guess I ride comps because it’s my passion and I like the feeling of winning, the atmosphere of the comps, the friendship of the riders. My life is far from boring with everything that I do, and that’s exactly how I like it!

What you did last year with Extreme TV was extraordinary! You really brought competition trials into the limelight! Is the show available on DVD or can we watch it in HD streaming anywhere online?

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Thanks! That project was win-win for everybody… My best project so far, but not the last. Sadly I can’t sell it as the music can’t be sold. That doesn’t matter though, as soon as Extreme Sports channel’s rights run out on it I’ll be putting it up on my site in HD for people to download. I reckon it’ll be available in November 2010.

Wow excellent – keep us posted! We get the impression that in our sport it’s the athletes, not the sponsors, who put the most effort into promoting the sport! You and Danny MacAskill have really brought trials to a much larger media audience. Is that odd?

Yeah, I guess… But if that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is and you can’t sit around waiting for a top deal to land in your lap – you could be waiting 50 years! But if we keep delivering quality, that will change… one day!

PNG - 257.4 kb Yeah, you’re right! What’s your view of the Danny MacAskill phenomenon? He’s probably better known than you or Gilles now! He’s brought trials to an unprecedented media audience; online, on TV, in the papers, at the cinema… What do you make of all that?

Danny’s a nice guy and very modest, and he’s amazing on his bike, but what he does is closer to BMX than trials – l luckily for us it gets called trials though, which is good for the image of our sport. Their was one thing that I didn’t like though, in the New York Times they said that competition riders were amateurs in a niche sport, which is far form the truth. We train like pros and physically, we are much better-rounded athletes than a lot of other high-level sports people, so I wasn’t that keen on that article. They also called him the best trials rider in the world… I think that’s a bit much! JPEG - 133 kb Trials competition and this new form of street trials are two very different things. A competitor like me could happily change bikes, stick on a seat and go off in pursuit of media success, but that’s something that I refuse to do. I like street riding and the YouTube video I made on my Urban was my most popular, but I was only riding at about 65% of my abilities! I’m a competitor and trials for me is, above all, a competition sport; it’s demanding, it’s well rounded, that’s what I love about it. It’s this high-level competitive sport that I love and that I want to show to the world. That’s not to say I don’t value street riding; I love it and I have a profound respect for Danny… I don’t think I could ever achieve what he has with his famous video! I’m just talking about the perception of it and certain comments that I’ve read…

You were at the French up in Cerny again this year, did you and your dad like the ground? Do you think you’ll come back and train with us one of these days?

Yeah, that’s where I found out I had tendinitis in my knee… There was a lot of waiting around at that trial, which probably didn’t help it (warming up and cooling down 20 times in a day). That’s nothing to do with the sections though, it’s a great training ground – bravo to the builders! And yes, I’d like to come back one day. Maybe we’ll organise a visit with my club… I’ll keep you posted!

JPEG - 79.6 kb What are your interests outside trials? Your music tastes?

Cars, I play guitar, I go fishing when I have the time, I do a bit of snowboarding in the winter, I like discovering new cultures when I travel (countryside, food, etc.). My music tastes… they’re quite broad and it depends on what I’m doing… When I’m working I listen to rap and hip hop because it’s relaxing. When I’m training it’s rock and hard rock. When I’m eating I listen to a bit of easy-listening… There’s always music on though.

Now the season is over I imagine you can eat what you want… we saw you enjoying a few Belgian beers at the weekend… what’s you favourite meal?

A beef ragout with chips and a Westmalle triple! It’s at least 3000 calories, so unfortunately no good during the season. I prefer Italian food during the season.

JPEG - 212.2 kb Westmalle’s my favourite beer! Talking about good stuff, we noticed you were displaying our photos of Mont Sainte-Anne at your “Worldchamp Party”... One of Quebec’s best photographers, Michel Roy, shot them for us – did you like his work?

Yeah, I’m really happy to see some professional photographers of that great day. The bar staff surfed the web looking for photos to decorate the bar and found your site, I didn’t know about all that so it was a nice surprise! I’m really glad they used your photos!

Us too! Do you have anything you’d liked to add? Any other questions you’d like to answer?

Haha… I’ve been answering your questions for about two hours now and you ask if I want more? Thanks, but I think that’ll do, haha!

OK, we’ll save it for the next interview! Thanks very much for talking to us Kenny and congratulations once again on your jersey! All the best and see you soon!

Thanks, see you soon!

(Thursday 16 September 2010 - Photos : Marc Coen, Michel Roy / Digital Direct Multimédia, Maxime Tolu, Naim Chidiac/Red Bull Photofiles, Belaey-Trials & le Tribal Staff...)


Kenny’s joy at winning his fourth Elite world title, immortalised by Michel Roy… You can see more photos of the new World Champion in action here: Kenny Belaey in Mont Sainte-Anne.

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Kenny’s house and garden after his latest victory…

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The World Champion launching a massive sidehop from a rail at a show this weekend, his Monty Tshirt showing off the rainbow of his new world title…

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Thanks to Kenny for the above photos and for having given up so much time for this interview!