by Ben Swales
A while ago, Tribal Zine caught up with four-time World Champion Kenny Belaey to ask him a few questions about the 2011 World Championship in Champéry and on his exceptional season, both on and off the bike. ‘The Magician’ had blown us away once again with his superb performances in the international competitions, taking the European gold in Italy and the silver in Switzerland, but also by showing trials to the world in an unprecedented manner, including in the biggest advertising campaign ever launched by Adidas. The GT/ Red Bull / Adidas tells us about the last competition of his season, which was, literally, a trial. He talks about his disappointment in the organisation, which did not live up to expectations of promises, and tells us about his projects for 2012... "The sky’s the limit..." Photos: Marc Van Hecke, Owen Gwilliam, Red Bull, Adidas, Kenny Belaey.
Of course, to begin with I was unhappy, Gilles Vincent and I were all fighting for the same thing and there was only one position that would satisfy. But after a few days I made my peace with second place. Number two in the whole word, that’s not too bad either! Especially when you consider the physical shape I was in, I was lucky to finish second and not eighth… I suffered badly throughout the competition, with cramps from the first section onwards… In twenty years of intensive training and competition, it’s the first time I’ve ever suffered from cramp while riding… If you asked me why, I’d have to say it was down to bad timing. But I have to say, it was all down to me. No excuses. After analysing it all, I know that next time I can avoid it… The only thing I couldn’t have predicted was the problem with my back... The Tuesday after the competition I went to see a very well-known osteopath (he works with Cadel Evans on the Tour de France) and there were no less than four nerve blocks, even though the Federation’s osteopath had said that it was all OK. That goes a long way to explaining the cramps and loss of strength on my right side… That’s why even the easiest obstacle became a real nightmare for me. I suffered in every section, dropping points on time for example, which hardly ever happens to me… But anyway, excuses get you nowhere, and I was on the podium, so that’s that.
The tough law of sport… Let’s talk a bit about the qualification round; easy sections where even the smallest mistake could put you out of the running. You finished in first place, but do you think it was a bit too easy for a World Championship semi-final? The flat rock section, for example, didn’t even look like an Elite section!
Yeah, it was very easy, you’re right, but even in this case you have to stay focused, and that can be difficult on such easy sections I find! Not a single mistake can be made… The flat rock section made us all laugh... I think I could have got through it on my cross country bike! I really don’t think that section should have been in a World competition!
Too right! An extremely difficult final followed, however, with Dante-esque weather conditions, worse than England! It was pretty perilous riding in that; the logs and metal obstacles were unforgiving, and then there was the height of some of the obstacles – scary stuff! Tell us a bit about your final, the battle between you, Gilles and Vince; in between the two laps the sections were modified slightly, how did that affect things?
I didn’t think the sections were too difficult, but the weather changed things, you’re right. But overall, it suited me. I really missed out on a chance to win another world title; they were old school sections, in the rain – technical and physical at the same time… everything I love in a trial!
Was a fifth world title within your reach do you think? Gilles finished a lap on just four points… Could you have done that as well? Was a lap of less than five something you could have managed?
Gilles’ second lap was normal for our level. Our first laps (all three of us) were more exceptional I think… A second lap on less than five? Definitely, no problem! If you’d asked me the same question at the World Cup final in Pra Loup, I would have said no, but in Champéry, definitely!
So what did you make of this World Championship? The organisation? Trials seemed to be the last thing that they had thought about, and was not given the same ‘respect’ as the other disciplines and as a result, there weren’t that many spectators. Was the organisation not a bit ‘light’ for a Trials World Championship?
Yes, I was really disappointed. We deserve much more than that. All of the World Cups were fantastic, and then, for the most important competition of the year, we were let down completely. We were all expecting something much better… There was really nothing that I liked about this World Championship. I don’t want to lay the blame at Stefan Moor’s door, as I have utmost respect for him and I know that organising a world competition isn’t an easy job! He explained it all to me and I understand that it was the organising committee that made the mistake. A World Cup, in general, costs between €35-45,000. I believe that for the trials in Champéry, they hadn’t even been given half that! I always try to ensure that there are some big sponsors involved when I organise an event, but there… Nothing! As soon as I saw the site, I though “Oh great, more bad publicity for the sport!” The World Cup organisers ‘have to’ organise the competition for the UCI, but they don’t ‘want to’, and that’s the problem. At the last meeting with the UCI in Aigle, the off-road president asked me “wouldn’t it be better if the trials World Championship was a separate event?”. But the commission answered no, and I’m convinced that we have to fight to give trials it’s rightful place, rather than retire from this great event. But on the condition that the organisers understand that trials brings value to the event, rather than being a ‘pain in the ass’… Excuse my French…
Let’s say a thorn in the side to keep in clean, haha. We were also wondering whether it would be a good idea to take trials out of this world MTB in which it seems to take a bit of a back seat, but you’re right, we should fight for our rightful place! Let’s talk a bit about 2012, will you be chasing that fifth world title again? You’re currently ranked No. 1 in the world by the UCI and are the most decorated 26” rider in the world. Do you intend to carry on?
Yeah, it’s pretty satisfying to know that. The fifth title wasn’t far off. I started well, but I’ve come to realise that I need more time between competitions. A comp a week is pretty difficult. I finished the season at the top of the UCI rankings, European Champion, and with two silvers in the World Cup and one at the World Championship, so I’m pretty happy. Especially as this year, I was on a kind of break. I rode without obligation. I trained, but less than before, so the result was a pretty good one, all things considered. I wasn’t able to win my fifth world title in 10 years, maybe I’ll have to go for six in 12, that’s a good challenge, right? 50% success at this level would be pretty impressive… No, I’m joking, that’s not what motivates me to get on my bike. I don’t ride to be the one with the most titles, but to do what I love the most.
You signed with GT for the coming season, but you’ll still be riding a Monty next season? What do you make of their full carbon bike? Pretty radical, no?
Yeah. We’re intending to make a trials bike with GT, but nothing’s been set in stone yet and if we do it, it’ll take some time to finalise, as with everything in the bike industry. The carbon bike is a great innovation, bravo Monty!
So who are your sponsors for 2012?
The same as 2011… my main sponsors are still Red Bull and Adidas…
Cool. 2011 was a good year for trials, and for you, you carried the UCI colours high and honoured the Champion’s jersey… Thank you, from all of us… In the media, trials is becoming more and more recognised, thanks in no small part to you. We saw you alongside some of the biggest names in sport in the latest Adidas advert, you’ve had your shows on Extreme TV, you’ve been very much sought after and have flown the flag for trials at every opportunity. What’s been your overall view of 2011 for trials and for yourself?
Yeah, thanks. It means a lot to me to be able to represent trials in such a way. It’s been pretty crazy; I never thought I’d have a year like this on a media level. The Adidas campaign alone has had 1.3 billion views. That’s amazing, and I’m so happy that Adidas gave me the opportunity to be a part of it. I’ve always believed that trials had much more to offer, and there’s no stopping me now… The sky’s the limit!
Fantastic! Keep it up, Magician! What are your best memories of the year, the things that made you buzz the most?
All of the respect that I’ve had from the trials scene and from my sponsors for the world round in Antwerp, the gold medal in Biella, and asking my girlfriend to marry me…
Wow, you proposed? All the best to both of you! What are your projects for the coming months? If we know you, you won’t be inactive for long? And also, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, given that you’re extremely busy as the man of the moment! You’re in Las Vegas for the Interbike exhibition at the moment, that’s a great opportunity, no?
I’m going to capitalise on the doors that my projects in 2011 have opened in the US with my sponsors, and then we’ll see… Organising two World Cups in Belgium next year will take up a lot of my time, that’s for sure.
Will you be heading off around the world with Red Bull again?
Yep, I’m going to Mexico at the end of September, then I’m going back to South Africa in October and then maybe to Abu Dhabi as well… I’m going to be moving around a bit less next year, but that’s OK, after Canada I was travelling around for seven months, which is tiring, especially with all the demos. My plans now are to do less demos and more big projects!
Great! Have you already got some new media projects in mind?
For the moment, my time’s taken up with some bigger shows, a bit of a holiday… Media-wise, we’ll see after that, I’m taking it easy for a while. But not for long, that’s for sure… Life is short!
You mentioned that you’ll be organising two World Cups in Belgium in 2012, one in Antwerp and one in your home town of Aalter… Is it true that the opening round will be in Belgium in June?
Yes, my home town will have the honour of opening the World Cup season, it’s a great present for me! The first round of the World Cup will be in Aalter on the 1st-3rd June 2012. I think more riders should organise the World Cups… We know better than anyone what it needs to be a success.
Yes, the next stop will be Antwerp! It’ll be the same as Antwerp 2011, but with even more spectacular sections… Watch this space!
We won’t keep you much longer, but the World Cup was in Poland for the first time this year, where you won gold in style on sections that were very much to your taste, is that right?
Ah yes, I really enjoyed the Polish round… Natural sections, technical passages… Sections on slopes, in the wet… I love it!
A true Belgian… Kenny Belaey’s success in the sections, online, on the TV, after all these years it must be a real personal victory, but there’s also a bit of a collective dimension to it: There’s a whole team behind you isn’t there?
Yes, there’s my girlfriend (soon to be my wife), my mother and father, my brother, my friends and all those who have supported me over the last 20 years… I’m really lucky to have them all, that’s for sure. Thank you all!
Congratulations to you and your team, and all the best for 2012! Thanks again for your time, and see you soon!
Thank you! See you soon!
Kenny in Champéry, by Marc Van Hecke
Some magnificent photos of Kenny Belaey in the final of the 2011 World Championship in Champéry, by Marc Van Hecke. Click below to see our article [in French only – sorry!] Champéry 26", une finale apocalyptique !.