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Rob Peeters

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Photographs: Jordan Gibbons

Every interview is different because every interviewee is different. So is every interviewer. But it’s rare to sit in on other people’s interviews so you don’t see it quite so empirically. 
I know one thing for sure though: I’m no David Frost. But, as I stand outside a camper van in a muddy field in Zonhoven, I’ve realised that he’s no Richard Nixon either. There are just two mechanics, a few pairs of wheels and very few fans. 
I step inside. Rob Peeters sits relaxed at the dinner table tapping into a phone. His race regalia lies strewn across the table and his manager lounges across three seats on the other side of the table. 
At this point in late 2012, Rob had been on a run of particular bad luck. He had been disqualified the previous week due to a mistake in the pits and had been off the podium for much of the season. The previous year had seen podium finishes punctuated with missed selections for World Cup races. I’d heard he was a pretty straight up guy so I thought I’d keep my questions that way. 
The day before I had ridden the course in an impromptu journo race and encountered my first sand pit. I promptly lost control and slammed straight into the barriers, flipping over the bars in the process. Rob laughed and shook his head.
“Ah, yeah. Don’t do what you did. Don’t steer. Push a big gear but it’s not a specialty. Maybe you are just bad… Normally we come here a few days before, but we didn’t this year. But I know the races now. But it’s even scary for us at the start but I just give people a good push if they are too close.”
Is there a lot of luck because of that? I mean, someone can crash right in front of you and your race is over in the first lap. 
“It’s luck, but yeah, what is luck? When you are good you don’t have bad luck. When you are top five, there are no crashes. When you are top twenty, it’s different.”
That said, Rob is perhaps one of the unluckiest guys in cyclo-cross. The previous week, a miscommunication with the mechanics meant there was no bike change ready for him when he entered the pits, so he dismounted and hopped straight back on. Except when he did, he only put one foot on the ground, which the commissaires saw as a disqualification. In the midst of a less-than-stellar season it was the last thing he needed.
“After the race I went to the TV car and saw the footage of what I did and I held my hands up – ‘Yeah I made a mistake’ – but it was a small mistake. The punishment was too harsh. It’s not necessary to disqualify someone for what I did. Perhaps a ten-second penalty or something… then that’s fair.”
Rob has missed out on selection for the Belgian squad at World Cup races more than a racer of his quality should, leading to some speculation that he has a young person’s attitude problem or that the selectors just don’t like him. I asked him if he thought he knew why he wasn’t being selected. He grimaced.
“That’s a hard one. Yeah. I’m maybe a stronger rider but there are some guys who have a better sprint or something. Races are getting faster now and I get outsprinted so I guess that’s why I lose a lot.”
But you came second at the World Championships [in January 2012]. It can’t just be a few sprints that are letting you down, can it?
“The truth is, the top three are normally better. They’re just more talented. I need everything to be right. The right feeling in the body. The right weather. The right conditions. Then I could do good racing but that isn’t always the case.”
At this point Rob’s phone rang so I chatted to his manager for a few moments. He too had a theory as to why Rob wasn’t quite as successful as he ought to be: Sven Nys is teetotal and he’s also heard a rumour he doesn’t sleep with his wife during the racing season, whereas Rob’s wife had just conceived for the second time… Rob’s call ended.
Cyclo-cross seems to be getting faster and faster now. Does this spell the end for guys like you?
“Yeah, totally. I need slow. I need the rain. I like to not think and just power, power, power! When it’s faster you need to have tactics but I don’t like to think too much. Just finish the hour.”
Do you think cyclo-cross is growing? It’s getting bigger in the UK – you’ve raced here.
“Yeah I raced a few years ago. I think I won over there. In, erm… how is it? Ber-meang-ham? Easy points, but I think it was because I wasn’t selected for Belgium – again. But you need to race, so I was looking for some other race and I just thought ‘Hey, why not? But this international stuff is great. You guys have Ian Field, with Wyman and Harris in the womens.”
Looking at the start-list only three of the juniors here aren’t Belgian.
“Yeah, because here we have two races every single week. It was the same in my youngers years. I was racing Boom, Stybar, Albert and I was always behind but I was riding to catch them. So it made me better every week. That’s why I’m here now – because I had the competition when I was young. But I think your young people must come over here. It’s the only way.”
Rob’s phone rang again and he soon had to go warm up. Rob once again just missed the podium on the day.  In the final lap he got so hot his glasses steamed up, so he ditched them before getting a face full of sand.
Then, in the bleary eyed confusion he crashed into the back of the team bus. Some guys just get all the bad luck.

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