Servais Knaven: Any Questions?

Servais Knaven , Paris-Roubaix 2001

Servais Knaven , Paris-Roubaix 2001

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Cycle Sport magazine

We talk to former Paris-Roubaix winner Servias Knaven about retirement, the best riders of his  generation and having time to take in the sights.

CS: Free to talk, Servais?
SK: Yes, the last child is going up to bed!

You retired in the middle of August. Congratulations. What have you been doing since then?
SK: Immediately after the Eneco Tour, I did the Vuelta as a directeur sportif with Milram. It was a big change, but I’m getting used to it: I’m still involved in the race and I can still use the things I learned on the bike.

When did you realise it was time to quit?
SK: I was talking to [Milram team manager] Gerrie van Gerwen last year about a new contract. He suggested I could be a directeur, and that was the first time I really thought about it. From there, it was quite easy to say, ‘OK, I’ll stop and try to do one more Tour de France and do the Dutch criteriums.’ That was my goal. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the Tour this year. For me, it was perfect like this, it was the right time.

You’ve been a professional for 17 years. That’s older than some of our staff. Which results are you most proud of?
SK: Time flies so fast, it doesn’t feel like 17 years if you can have a career that includes a stage win in the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix — I won Scheldeprijs, quite a few races. Not so many victories, but some really nice ones. Roubaix is top of the list for me. From the first time I rode it, I knew that it was the best Classic for me. If you can win it just once, you have to be happy.

Any regrets?
SK: Maybe I could have been a bit better if I hadn’t worked for the team, but that’s life. Because I was always working, it meant I could ride till I was 39! If I’d been more selfish, won a little bit more, I’d have had to stop earlier.

What are your memories of your Paris-Roubaix win in 2001?
SK: I remember many things from seeing it back on television. I didn’t start with the aim of winning the race, so it was a bit of a surprise for me too. It’s hard to explain… you’re in a tunnel, you don’t see everything, it’s not so real and you forget certain things.

But from entering the velodrome, I remember everything. I was even able to think to clean my jersey, something I remembered from watching cyclo-cross in the winter. And after the finish — it was quite funny — many photographers and media were lying on the ground because they fell over. I still have the memories of the congratulations from my team-mates and other riders too.

What things will you miss about being a professional cyclist?
SK: After the Eneco Tour, I was home for two weeks and that’s when the change hit me: you don’t have to train any more. The routine is gone. I was a cyclist for 32 years, 17 as a professional; I don’t know another life apart from the bike. But, as a directeur sportif, I’m still in the cycling world.

Servais Knavem

Servais Knavem

How has cycling changed since your debut in 1994?
SK: The sport is much more professional, there are five people working full-time on big teams to keep it running. When I started, maybe it was one. It’s bigger now and there’s more money at stake and higher salaries. Every race is important; the average speed is much higher now and it’s important for every team to be in the break and to be on television. For 10 million euros, teams want 10 million times the publicity. Because of this races get a bit similar: break, chase and sprint.

In 17 years, you must have seen so much of the world while racing. Any plans to return to places that you liked?
SK: Japan, Guadeloupe, Hawaii, Oman, South Africa — almost everywhere. But now I have time to go and see things in the evening; as a rider, it wasn’t allowed. At the Vuelta, you have really nice, old cities. After the Toledo stage, I took my bike, did 90 minutes, and at the end I went into the city just to see it.

What do you plan to do next year, and in the future?
SK: I hope I can be a directeur sportif somewhere; I’m not on a team at the moment. I’d really like to stay in the sport. Because I learnt so many things, I think I can pass on lots of experience, and I’m interested in psychology and getting the best out of riders.