Interview: Gert van Werven

Gert, how are you and the family during these strange times?

van Werven: With my family and myself, everything is fine. My wife now mainly works from home and takes care of the children. I am working at home one week and present at work the next week. Given my job as Manager Warehouse and Logistics at VB-Airsuspension I try to be present as much as possible to help all my employees.

Now that everything has been cancelled and shifted to later data, shouldn’t it be simple to keep the focus, or do you enjoy the small daily things?

van Werven: I must honestly say that we are not bored at home. We can be lucky that we live outside and have enough space to move around freely. But over the years the outdoor life has grown reasonably with us and we are now there, especially on the weekends, busy and you know, one thing leads to another and then the plans are often made bigger again.

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I have to say very honestly that I can shield myself from the sport in this way, it is not that I am constantly working on it. Of course I would like to be back on the bike and on the road with the team. But more importantly, this situation must first be under control/over and then we will look further. Many people are clinging to a government date. But that does not mean that measures will lapse and everything will open again immediately. So let’s be especially happy with the fact that we are still healthy and have no complaints. In addition, I must say that we cannot complain here in the Netherlands with the measures that have been taken, namely that we still have reasonable freedom that we must of course deal with sensibly. I must say that our son sees it as a big holiday and does not notice what is going on. He is happy that he does not have to go to school now and that he can spend all days playing outside. He would prefer to ride around on his motocross track all day on his sidecar. It is of course great to see how our son is infected with the sidecar cross virus and unwittingly copies all kinds of rituals from us. Maybe that will result in the next generation ‘van Werven’ who will one day start at a World Cup sidecar cross… let’s hope, it would be great.

Pic: Dries Dewitte

Last season did not go smoothly for the team. Injuries weren’t kind!

van Werven: Fortunately it was not a season with only setbacks, because as a team we managed to get a nice third place in the Open Dutch Championship during the final in Lichtenvoorde. On the other hand, it did not go smoothly in terms of injuries, but there is no point in complaining for a long time. Setbacks have to be overcome and you have to keep looking forward as a team, luckily we all do that. I broke my ankle in Markelo myself, but luckily I was able to get back on the bike pretty quickly thanks to an operation by ‘cross doctor Tichelaar’. Because of this I was unable to drive Strassbessenbach and Stelpe. Once back together on the bike in Switzerland, Peter broke his ankle in three places – that was quite a damper for all of us.

Peter and I are a close team and with Peter I can really read and write on the bike. Because of this serious injury, I had to find a replacement. Fortunately, I was able to call on Kenny van Gaalen for Gooik. Kenny and I had ridden together the year before and I knew he was doing well. Kenny is not only good, he is super! It is difficult to explain, but at Kenny you can drive the way you want as a rider. However, we had to miss one Grand Prix, because I was unable to drive the race in Dardon-Guegnon.  I have clearly searched for a passenger with whom I could reach the finish and where I could drive at my own pace. After all, we had already missed a few races and I didn’t have to prove myself anymore, because I was already with Peter for the 2020 season. I left the game in France and looked further to bakers for the last game of the season. Fortunately, there was that friendly man who wanted to come from Finland to Rudersberg. Lari Kunnas is certainly one of the most motivated passengers. He is very eager to learn and feels very well what the engine is doing, this young one will certainly come!

It was not the condition, because often the team Van Werven really came under steam in the last 10 minutes and several combinations were worth it. Still, the starts were often the main culprit, did you work on this in the winter period or was it something else?

van Werven: Condition is always a thing for me .. there are competitions in which I can completely break myself in 15 minutes and then have to catch my breath for about five minutes, after which I can turn on the last 10 minutes. naturally not a training beast but has to rely on a lot of smooth running Peter and I think I am one of the heavier combinations in the field, the TM engine is certainly not the strongest among all power sources, making a start very important, indeed this was not always successful, but fortunately we can usually make up for a lot in the first rounds by passing quite easily.

This winter, until our trip to America, we mainly used to recover from our injuries. Peter from his ankle fracture and I from my surgery in December where the screws were removed from my ankle and a major overhaul of my meniscus was done. This was severely damaged, so I could no longer move my knee freely. In mid-January, both Peter and I got the green light again and we only started motor training.

You finish the World Cup in 11th place and help the Netherlands team with the coveted Sidecars of Nations title. Surely this must have given you a lot of confidence to start the 2020 season?

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van Werven: When we were asked during the final ONK match at the Zwarte Cross in Lichtenvoorde, I was very honored. In 2014 I was allowed to do this with Peter before and then we won silver, now we got another chance. Unfortunately, Peter was not on my side because of his injury, but luckily he was with our team that weekend. During the Nations Kenny van Gaalen assisted me. As a team I think we certainly showed that we were a valuable addition to team Hermans and team Bax. The second moto we drove a great race and if everything is going well at that moment and you cross the finish line and see your own club of regular supporters, then that is great. Something like that certainly gives me a lot of confidence and a very good feeling, namely the feeling that we really do something like this together.

Pic: Dries Dewitte

At the request of the North American TM importer Ralf Schmidt you are going to the USA for a sidecarpromo. Can this be one of the highlights of your career as a driven sidecar driver?

van Werven: Yes! This adventure has certainly been one of the highlights of my career. I had wanted to go to America for a long time to experience this, but this way – that was great. Sidecar sports are hardly, if at all, present in America. The level is very low and I think it is mainly difficult to get certain materials there. There are people who want to put energy and time into this, but then there must be people who want to practice this sport. And as long as there is little to see there, this does not motivate either. I hope with our trip that we have excited a few people there to also make this sport more famous in the USA.

You have already dropped that 2020 might be your last year. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the season is certainly not going according to plan, and this has an effect on the team and sponsors. Rebookings, shifting of planned holidays …! Do you stick to your position to quit or are you considering adding an extra year to it?

van Werven: At the beginning of this year we had a team presentation and I announced that this would indeed be my last year as an active sidecar racer in the World Cup and ONK. Only COVID-19 was not yet on the calendar!

I now often get the question what I will do in 2021, because I don’t think much of 2020 will remain. Many sponsors and those involved indicate that ‘this situation’ is of course not the way to say goodbye. True, I fully agree with them and I am glad that they are saying this. But if this is possible, I cannot answer that yet because I first have to discuss this with my family, baker, team, but also employer. And, just as important, the consultation with my sponsors. As helmsman/captain of the team I have a leading role, but then the team must want to come with me. It is therefore still too early to answer this question, because more questions arise from this one question at the moment. But it certainly keeps me busy.

It looks like we’ll have to stay home for longer. France, Belgium and Germany extended their corona measures for major events. Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany even go until the end of August! This means that the WSC calendar will have to be adjusted again. What are your concerns about this and how will you tackle it when the green light returns?

van Werven: Very sorry, but personally I think there will be no championship races this season. Our sport needs visitors, visitors bring atmosphere, but above all money into the drawer of the organizers. They desperately need these earnings to organize a World Cup, ONK, NK or other event. I really expect that there will come a time when we can start training again, but a game is more difficult I think. And our beloved sidecar cross is also part of a contact sport, because Peter and I can not stay 1.5 kilometers apart while driving.

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I also think that the person in charge of WSC and FIM should come together to view and discuss the possibilities and consequences. A disappointing option would be to cancel the current calendar so that this pressure is off and other options can be looked at and possibly something else can/maybe organized. Let’s hope that some international competitions can then be organized. Because with regard to our World Cup calendar, now counting 8 games, that is not a World Cup worthy calendar.

Thank you for the candid conversation and I hope we can enjoy our beautiful sport again soon. Are there still people who want to put extra flowers in this way?

van Werven: The only thing I can wish for right now is that everyone stays healthy and that we will be able to greet each other again on or along the track, in order to be able to practice or view our beautiful sport.

Interview: Geert Gelaude

Pics: Dries Dewitte