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A Cyclist's Wife: Sabina De Clerq
By Staff
Date: 8/6/2003
A Cyclist's Wife: Sabina De Clerq

This interview with Sabrina and Hans De Clerq appeared in the Gazet Van Antwerpen last week.

"With an average speed of 40.956kms/h the 2003 Tour broke a record. Belgian Hans De Clercq broke one too; itís not been since Frenchman Jacques Hochart in 1973 that a rider took over 5 hours longer than the winner to arrive in Paris."

Hans De Clerq. Courtesy Lotto Domo.
Thatís how it was written in the newspapers Monday the 28th of July. The "lanterne rouge" of the GC was a kermesse rider till he was 31, riding on teams like Naessens and Palmans. Today, De Clercq is a domestique for Robbie McEwen on the Lotto-Domo team, and since people always sympathize with the underdog, Hans was welcomed like a hero in his hometown Knesselaere. After that, the TV shows followed. It almost looked like Belgium finally had a new Tour winner! "At first, he wasnít too proud of it", his wife Sabrina says, "but after a while he was surprised how many pleasant effects it brought along. 'The worse I ride, the more interviews IĎve got to give' he told me, bewildered."

Hans De Clercq must almost be the anti-Lance when it comes to being available, and heís always willing for a friendly chat. "When he goes to the bakerís, a mere 300 metres away, he sometimes stays away for over an hour." While Hans was pulling through in the Tour, Sabrina painted the hall, kitchen and living room in the colour "French stone", a proof that her thoughts were always with him. The couple will be celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary on the 15th of October and have an 8-year old daughter, Bieke, who seems to be even more worn out from the Tour than her father is. Itís already noon when we ring the doorbell, and Bieke is still sleeping. Turns out that she wanted to watch the tour special til 11.30 every night, just so she didnít have to miss a single thing about her daddy.

Gazet Van Antwerpen: How many Tours has Hans ridden so far?

Sabrina: Only two. Last year he made his debut. Heís ridden in smaller teams for a long time, until he unexpectedly got offered the chance to ride in a bigger team (Lotto). People may be laughing now, but Hans has already finished the Tour twice now. The word "quitting" isnít in his vocabulary.

GVA: What spot did he end on last year?

Sabrina: 145th, 2 places better than this year. There was a rider at 148th for a long time this year, but after a while he abandoned.

GVA: Flanders was incredibly supportive of its "lanterne rouge". Itís got something sado-masochistic, every night arriving just before the time limit, knowing that the next morning youíll be facing the same misery, no?

Sabrina: 'Hans, our home is decorated as if we were newly weds,' I told him over the telephone. The people from Knesselaere even made their own songs for him. In three and a half weeks, Iíve seldom felt alone. People dropped in all the time, to keep me company. Bieke, on the other hand, had a harder time missing her daddy. Sheís at an age when she starts to miss him a lot, but thankfully he appeared a lot on the TV, being last in the GC.

GVA: Hans (who is on the verge on departing for a training ride), did "King Lance" say something to you?

Hans: He nodded good morning twice when we both went to sign the race register.

GVA: Do you have any withdrawal feelings, after some 3000 kms in the saddle?

Hans: Withdrawal? From what? This weekend Hamburg is on the schedule. People have a wrong idea about us, they think that we go on holiday when the Tour is over, but our season lasts till midway through October. Think youíll need me for anything else? (Leaves through the back door, a moment later I hear the sound of a bike riding down the garden path.)

GVA: Sabrina, in his twenties, Hans rode for a minumum wage for a while. You were forced to get a job as a forklift-truck driver.

Sabrina: When I applied there, they said, 'Oh missy, youíll never last here longer than a week,' being the slender girl that I was. Three weeks later I got offered a fulltime contract. Iíve been to over 20 metres high to collect parts, I took pride in my job. When Hans started making more money I started working part-time. During the time I worked fulltime he was an exemplary houseman. Every afternoon there was a warm meal waiting for Bieke. He even divided his endurance training in half, so he could cook in the afternoon and do groceries. It wasnít haute cuisine, but Bieke never missed out on anything. If her gym shoes were broken, her daddy drove to the store to buy her new ones. During that time when Hans took care of her in between his training and his racing, they developed a very strong bond. Bieke is more attached to her daddy than she is to me; which is ok with me, Iíve always been a daddyís girl myself.

GVA: She misses him when heís racing abroad for 3 and a half weeks, eh?

Sabrina: Sheís concerend about him. During the Tour she used to yell from her playing room, 'Have you seen daddy yet?,' and when I said 'Yeah,' she played on, set at ease. She sees him suffer on the bike too, eh. If heís gone by plane he always brings her gifts. Like with the Tour of Switzerland, he brought her a jumping stick. Half the riders leave the plane with a huge cardboard box under their arms, packed with presents for their kids. You can make as much money as you want, but on those occasions you see what the real motivations of those riders are.

GVA: Did Hans ever consider taking up work in contruction again in that period where you were having difficulties to make ends meet?

Sabrina: He was just about to end his career when he got that offer from Lotto. Never say never in life. Even if weíre more financially secure now, weíre still very aware of our money spending. I always buy my clothes on sales, for example.

GVA: Youíre still modestly housed as well. I would think that there are very few 34-yr old pro riders who live in a simple workmanís house in the shade of their villageís church tower.

Sabrina: Now heís at Lotto-Domo thereís a chance weíll move someday, even though thereís no reason why we should. Weíve got great neighbours and weíre in walking distance of all the stores. In his former teams there were loads of riders who didnít make a decent living, but only a few dared to admit that. That idea of trying to appear grander than you are is a common thing in cycling, Iíve found. I think itís a pity. That way people will continue to think that all cyclists make heaps of money.

GVA: Was Hans already a cyclist when you met?

Sabrina: We met at a club. Hans didnít like to make an entry with the fact that he was a cyclist. If I asked him what he did for a living, he told me he was in the construction business. It took a month or so before I knew I was dating a cyclist! When we decided to move in with each other, Hans had just decided to quit. He had already sold all his equipment, because he didnít find a team. 'Iíve had my chance,' he said. And right after he had sold his stuff, the phone rang and he got offered a pro contract.

GVA: Is Hans a different person when he falls back in his family life after living in a cycling routine for over 3 and a half weeks?

Sabrina: No, I reckon Hans has been through too much to let a Tour bring him out of his balance. His father had been sick for over 10 years, a heart problem. Hans is a tall, strong man, and so was his father. Heís seen him wither to a small, weakened man who barely could lift 5 kilos. Hans was only 18 when his father passed away. Heís been a close witness to that .Last year his mother died unexpectedly, at 66 years of age. She was hospitalized and 2 weeks later she had passed away. When you go through things like that, you tend to be more stable in life.

GVA: Has this being a "semi-orphan" changed him?

Sabrina: Heís not easily taken out of balance and has a strong sense of relativism; heís become very down to earth. He canít call home for advice when important decisions have to be made. He doesnít care much for material things anymore either. He lets me design the house the way I want it, it doesnít matter to him, heís more attached to life as such. Two years ago, his sisterís child died aged 15, from a heart problem, like Hansí father. That did put him off his balance for a while. His older brother also has a weak heart, but the doctors assured us that itís not an heriditary matter. But I had it checked upon nonetheless when I was pregnant with Bieke.

GVA: Hans De Clercq has no trouble being in the background, it appears.

Sabrina: Not in the least. When Robbie (McEwen) wins, he can come home and open the door with a big smile, saying, 'Weíve won!' Cycling is much more of a team sport than many would think. Having said that, heís a bit disappointed with the fact that Robbie missed the green jersey by a few points. He wanted to get over the mountains so bad, to be able to work for Robbie in the last few stages.

Robbie McEwen at the conclusion of the Tour. Photo courtesy

GVA: Can he enjoy a good, full plate of fries after a Tour filled with salads and pasta?

Sabrina: This weekend itís the WC race in Hamburg. I felt like having mussels for dinner, but Hans said, 'Wait with those mussels a bit, theyíre still important races to come. Crustaceans make the legs swell.' So now I go eat mussels with my mother and brother instead.

GVA: Does Hans have many brothers and sisters?

Sabrina: Thereís 5 of them, and theyíre all equally crazy about cycling. When we were only just together, I felt they were a bit afraid that I wouldnít support him enough in his career because cycling doesnít really interest me. If Hans is not riding, I wonít watch a race on TV. But by now theyíve seen that I motivate him enough. Heís very sorry that his mother, his biggest supporter, didnít live to see him finish the Tour. Sheíd already passed away when he got to ride it for the first time last year.

GVA: Does a pro rider have time for other things, outside racing? They seem a bit trade fanatics to me.

Sabrina: Hans enjoys the small things in life, like going out in the evening for a croque monsieur or a spaghetti in the village. Sometimes he comes home from training and asks, 'Think weíll go for a drink in the bar?' Or like Friday, just before he was off for Hamburg, drinking a good glass of wine together and really enjoying it. Those are our savoured moments.

GVA: Your husband broke his knee three months ago. Itís almost a miracle heís gotten over all those cols!

Sabrina: Exactly, thatís what I think too! On a moment like that youíre living a bit in doubt. I had to think of Wilfried Nelissen whose career was ended because of such a fracture. Wilfriedís knee was shattered, Hansí was a clean break, thank god. Thatís what I told myself to keep my spirits high. Luckily Hans isnít the whining type, heís always good-humoured.

GVA: If you open the door, you look straight onto the saying "to want to is to can", attached to the facade of the marching bandís clubhouse on the other side of the street. It couldíve been Hansí motto.

Sabrina: Hans sometimes says that he doesnít have much talent. But he has his courage and focus to train; he follows his schedules to the minute, heís no slacker. Sometimes he runs into an acquainted rider on his training trips, but he doesnít accompany them, because he dutifully wants make his own kilometres first.

GVA: He was standing here in his cycling outfit a while ago, itís kinda dorky if you think of it, eh?

Sabrina: Yeah! (laughs) At the start of every season I have to get used to all the new colours in the peloton. 'Now youíre another kind of clown again,' I yell to him then. Iím one of those cycling wives that mixes the pulls with the long sleeves with those with the short sleeves. Or the wrong shorts with the wrong leg pieces. 'Youíll never learn it,' Hans says, 'but Iím thankful you put them in my closetÖ'

Source: Gazet Van Antwerpen,, and thanks to Jans Janssen.

Visit Hans' website here, and the Lotto Domo team site here.

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