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Bruno Risi: The new Patron of the Track
 
By Staff
Date: 12/21/2003
Bruno Risi: The new Patron of the Track
 

This interview appeared in Ciclosprint magazine and was translated by Jan Janssens.

The two most important track-happenings of the year in the Low Countries are behind us, and cycling amateurs have been treated again to a great mix of atmosphere, spectacle and battle. Both at the Velodrome in Amsterdam and t’Kuipke in Ghent they witnessed some world-class track racing.

One of those riders that’s always a guarantee for a great cycling-evening is Bruno Risi, the speedy Swiss.


Bruno Risi. Courtesy Fat Nick.

He and his fellow countryman Kurt Betschart are the most successful duo in the long history of the 6 days circuit. They just missed out on victory in Amsterdam and Ghent this year, but did win in Dortmund and München. The Swiss friends both stem from the Swiss mountain village Erstfeld, so one would expect a skiing career rather than one on the track.

“At school I mainly played football and hockey”, Bruno says. “It was outside of school hours that I discovered cycling. A coach, who was more of a friend than a coach really, taught us how to ride a bike, and he didn’t put any pressure at all on us, he wanted us to above all have fun. It’s that pleasant acquaintance that pulled me over the line.”

Ciclosprint: Did you guys ever ride on track back then?

Bruno Risi: Not at all. The nearest track was over 100kms away, and before I started riding a bike I hadn’t even visitid a big city like Zürich. A track career was the last thing on my mind, with all those mountains around you were destined to become a climber, or a road racer anyhow.

CS: When did it start for you?

In 1986 I won my first national title as a junior, and that earned me an immediate selection for the WC in Casablanca, and after that it just all happened along the way. I combined road and track for a long time, as I was fairly successful in both.

When I was twenty I started riding on the road much more often and a few years later, in 91’, I won 10 big amateur races. I also became amateur world champion point race that year. When I was offered a contract a year later in Italy, I mainly had to ride the Giro and other big Italian road races. My results weren’t as expected, and I was constantly thinking of the track.

CS: There you took a flying start by winning both Zürich and Dortmund that year.

That wasn’t very straightforward, since the big track stars didn’t exactly heartily welcome the newbies. But we were extremely well-prepared and we would have gone through hell to achieve our goal. We battled our way to victory twice, and after that they accepted us.

CS: Has a lot changed since then?

Enormously. Track cycling has become much faster and more explosive. A less positive evolution is the amount of six days races. We used to ride 13 of them in our best seasons, but nowadays it’s only 7. And add to that that many people don’t have the financial means anymore to attend big sports events....

CS: Your position within the world of track cycling has changed too. Now that Silvio Martinello is retired you’re the new “patron” of the track.

I don’t feel like I’m the boss or anything, but someone like Patrick Sercu [who organizes the six days of Ghent] just doesn’t have the time to talk to each and every rider. That’s why it’s important to have someone who talks to the other riders and makes some decisions...


Silvio Martinello, who also won stages in the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana.
Courtesy Six days Amsterdam.

CS: That will sound like music to the ears of some people, who claim that track cycling is a sport where everything is “sold”.

It’s a fact that if we’re leading the ranking with three teams at the same time, we’re not sprinting for every point, every euro. That way the smaller duos can make some money too, during an elimination race for example. We’re all pros so we all maintain the principle of  “live, and let live”. But you can say "the hell with it" - that we do everything within our grasp when it comes to the final victory.

CS: Last year, you and Kurt broke the Killian-Vogel record (29 victories) in Ghent. That made you the most successful six-days duo in history.

We dreamed of that record, but now that we broke it we notice that our lives haven’t changed since. At that time we were deliriously happy, of course, and even more so since Ghent is one of the most heavily disputed six days races. It was an enormous honor to win and break the record there.


Bruno Risi and Kurt Betschart during the 1997 Ghent Six. Courtesy Fat Nick.

CS: What’s the secret behind the “Alps Tornado”? [nickname for the Risi-Betschart duo]

That we always race together and never let ourselves be split up. We know each other like we know ourselves, and we’re much more than just teammates.

CS: Doesn’t all that time you spend together cause any irritation, sometimes?

Of course it can. Just like in any marriage we can have our disagreements, but most of the time we’re best friends.

CS: You’ve known each other for quite a while, too.

Yeah, we grew up 200 metres apart. Still, we never played together as a kid, since it was two different parts of town. We weren’t in the same class either. It’s only when we started cycling that we got to know each other better, and after that we went through all age-categories together.

CS: Do you train together as well?

Up to two years ago we were together almost every day, but then Kurt met his second wife and her kids and they started building a house together. I get to spend more time at home with my wife and my 2 and a half year old son myself, as well. And that’s ultimately one of the most important secrets of success; to have a loving family that’s there for you when you get home.

CS: It’s strange that a duo like Risi-Betschart, despite its enormous ability and palmares, never was world champion in team pursuit.

There’s a big difference between a WC and a six days race. The former lasts one hour, with the latter you have 6 days to improve and rectify some mistakes. The best one-day racers on the road like Museeuw won’t win the Tour either.

CS: From 2001 on it’s not even Risi-Betschart anymore, but Aesbach-Marvulli that fills the Swiss spot at the WC.

The Swiss cycling association decided to take the World Cup races as criteria to select teams for the WC, and they performed very well there. So, Kurt and I said then: “No problem, we’ve had our time, it’s time for the young guns now.”

CS: But, this year you yourself ultimately became WC team pursuit after all, after having won the WC point race 5 times already.

The Monday before the race, Aesbach got hit by a car during a road training in Stuttgart. He was severely injured in the ribs, so the national coach called me the next day and asked if I would replace him. I was in doubt and asked for a hour or so to think it over. My form was ok, but maybe not good enough for a WC. Moreover, a wooden track like the one there is a major adaption.

It was my wife that convinced me: “Your form is excellent”, she told me, “and didn’t you win your first WC in Stuttgart as well? That’s a good omen.” So, I called back and told him that I was in. I still had to ride 2 criteriums that week, so that I only arrived in Stuttgart on Saturday. The next day everything went perfectly, and suddenly I was in the WC team race.

CS: You’re 35 years old now. How long are you planning to go on?

Depends on my health, but normally speaking another 4 years. But if I happen to find a great job before that, I might retire earlier. Because life goes on, even after my career, eh.

CS: Did you have something in mind already?

Nope. I never had a real education, beacuse I put everything on my cycling career after high school. I gave myself 4 years to become a professional rider, and if not I’d have gone to university. I succeeded, so I didn’t get a degree. I might stay in cycling, because this is a trade I know. I’d have to start from zero if I did something else.

CS: Maybe you could train young pistiers.

Yeah, but the problem is that the Swiss cycling association, like most other countries, doesn’t have any money to spare to hire a coach full-time. Besides, it’s not easy to get young riders to ride on the track. Their heroes are Ullrich and Armstrong, and they tend to think about money too much.

CS: Did you look up to other pistiers when you were young?

Did I! Urs Freuler was a great personality, I  used to watch his every move. When I was standing next to him once, it felt like I was standing next to a God. Later on I found it a great honor to work with the same mechanics and soigneurs as he did. He taught me everything I know.


Urs Freuler. Courtesy Fat Nick.

During the warm-up you can see the young pistiers look at at Risi in awe...some even dare to position themselves in his wheel for a while. After a pro career of 12 years so far, he has become a hero himself. A role that perfectly fits him, with his drive, fair-play and eternal smile.


Source: Cyclosprint magazine. Click here for photos of great track duos.

For the Daily Peloton's 2003-2004 Track Cycling coverage, refer to the links below:

* 2003-2004 Season Calendar

The Revolution Series (Great Britain)
* Leg 1 (Manchester, Nov. 29, 2003) - Results and Report
* Leg 1 Photos

Six Days of Nouméa (New Caledonia - Nov. 28-Dic. 04, 2003)
* Race Preview
* Day 1 - Results and Report
* Day 2 - Results and Report
* Day 3 - Results and Report
* Day 4 - Results and Report

Six Days of The Flanders / Ghent (Belgium - Nov. 18-23, 2003)
* Race Preview
* Day 1 - Results and Report
* Day 2 - Results and Report
* Day 3 - Results and Report
* Day 4 - Results and Report
* Day 5 - Results and Report
* Day 6 - Final Results

Memorial Noel Foré (Belgium - Nov. 11, 2003)
* Results and Report

Six Days of Munich (Germany - Nov. 06-11, 2003)
* Race Preview
* Day 1 - Results and Report
* Day 2 - Results and Report
* Day 3 - Results and Report
* Day 4 - Results and Report
* Day 5 - Results and Report
* Day 6 - Final Results

Six Days of Dortmund (Germany - Oct. 30-Nov. 04, 2003)
* Race Preview
* Day 1 - Results and Report
* Day 2 - Results and Report
* Day 3 - Results and Report
* Day 4 - Results and Report
* Day 5 - Results and Report
* Day 6 - Final Results

Six Days of Grenoble (France - Oct. 30-Nov. 04, 2003)
* Race Preview
* Day 1 Results
* Day 2 - Results and Report
* Day 3 - Results and Report
* Day 4 - Results and Report
* Day 5 - Results and Report
* Day 6 - Final Results

Six Days of Amsterdam (Holland - Oct. 20-25, 2003)
* Day 1 - Results and Report
* Day 2 - Results and Report
* Day 3 - Results and Report
* Day 4 - Results and Report
* Day 5 - Results and Report
* Day 6 - Final Results


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