by Steve Penny
Het Kuipke, Ghent, BE
28 November 2010 (interview held during Gent 2010)
After winning 2 World Madison titles, Olympic bronze, and 23 Six-Days (from nearly 150 starts) Marco Villa retired after the 2008 winter season. Like Bruno Risi his career crossed the generations of riders racing on the European, and World, tracks so he knows a bit about track racing past and present.
During the 2010 Ghent Six I asked him about his experiences racing here in Ghent, his career past, present and future.
Steve Penny: How did you get started in track racing?
Marco Villa: I started with road and track racing as in Italy we had many races for the youngsters, 25 years ago there was a different mentality and we raced both. Now in Italy it is different, they think you have to do road or track not both, but I hope to be able to change this mentality.
SP: You first came to Ghent in 1989 what are your memories of that race?
MV: I don’t remember everything, but of course I came here with Giovanni Lombardi and we won. I do remember that the there were 12 good teams racing, now… there are not even 5 or 6. This is again part of this way of thinking about track racing and when we lose the good riders from track racing we lose the good teams for amateur Six-Day races.
SP: What about this 166.6 metre Ghent track, how did you find it?
MV: Ok. The first impression when arrived and saw the track was something else. You can see it is different with the steep corners and I had never even seen a small track before… we always raced on big outdoor tracks at home. For the road riders it can be difficult, but for me once I rode on it I knew it was a good track. It is totally different to race on than it is too look at!!!
SP: So you came back again as an amateur in 1993?
MV: I also came here one other time but was invited back by Patrick Sercu himself to come alone and race with a Belgian guy Gino Primo and yes it was good, as we won.
SP: So you were ready to start with the professionals the next year?
MV: Yes, but when I came to ride with the professionals I already had good feelings for the place, and for me it was always a nice track to race on. Also, of course, I came into the professionals with a great partner (Silvio Martinello), so that made it easy…. anyone would have enjoyed riding with Silvio, who was a fantastic rider.
SP: You won here with him in 1998?
MV: Yes, we won that year, but we had already been in the race for a number of years, winning chases and being competitive against the top Six-Day guys like De Wilde, Clark, Veggerby, Risi, Baffi….I can’t remember all the names now….but by 1998 I was one of the big riders myself. But to win here as a professional was, of course, very nice.
SP: You had a great partnership with Martinello?
MV: Yes, for 7 years it was very good winning a lot of Six-Days and 2 World titles, but the problem for me was after that after Silvio retired I lost half of my power…
SP: After he retired you raced for 6 more years. How was that period for you?
MV: After he stopped I had many different partners and sometimes the organisers wanted me to look after a road rider or a local young guy, but I felt good when I had the chance to race with Gilmore and I raced quite a bit with Franco Marvulli too.
SP: Yes I remember seeing you together at a few Sixes.
MV: I actually took Franco as a partner when he was young and nobody wanted him. At that time Risi still had Betschart. But I spoke to organisers and asked that where possible, I’d like to ride with Franco and I think I was a good teacher for him. I did Risi a big favour (smiles) because when Betschart stopped he took Franco who by then was strong and made a perfect new partner for Risi.
SP: Do you think your time in the Six-Days was a better era than now with a lot of top Six-Day riders and all the big races running?
MV: Yes, there were good riders and also some of the road riders came and raced some Six-Days, but when we look back and talk about past Six-Days we are always going to feel romantic. I looked at the start list this week (in Ghent) and there are a lot of strong teams and many of them are youngsters, so we have to look to the future not look back at how it was. In Ghent it is still a very nice Six-Day and with Patrick Sercu the riders want to come and race here. Hondo is here, and like I said before… there is a nice track, appreciative public and a Six-Day race with a lot of tradition.
SP: Did you have a favourite Six-Day race?
MV: Of course I always have good feelings for Ghent, as it was my first ever Six-Day to race and win as an amateur. The public here have always been special. But also I liked it in Berlin, Munich and Bremen.
SP: Looking back on your career, what was the highlight?
MV: I won two World Madison titles and twenty-three Six-Days, and in the cycling world they show a good career. The cycling fans and people who know the sport respect those achievements, but an Olympic medal is an Olympic medal whatever the colour. I can tell you that when I was twice World Champion, I’d go to the supermarket in my home town and nobody knew me, but after getting 3rd, not winning at the Sydney Olympic Games, at that same supermarket a lot of the people knew who I was and said, “hello, well done you know”! That medal is special.
SP: You are working with the Italian Federation now and we spoke at the beginning about the increased specialisation of riders doing either track or road, how do you see it?
MV: Now I think it is the time to change that mentality because when they see the British and Australian teams you can see that their young track riders go onto be great road riders… look at Cavendish and a lot of Australians. The Italian Federation has to look at these countries as a positive example and I try to push this way of thinking onto my bosses. Cycling is changing and I still believe that when riders go to the road after being schooled on the track it makes them better cyclists. The track is not negative for the road. Look at Stuart O’Grady, he won at the Tour then won the 2004 Olympic Madison and then he went off and won at the Vuelta, so the track wasn’t a problem there!!! National track teams always ride short stage races to prepare for the track anyway.
SP: I thought that we might have seen an Italian like Viviani here in Ghent?
MV: Viviani is a good rider and I hope that in the years to come we’ll see him at the Six-Days. He was in Grenoble but he was told by his road team that he has to stop and rest, but I think if he wants to go for the Omnium at the Olympic Games. He has to come and race more on the track. You can train specifically for the races against the clock, but to get better in the points, scratch and elimination you have to do those races, all of them are in the Six-Days.
SP: So like all of us, you were disappointed about losing the Madison from the Olympics?
MV: For sure. I was very, very disappointed and they took a decision without talking to anyone who knows about the track. They could have spoken to guys like Risi, Gilmore or any of us track coaches. Even before it was difficult to find a Pro rider to work towards the Olympic Games as points and Madisons are good races for Pro riders. I think it would have been nice for London to have a Madison with Cavendish, what will he do the road race I guess?
SP: So how will the Omnium work out?
MV: Now if I talk to a young talent like Viviani or his team and ask him to work for four years towards the Olympics, they think for what for……the Omnium? It is not really an event that most riders who mix road and track can win and so the danger is we are losing those riders from the track. They said the Madison was no good for TV but do they think having 24 riders doing 200 metres or a Kilo TT etc. is good for TV? Each of those events is 50 minutes… just like a Madison. I hope they’ll change there minds after London and bring back the Madison, but until then we’ll continue to work hard with what we have.
SP: Thanks Marco!!!TOP