Walter Huybrechts: Cycling's 'Beast' of the boards

Story highlights

  • Unlikely man helps cycling's fastest racers
  • Riders paced by "Derny" motorcycles

(CNN)Amid the lycra-clad, finely honed pro cyclists, Walter Huybrechts cuts an incongruous figure.

Bespectacled, with a generous degree of padding around his waist and sporting a tight-fitting set of leathers which are hardly flattering, the Belgian instantly attracts attention.
Yet the 63-year-old from Antwerp (nicknamed the "Beast" -- "my wife likes that," he says) can hold the key to success for the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish in the fiercely competitive world of indoor Six Day racing, where teams of two compete in different disciplines over six nights.
    One of those disciplines is the Derny race, and Huybrechts is among a select band of "pacers" who career around the velodromes of Europe at speeds of up to 46 mph on the specially designed motorcycles called Dernys -- moped-type machines with 98 cc engines.
    Behind them -- to use the precise parlance "following" -- come the cyclists, clinging inches from their back wheel to gain maximum drafting effect.


    Any slight slip on behalf of either rider or pacer can lead to a disastrous crash, so the skill of both is essential.
    "Here's Wally" was a regular exclamation of the race announcer at last month's London Six Day event, as Huybrechts attempted to bring his rider into the lead in the helter-skelter competition.
    After being a competitive cyclist himself, Huybrechts has spent more than 30 years guiding others to success, both on the track and in special paced criterium races on the road.
    He takes his work seriously. "It is like being in a relationship, you do it with passion and believing you can win," he told CNN.
    But having guided the likes of Swiss Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara and fellow Belgian Tom Boonen to notable victories, the pacer is quick to give credit to them.
    "For me it is the rider who is the special man -- when he has the legs and I have the brains and the trust, then we can go very far," he said.