Bart Brentjens: One man, many roles
Anyone interested in mountain biking will certainly come across the name Bart Brentjens at some point. The Dutchman became the first Olympic champion in history in Atlanta in 1996. A year earlier he was World Champion, in 2001 also European Champion. But Brentjens continues to play an important role in cross-country sports even after his competitive sports career, which the now 51-year-old ended in 2008. Better still: several roles. Since 2013 he has been competing every year at the World Cup in Albstadt. This will also be the case in June at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Albstadt.
Bart Brentjens began cycling at the age of 13. This was actually for rehabilitation after suffering from a life-threatening blood poisoning that resulted in a 50 days stay in hospital and half a year in a wheelchair. This led to a long and very successful mountain bike career.
Bart, 25 years ago the last Cross-Country World Championships were held in Germany. What memories do you associate with Kirchzarten 1995?
Bart Brentjens: Of course good memories when you become a world champion (laughs). Back then I felt like: that was very easy, I’ll do it again. But when you look back, it wasn’t that easy after all (smiles). Anyway, I am proud that I could wear the rainbow jersey for one year. This is something that only exists in cycling, that is something special.
How do you remember the event in the Black Forest?
Hmm, I only know that there were a lot of people, really a lot of people! It was very loud, I remember that, and it was like a tunnel. You didn’t feel any pain, that’s what the atmosphere was like.
After your previous experience with the World Cup in Albstadt, do you think that this atmosphere can be repeated in Albstadt?
You can’t have a tunnel like the one in Kirchzarten everywhere at the track, but in the Bullentäle there will certainly be a very special atmosphere. Lots of people will be there. It’s difficult for team managers because it´s hardly possible to shout at the athletes. For sports and television it’s good, of course, but it’s not practical (laughs).
Bart Brentjens sees the crowds in Albstadt from different perspectives. Directly after the end of his competitive sports career, he founded his own team and led it to the top of the world with changing namesakes (sponsors).
With the Ukrainian Yana Belomoina, for example, he provides the Albstadt winner of 2017, with the Dutch Anne Tauber the third from 2018.
But being team boss of CST PostNL Bafang is not Brentjen´s only role. For eight years he has been working for the English-speaking World Cup live stream of Red Bull as Briton Rob Warner’s co-commentator. Together with the emotional downhill specialist Warner, his expertise is highly appreciated by the viewers.
As a co-commentator on the Red Bull live broadcasts you have become a kind of an institution. Have you had similar experiences before?
No, none. We once had a training course in London. But if you enjoy it, you can do it.
What’s fun about it?
It is the combination with Rob Warner, but also with the people behind the scenes, for example the technicians. A lot of things happen in the background that you can’t see. And you have to acquire a lot of information. By now, I have become less nervous, too.
Rob Warner was an active downhiller himself, but doesn’t know much about cross-country which is your area of expertise.
Yes, I know almost everybody. I have always been interested in that, but also to stand at the track in training and watch. When new people, young athletes, appear I try to talk to them. But Rob does a lot of work, too.
Is that another perspective on the sport when you comment on it in front of the screen?
First of all, we see less. Mostly only the top ten. You don’t know if someone behind them is riding a particularly good race. Sometimes, this situation is difficult even when we get additional information from the track.
But don´t you also have the live timing available at the same time?
Yes, we do. But it’s difficult to keep track of everything at the same time. I pay more attention to the body language of the mountain bikers.
What is key about commenting, what do you want to convey?
What matters is that the race is exciting. But as a commentator you can also create suspense when a driver is one minute ahead. That’s when you need background information such as, for example, when you know that a biker has a tendency to decelerate or another one has a strong finish. Or knowledge about the special skills of a mountain biker.
You had your first World Cup race in 1992. What are the biggest developments from your point of view?
The races are definitely much more interesting to look at. The tracks are shorter, technically more demanding and the bike is quite well developed. My 1996 Olympic bike from Atlanta weighed about twelve kilos, was made of steel and the front suspension was 40 millimeters. You just pumped a lot of air into it (laughs).
The athletes have become more professional and they also have to be present in social media. Back then there was only the press. Riding fast, that was all we had to do. Now every athlete is also his very own media office. Many sponsors expect that.
As team leader, when the races start you always leave your team alone to act as a commentator. Isn’t that problematic?
We also have this discussion within the team (laughs). But I don’t think that they will ride any better if I’m standing next to the track. Besides, there are only six or seven World Cup races and the World Championship. We have coaches and mechanics. And there are also 20 other races where I am present at the track during the season.
Ex-world-class rider, team boss and co-commentator – however, these are not all facets of Bart Brentjens´ life in mountain biking. He revived the bike brand American Eagle with a co-partner a few years ago and continues to compete diligently – in the Masters category. And he continues to do so with the meticulousness and ambition that has led him to his earlier successes. Right about now he is back in South Africa for the Tankwa Trek, a stage race. But there is also a part of his personality that has nothing to do with bicycles: Bart Brentjens once studied horticulture and never lost interest in it. He lives with his wife Petra and their children Bartje (18) and Ginger (15) on a former farm of 10,000 square meters. So, he does not only work in mountain biking.
Mountain biking is your life, could you say it like that?
Yes… yes, it´s true. It has many directions for me. I also do incentive programs for companies.
What motivates you to still race?
It is better to keep moving. What used to be associated with pressure is now relaxation, like a holiday. That´s what has changed compared to professional sports. It is a good change and I think my body needs it.
They say you are still very ambitious.
Yes, I bike with ambition, I am still a fanatic. I have to be honest – when I am at the start line, I want to win. However, I have the most fun when I can ride with someone on the team.
Your life revolves around mountain bikes. But back home in Ravenstein there is still another Bart Brentjens.
Yeah, we renovated an old farmhouse. We have fruit trees and harvest strawberries at the beginning of summer as well as walnuts and apples in October. We also have geese. I love working in the garden and with plants.
With all the traveling you can always look forward to being at home. But what are you most looking forward to at the World Championships in Albstadt?
Good results from my mountain bikers (laughs). But in all seriousness, Albstadt is centrally located in Europe, the mountain bike sport is alive in Germany and Albstadt has a lot of MTB history. I personally wouldn’t love the track (smiles), but there are always exciting races there, even though the track is so difficult. And since the organization always does a good job, I am looking forward to the World Championships in Albstadt.
Age: 51 years old
Residence: Ravenstein, Netherlands
married, 2 children (18 and 15)
Team boss CST PostNL Bafang
Greatest successes: Olympic champion 1996, Olympic bronze medallist 2004, World Champion 1995, World Championship bronze 1994, vice world champion marathon 2003, 2005 European champion 2001, 3 World Cup victories
Further information on: www.wm2020albstadt.de