Popular Pole Lukasz Nowacki has realised his life-time ambition, to be cycle speedway World champion. The 31-year-old cycle mechanic, who hails from Wroclaw but is domiciled in Leicester, took the title in the United States after a thrilling tie-break race. Spokesman-Online caught up with Lukasz on his return to these shores, Here’s what he had to say.
Firstly, many congratulations Lukasz on being World champion. How does that feel?
Thank you. It feels as if someone would lift a massive weight off my shoulders. I know it will take some time to sink in, I’m getting used to it for now.
The championship went down to the wire and you had to win a tie-break to take the title. Tell us about that race.
Run offs, hate them! Never ever have luck in them, so I knew what to expect. In the last ten years or so, I’ve had about 15 run offs, in the World Cups, World Pairs, European championships and World individuals, and won just one, the only time I was on the inside, so my odds weren’t good.
This time though it was different. I felt so much more assured that this was mine, I didn’t feel any pressure. I was just waiting for the right moment to make the move and I was sure this was the only move I could have make.
You finished on 18 points. Who beat you in the final?
Dan Pudney just about held me on the line, and then Binky, with a little help from Bob Prince. I just had to sit for second in that one as ref didn’t want any team riding, I was kind of happy with the second anyway.
We hear that you have put in an enormous amount of work over the winter . What’s your routine been like?
To be fair, it didn’t feel as intense as other winters. I started a bit later than usually, about last week of November, and carried on through the winter. I’ve had a week off at Christmas. I must admit that first time ever I did a proper gym workout and I felt much stronger, and didn’t have the tiredness that usually arrives at the beginning of the season. I must thank Rod, my trainer at Abbey Sports and Leisure for his work on my fitness.
It’s Not About the Bike was the famous title of Lance Armstrong’s autobiography. But your bike is something special. Tell us about it and do you really believe it gave you an advantage?
We talked about it a lot in the US. There is a big debate going on and I don’t want people to get angry with me. I said it before and will stand my ground on it, the traditional speedway wheels don’t have advantage anymore over the 26″ mtb wheels.
I believe that they have had some kind of edge in the past when many tracks surface used to be much smoother and harder, with less rolling resistance. Nowadays most tracks are rough and to some degree slippery, and it gives us, mtb wheelers a little bit more confidence.
As for my bike, it was a missing link. Unbelievable bonus to have someone like Lynskey as a main sponsor. Not only gave me the frame I’ve won the title on, they have made another one and sent it to me while I was in Edenton just in case I crash and break it. I’m also lucky enough to have the greatest rim manufacturer, DT Swiss as my rim supplier, and Tarty Bikes as the freewheel source. I also discovered another tyre for speedway which is made by Charge Bikes and is called Splashback 1.8.
Holding the Worlds in the USA was a controversial decision. What are you thoughts on that?
Again subject of many heated discussions over last two weeks. Initial thought was, that it’s great to see new continent on the map, America offers unlimited possibilities.
When we first arrived over there all the boys were so disappointed, Aussies were near tears. I sort of curbed my enthusiasm before I set off. I knew it will not be anywhere near the standards we are used to in the UK, but to see what we did at the start was alarming.
There were issues with almost every aspect of the track, no outside kerb, no racing surface, no proper toilets and the biggest of them all the starting posts were on the track! Aussies didn’t waste any time and got the track to the best possible state, and Steve and Lee helped with the tapes, as the racing went on, spirits were higher and the bad image from first few days was long gone.
There is still the feeling of doubt over the future of the sport over there. The worst thing about the whole escapade was that there just wasn’t enough domestic riders. There was Cody Eaves, and that was basically it. Other riders looked like they were brought in from the streets. They didn’t hang out after the racing was finished, didn’t watched any racing at all, which is the main reason why we were there.
The main man has got an amazing enthusiasm, and he believes it can be done. Brian White is an unbelievable person and his attitude is the most positive thing, and our best hope that this trip isn’t going to be a biggest waste of time.
Rewinding the clock – how did you first become involved in cycle speedway.
I used to live near the Wroclaw Olympic stadium where Sparta used to race. I could hear the bikes from my house. Everytime I did, I was on my way on my bike to watch them practice. They were dozens of kids like me. We started pretend to be those riders racing on our bikes.
Speedway was getting really big in the 90s, Wroclaw won three league titles in a row and in that time all the kids from my school were racing on primitive backyard tracks. There was an advert appeared on one of the speedway weekly magazines, that Rawicz club was doing some organised racing with clubs from Leszno and Gniezno participating as well. We didn’t even know there was a sport called cycle speedway.
Why did you come to the UK and why did you decided to make Leicester your home?
First time I came over for the 2001 European Club Championships at Great Blakenham, when I was racing for the Rawicz club. I loved the British way of racing and I wanted to come over for longer. At the end of the season I asked Dave Murphy to put a word forward for me to any clubs interested. I knew that I wasn’t a popular rider. I didn’t ride in the national team back then because I wasn’t good enough yet, so I was over the moon when Rob Carter rang me one evening and wanted me to come over and do a season for Horspath.
After three very succesful seasons at Horspath I decided to move to Leicester. I don’t know why I chose Leicester. I felt my time was over at Oxford, although I owe them a lot. I couldn’t see myself riding for them anymore, didn’t feel part of the team, and also wanted to get away from the lifestyle we were leading at that time.
Your beautiful wife Magda is often by your side at events. Has she been big support to you?
Oh yes. She deserved that world title more than I did. She’s behind all the promotional stuff that we do, all the videos, photos, portfolios, in fact every sponsor that we have is thanks to Magda.
She’s a very understanding wife of a sportsman, never gives me any grief for not being at home often enough, and is always there to pick up the pieces when I have a bad day. I’m a lucky guy.
There’s a joke going round that the only time Britain will ever have a World champion is if Lukasz Nowacki becomes a British citizen. Any chance of that?
That joke wouldn’t be funny to riders like Andy Angell and Lee Aris. I don’t agree with it. I think there are great times to come for England. You are the World Cup winners and you deserved it. Every one in that team rode brilliantly and to be fair all of them were capable of winning the individuals. And there’s about ten of others that didn’t go.
As for me becoming British? I enjoy riding, living and working in the UK. I love the British way of life and the sense of humour. I am eligible for the passport, and would love to ride in the British Championships. I spent most of my adult life in Britain and to be fair I feel part British, and don’t really need a passport to feel that way. I’m not going to rule it out, but for now there is no rush.
One more thought. I think the main reason why Britain doesn’t have an individual champion for so long is due to the racing season being constructed around team racing. I undesrtand that this the core of racing over here, and it gives racing to more riders, but I reckon there isn’t enough individuals over the season, with the big one being British Finals. There was the GP, no longer running.
The last champion, Dave Hemsley was an exceptional individual rider, and I believe this was his trade. He was brought on countless individual tournaments, and was similar to me in admiring individual racing, as it shows true potential of the riders better than the team racing does.
Britain’s best was veteran Steve Harris who finished sixth. Clearly the Poles and Aussies still dominate the individual scene.
Individual scene is so much diffrent to what is going on in the sport. Results don’t give it enough justice. Individual finals have that draw factor and if you don’t have a good one you just go past the meeting unnoticed. As I said above, I think Poles prefer to ride in individuals.
Our abilities are based on speed, fitness and power, while a lot of Brits and Aussies add experience into that. What makes them great competitors is in the team events, but they might not be selfish enough to have that determination to save themselves for the individuals.
Do you see any British prospects coming through who could be real title contenders in the years to come?
There is a great number of British riders at the moment. I love racing against the young guns, I like their attitude and want to beat them as much as they want to beat me. It gives me motivation for week in week out racing, not only just for the big events I train for. I think Tom Reed has what it takes to be unbeatable, he just has to eliminate those gate exclusions.
Chris Timms is riding awesome at the moment, while Mark Carmichael could do with a bit more attitude and grit, as he is a very clever rider. I would like to see Marcus to get his act together and get motivated again, he has the best gate in the world. There are others like Angell, Heard, Stephenson, Beharrell all of them capable to beat any rider in the world.
The next Worlds will be in Australia in two years time. Do you aim to defend your title?
I want to go. I wasn’t planning to go. I don’t know if I would have gone if I wouldn’t win. It’s just such a pain to arrange the whole year around it with holidays and finances, it gets really difficult. I’m also struggling for grip over there, I never really mastered any of their tracks, but I’m not going to give it away. I will put on a fight and would love to get the World Cup back too.