Chris is back on board

This year has been a wipe­out, writes Mark Hinch­liffe

Herald Sun - Motoring - - What’s On -

IT’S been a year from hell for World Su­per­bike rider Chris Ver­meulen. The 28-year-old Sun­shine Coast cat­tle farmer crashed at high speed in the open­ing round at Phillip Is­land, re­tired from the sea­son for ma­jor knee surgery five months later and is still walk­ing with a cane.

But the year has ended on a high note with his en­gage­ment to long­time Bri­tish girl­friend Toni Pin­ion, 32.

‘‘He didn’t get down on one knee to pro­pose, but I sup­pose he had a good ex­cuse,’’ Pin­ion says.

Ver­meulen says they haven’t fixed a date for the wed­ding yet.

‘‘I’m in no rush,’’ he says. ‘‘But be­ing mar­ried didn’t do any harm for Casey Stoner, Troy Corser or Troy Bayliss.’’

The world No.1 rider for Kawasaki says his rehabilitation from surgery has taken longer than ex­pected, but he plans to be fit enough to test the new ZX10-R bike in Malaysia on Jan­uary 10.

‘‘The op­er­a­tion in­volved new technology not done in Aus­tralia, so I had it done in south­ern Spain,’’ he says.

‘‘But there was a lot more dam­age to my knee than ex­pected and I’ve only just grad­u­ated from crutches to one walk­ing stick.

‘‘One month ago I would have said I’d be fully fit by the start of the sea­son, but I’ve had to learn to walk all over again.

‘‘Re­al­is­ti­cally I won’t be fight­ing fit un­til the mid­dle of the sea­son. But I still in­tend to be the first Kawasaki rider to win a World Su­per­bike race since Akira Yana­gawa about 10 years ago.’’

Ver­meulen was heav­ily in­volved in the devel­op­ment of the 2011 ZX10-R road bike on which the race bike is based.

‘‘It has ABS and trac­tion con­trol, so it’s a BMW beater,’’ he says.

‘‘I’d pre­fer to race with­out the elec­tron­ics, but this is devel­op­ment and it makes road rid­ers safer and it makes rac­ers more com­pet­i­tive.’’

While he has been con­va­lesc­ing, Ver­meulen has been cy­cling and surf ski­ing to keep his fit­ness high for the pun­ish­ing 26-race sea­son.

‘‘The surf ski is good for up­per body and core strength, which is im­por­tant in bike rac­ing,’’ he says.

‘‘Cy­cling is good for car­dio, which is also im­por­tant be­cause my heart rate is about 170 beats a minute for the whole race.

‘‘Test­ing in Malaysia will be re­ally phys­i­cally de­mand­ing be­cause we do about 500km at race pace over four days in blis­ter­ing heat and hu­mid­ity.’’

Ver­meulen was the 2005 World Su­pers­port (600cc) cham­pion be­fore mov­ing to World Superbikes the next year and fin­ish­ing sec­ond.

He then spent four dis­ap­point­ing years in Mo­toGP be­fore re­turn­ing to World Su­per­bike last year.

‘‘I don’t have an urge or de­sire to go back to Mo­toGP,’’ he says.

‘‘I’m happy to be Kawasaki’s world No.1 rider, but if they want to re­turn to Mo­toGP and are com­mit­ted to win­ning, then I would go.’’

Ver­meulen hasn’t ruled out switch­ing to four wheels when he re­tires from mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing, like for­mer world cham­pion Wayne Gardner.

‘‘I test-drove Ja­son Bright’s V8 Su­per­car three years ago and did about 15 laps around Win­ton,’’ he says.

‘‘The thing that sur­prised me was the brakes and how deep you can go into a corner, but the ac­cel­er­a­tion from a 600 horse­power car was less than ex­hil­a­rat­ing. It’s much less than a bike.

‘‘I wouldn’t mind rac­ing cars, but for me it’s not a love like bikes.’’ Phillip Is­land hosts the open­ing round of the 2011 WSBK cham­pi­onship from Fe­bru­ary 25-27. Tick­ets start at $130 for a three-day gen­eral ad­mis­sion en­try. Go to www.phillip­is­land cir­ for full de­tails.

Happy end­ing: Su­per­bike rider Chris Ver­meulen and fi­ancee Toni Pin­ion.

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