Chris is back on board
This year has been a wipeout, writes Mark Hinchliffe
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 circuit.com.au for full details.
Happy ending: Superbike rider Chris Vermeulen and fiancee Toni Pinion.