Kris picked me up at Dusseldorf Weeze airport at tea time yesterday (Wednesday), it’s actually only about two kilometres from Holland so it wasn’t long before we found a frites stand. we#re on our way to the Lotto Zesdaagse van Hasselt 2007, the Hasselt Six Day cycle race.
Hasselt is in the Limburg region of Belgium, Flemish speaking and with a population of about 70,000. The local tourist office brochure tries hard to talk the town up but there’s not much to say – a nice-enough place though.
We have a room in the Holiday Inn Express, beats the zed beds at Grenoble and the bin store at Berlin.
It was snowing hard when we left for the track this morning but it turned to rain as the morning progressed.
The venue is an exhibition hall and the track is portable – it’s used at Rotterdam and Maastricht too. It takes a small fleet of trucks to drive it around but Kris reckons they can erect it from scratch in 16 hours.
The surface is plywood and it’s quite narrow, especially with 13 teams up there. The stands are temporary scaffold-jobs too with a high-level restaurant set-up at one end – it all looks good.
It’s 2.15 pm and we have the cabins set-up, the main cabin for massage and washing is miles from the track, upstairs in the complex and after 3.00 pm access to the track centre is by a high scaffold bridge.
Before 3.00 pm, there’s a section of the track which is removed to give access to the centre – much easier on the legs than tramping over the bridge.
We only have two riders – Franco Marvulli of Switzerland and Marc Ryan of New Zealand.
Franco rides here with top-dog Bruno Risi whilst Marc rides with ultra-experienced Gerd Dorich, he’s ridden 160 six-days, more than even Bruno. Franco has won five Winter sixes this year, four with Bruno and one with Alex Aeschbach (Grenoble) so he’s one of the real “heads” now.
If you count his wins in Summer sixes in Italy and Mexico he’s actually had seven wins. He’s ten years younger than Bruno so if he can hold his motivation, he has a long, lucrative career ahead of him.
Marc is a member of the NZ team pursuit squad here to get “experience.” After this he has the World Cup at Manchester then the Worlds in Majorca.
It’s 17.00 now and we’ve just had dinner, it’s still a “buzz” sitting down at a table with Franco, Marco Villa and Peter Schep. Marco was moaning about the cost of car hire in Italy, quick as a flash, Schep piped-up; “they must have heard what your start-money is, Marco!”
Sven Nijs was at the next table, he has a pursuit match against Erwin Vervecken as the opener to the race at 19.30. The food is good in the kitchen – does the morale no harm.
Warm-up time – Peter Schep, tall and classy, at one with his bike; Danny Stam with his skinny little legs, how does he go so fast?
There’s Bob Slippens in the string – his first six of the year; Iljo Keisse, not looking like a kid any more and, of course Dimitri De Fauw – it’s good to see he’s a changed man after his involvement in that fatal crash at Ghent; as he orbits the track at the back of the string, one-handed, composing text messages.
Show time is getting close, 19.00 and the juniors are on the track.
Marc is a bit nervous, it feels strange to be explaining things to a rider. The cyclo-cross pursuit went to Nijs, looking very business-like on a low-pro Colnago.
Big Vervecken was on a standard Ridley track bike with clip-ons, he couldn’t get low enough and the words “coo” and “gun” come to mind.
The presentation has finished, the gun has just gone, it’s 20.15 and we have 6 @ 10 lap sprints to fight for.
It wasn’t a night of great racing but it was honest and hard, there were no presents in the madison and lots of strained faces. Bruno and Franco won the chase and look to be in a different league.
Marc lost six laps and Dorich came round to the cabin to give him some advice, he was patient and friendly towards the youngster – now I see why they put the new guys with him.
Slippens was clearly hurting, so I don’t think the Dutch can win. Keisse is very serious about winning here, just a little example – he had Clement white strip tyres on his time trial machine, but I can’t see him and Marco Villa getting the better of the Swiss.
This is the first time Bruno has won seven sixes in a season and if he and Franco win here then they can both claim eight – to my knowledge, only Sercu ever managed that, albeit twice, in 1977 and 1979.
De Fauw and Aeschbach won both time trials; Alexander does the wind-up then De Fauw provides the speed, what ever else he may be, he’s damn fast.
By midnight there were only a smattering of fans left in the hall as Marco Villa got his birthday present – a win in the derny final. It was 2.00 am when we got to bed but we’ve got the lead, there’s not too much washing to do, it’s a good kitchen and the snow has stopped – musn’t grumble.