It’s 05:30 CET Monday in the North Sea, somewhere. Our epic return journey from the Zürich Six Day through the night time snow of Central Europe was rewarded by a nice autumn morning in The Netherlands, even if the coffee was extortionate at the services.
We were in plenty of time for the 17:00 ferry to Newcastle.
I couldn’t keep my eyes open after 20:00, so that’s why I’m up and about at 05:00 am – and that North Sea air is fresh.
But let’s talk winter track racing – I can’t say ‘Six Days’ in this case.
Peter was round with the cordless screwdriver doing a bit of track maintenance when Alois decide I needed some photo ops and gave us all a chuckle as he brandished the Makita in manic fashion.
Alois is a great guy to have aboard, always upbeat, problems are despatched with a shrug and a joke. But I wouldn’t want to fall out with him – he’s one big, strong, raw boned, man.
As if the Dernys weren’t providing enough noise, we have the big motors, too. That’s serious noise – but the crowd love it.
I like the technical aspect of ‘stayer’ racing more than the actual racing itself, on an indoor track.
On a 200 metre track like this, the rollers on the motorbikes are set well back, to keep the speed down.
On a big, outdoor, concrete track, the rollers are set much close to the driver’s back and speeds can go up to 100kph.
That said, there was one race here where Swiss champion Giuseppe Atzeni was trying to go over the top of two other bikes, they were three abreast and his speed was mad; but he couldn’t sustain it and he had to drop back.
The really experienced drivers know how to blast a rider who’s trying to pass them, with their slipstream.
As former British stayer champion, Paul Gerrard once told me; ‘if you get two laps of that treatment, you’re finished.‘
And a final word on the ‘stehers’ – guest starter for the race was now retired Bruno Walgrave, who 15 times piloted a winning motorbike at the World Championships.
But talking of ‘Brunos,’ the last of the truly brilliant Six Day riders came to visit – Bruno Risi.
He still looks fit, bubbles with energy and commands respect – 11 times he won here, in his ‘home’ Six Day.
No one will ever remember Bruno as a ‘has been’ – he quit when he was still one of the very best.
His retirement and that of Erik Zabel dealt a big blow to the Six Days; sports fans love ‘legends’ – but there are no names now which will pull in the crowds, irrespective of national boundaries.
Iljo in Gent, sure; Franco in Zürich and…
Another multiple Zürich winner is now the race director, Urs Freuler.
He won here six times and dominated the World Points Race Championships for a decade – albeit he took no chances and had most of the field paid off.
He hops on his BMC ‘track machine’ which is in Phonak livery (if I was him, I might go for a respray, given The Floydster, Tugboat, et al) and rattles off the laps.
The field here is a strong one; only missing Iljo – who’s current king, although Franco and Kenny won’t like me saying that – and Robert Bartko.
Big Bob is coming towards the end of his career and maybe isn’t quite ‘The Terminator’ any longer – but he’s certainly still a bear of a man.
And on the subject of beasts of the forest, the organisers have Franco portrayed as the ‘Zürich Stag’ – this is his territory and he gets all the ‘fringe benefits’ associated therewith.
Being easily amused, I do like the stag call, ‘aah-ooooh!’ which blasts out of the PA as he goes for a lap.
Despite it sounding more like a moose than a stag, I have visions of a real stag bounding into the track centre to see who it is that’s spoiling for a fight.
Back to the field – Olympic Omnium Champion, Lasse Norman Hansen rides, with Marc Hester.
Hansen is brutally strong, riding 51 x 13 in the flying lap.
Big Roger Kluge is an impressive sight when in full flight – despite the fact that he’s never fully realised his road potential and has been let go by Argos.
At the start of season 2011 he rode very strongly in the early season desert races but never carried that momentum forward.
Hondo – smooth, stylish, cool and at 38 still a sought after rider due to his experience, instinct and professionalism.
Adam was a wee bit tired tonight, but he’s by no means making a fool of himself and has settled in nicely.
He’s self efacing and smiles readily; good qualities in a man.
And he’s trying to drop a kilo or two; so when the other riders head for the restaurant at gone midnight, he comes back to the hotel with us – with hardly a biscuit eaten.
The organisation partnered him with rapid Dutchman, Wim Stroetinga – who’s turned out to be not a bad partner for our boy.
He’s round at the cabin regularly and has made Adam feel part of the show.
Kenny De Ketele also pops by to talk tactics – it’s not always like that, our two American riders didn’t get welcomed with open arms, last winter.
But Wim and Kenny probably both recognise that Adam has the potential to be a big road rider in years to come; so bridge building now, will do no harm.
And a final bit of trivia for day two – David Muntaner, who rides with Sebastien Mora has a bar/bike shop in Alaró, Mallorca.
He bought a section of the boards when the track in Palma was resurfaced and is panelling his bar with it.
Part of his mission is to get all the world champions from the 2007 Worlds to sign the boards for him – Franco was happy to oblige.
The last chase was no ‘potato chase’ – a savage race, with De Ketele in particular on top of his game.
Franco and Tristan are quick in the time trials, but when the hammer is down in the chases, that’s when all those kermises and short stage races which De Ketele has ridden with Topsport make the difference.
‘Mr. Music,’ Pete Traynor was on top form too for the chase – double helpings of Gloria Gaynor are never a bad thing.
It would have been a good race to sit and watch, up in the stands, with a beer.
It’s hard enough in a madison without dangerous riding – and the Spaniards, Moya in particular are getting themselves a bad rep.
They’re very strong, but erratic and tactically naive, often chasing when it’s not their responsibility.
Alois and Moya had words after a chase – my money wouldn’t be on the Spaniard if things became physical.
The crowd was much better, this evening – but they’d be best to sell the tickets by sector, filling the areas at the front first, rather than having folks scatterered all ove the hall.
At Grenoble and Bremen they fill trackside first and curtain off tribunes that are empty – it works better for the atmosphere and for TV.
Adam’s riding 3T ‘Sphinx’/Cam Meyer bars on his BMC; they were all the rage for a season or two but the usual UCI regulations appeared to limit their use.
But the commissaires here realise that there’s much more to their job than measuring handlebars.
Adam had Dirk and Eddie, the mechanics fit sandpaper-like ‘grip strip’ to the top of his bars to stop his hands from slipping; ‘from skateboards’ said Eddie as we have a Tony Hawk impersonation.
And back to the UCI for a moment – If I was on the Technical Committee, my concern would be with outlawing dodgy bands at Six Days.
As one of the Swiss riders astutely observed; ‘it is impossible to get a worse band than these!‘
There’s something not right with the timing here – the track is meant to be 200 metres, originally I thought that it was short. However, Peter assures me that it’s not that far out.
What I think now – backed by a few riders – is that the times are preloaded into the system.
For Tristan to be doing 9.9 for 200 metres even of a catapult sling from Marvulli is stretching things.
And 54 seconds for a kilometre!?
As the clock runs it skips and corrects itself, as Lance might say; ‘pas normale!’
All that said, Tristan and Franco are burning up the boards – you can see they’re quickest.
But like at Gent, it would be good to know what their times really are.
Our sternest critic, Viktor has been watching the racing on the ‘net. He’s not impressed with the short clips of TV theme music which they play as the teams go for the flying lap – Bonanza, Hawaii 5-0 and the like.
But if you’re there, it works fine.
Adam got a win in the Derny; flowers in the cabin – always nice.
And Gregor Braun came to call, former Olympic and world pursuit champion, he was also a strong road rider with good palmares – even if he did let his career drag on too long with minor teams.
‘Hello‘ to Gregor, but ‘ciao‘ to Alexander Aeschbach.
His last Six will be in Copenhagen, but this was his last ride in his home race.
A solid rider, reliable, professional but in the shadow of Risi and Marvulli. Always polite and with a word for me; I’ll miss you Alex.
The last chase wasn’t a bad race – and the result was fair.
Kenny won in Grenoble and was second in Ghent – for him to have lost wouldn’t have rung true for me.
The Germans in second place were solid, big and strong – no complaints.
Franco/Tristan in third – I just wish my ex-boss would train a bit more; his charisma and pure speed are undiminished but when the hammer is really down in the chases, experience can’t disguise that you haven’t done the hard kilometres.
Rotterdam next, maybe.
And my BlackBerry has just auto updated – it’s back to 05:11. Maybe I’ll go back to bed?