Wednesday morning, 09:55 the ‘Milano by-pass’ average speed around 10 mph. You only think you’ve seen traffic jams ’til you come to Northern Italy. And it’s not helped by the fact that everyone thinks that it’s their private fiefdom; the standard of driving is dire.
We arrived late on the Monday rest day and after much messing around at the airport deciphered that our hire car was through an agency, so we had to tour the car hire offices ’til we got the right one.Full Story»
VeloVeritas and chums were over at the Belgian season opening Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne Brussels Kuurne semi-classics. Unfortunately the latter was cancelled but we still snapped away – here’s a selection of our favourite images from the weekend.
Our pal Vik always gives us stick for attending Het Nieuwsblad; ‘the race has sold out, it’s all glossy marketing!’ and to an extent he’s right. But when you’re out there in the Flemish Ardennes and the wind is trying to take the skin of your face and there’s ice on the puddles beside the ‘kassein,’ there’s no doubting that this is the real deal.
‘Are you ready, boys?’ asks ex-pro and new race organiser, Michael Sandstød. Then he adds with a grin; ‘Enjoy your last hour in Copenhagen!’ I’m holding Michael Mørkøv on the start line for the final chase of the 2013 Copenhagen. It’s just like old times.
Michael doesn’t work with us anymore and the memories flood back to his first win here – and to that magical night when he and Alex won in Gent. Great days.
There’s new management in Copenhagen, long term organiser Henrik Elmgreen and his wife Helle have stepped down and the reins are now held by ex-pros, Michael Sandstød and Jimmi Madsen.
The changes aren’t huge but they are there – the boxing, the brisk seven man devils, food in the stadium instead of the restaurant up the road and a change of hotel.
The last mentioned is a real pain; we used to billet in the basic but very clean and cosy ‘Zleep’ hotel which is just 500 metres away.
However, certain riders and their personnel made such idiots of themselves last year that much bad feeling was created.
It’s a lunchtime start on Sunday, Junior Senior’s ‘Everybody’ is a cool tune to organise the clothing to – but the bad news is that someone has pinched some of Sebastian Lander’s new BMC kit. I did think there were some dodgy looking youths among the ViPs last night.
Most of the guys are ‘flat’ today – with some it’s just battle fatigue, but some will no doubt be recovering from the post-race party which went on ‘til 05:00. But Barth’s not ‘flat,’ he arrives with blaring ‘boogie box’ creating white noise as it battles with the stadium PA; he’s not big on training, likes night clubs, has an all over tan and two ear rings – and has an old Sercu fan like me shaking my head.
Boxing at a bike race. No, it’s not a misprint, it worked pretty well, short and sharp with the pugilists really going at it.
I’m no boxing aficionado, but I do admire their commitment, the pros divide their day in two, rising early to do their road work – which includes running backwards for long spells – then eating and sleeping in the middle of the day before another training session in the gym in the afternoon/evening before an early bed.
There’s a boxing ring in the track centre, apparently there are matches taking place on Saturday evening – and they present the riders up there.
I snapped Big Bob and Marc Hester getting intro-ed; my Danish Crowns would have to be on Bob if he and Marc did go toe to toe.
The cannon blasts, I push Guy off, wriggle my fat backside so as Bremen winner, Marcel Kalz doesn’t run me over and jog off the track.
Those ‘Cara Mia’ bongos blast from the PA and make me smile; the lap board says ‘250’ and already the Schwalbes and Contis are roaring as the riders who started off the back straight fence hurtle into the home straight – welcome to the Copenhagen 6 Dages Lob 2013.
Everything is irrelevant on the final night at the Berlin Six Day, except the last chase – and it wasn’t a bad one.
Going in it was Kalz/Bengsch topping the board – great time trial riders and strong in the chases – but a Six is almost always decided in the avalanche of points sprints in the final laps.
Neither rider – for all their power – is a great sprinter.
I had been thinking that maybe Roger Kluge wasn’t quite as smooth and fast as he used to be, but in that last chase he was good, very good.
There’s no wi-fi in the stadium at Berlin, you have to go up to the press room; it’s quiet up there, there’s hard wired internet which has your pictures flying in a nanosecond and a fridge full of soft drinks and beer – a runner/journalists Nirvana you might say.
Forgive me if I digress, but my mind goes back to the first time I covered the Tour of Flanders – used to cabinets full of lukewarm mineral water at the Grand Tours, imagine my delight when I opened the chiller cabinet in the press room to find it packed with cold tins of beer – that’s one of the reasons it’s the Heartland.
Saturday and the first Madison was a ‘potato chase’ – best expressed as a ‘non-death’ race as the minnows were allowed to pull a lap back here and there. As well as the men who ride behind the big bikes, the crowd’s darlings are the sprinters.
The noise when the crowd roars its’ approval of some fancy bit of speed is deafening – Max Levy was the man turning up the volume with a track record.
Sometimes in January there’s a depressing grey half light, the clouds sit low and the dampness eats into you. But today was beautiful, even though the cold nips at the inside of your nose. And it was good to get off the plane.
I was in the middle of a ‘stag party’ bound for the bars and clubs of Berlin; they were all merry when they boarded and well on the way to be being wasted by the time they we disembarked. They were loud and sweary; but there was no reprimand from the cabin crew – probably due to their healthy consumption of over-priced baby tins of Stella for the Easyjet coffers.
It’s 05:30 CET Monday in the North Sea, somewhere. Our epic 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.
Germany, somewhere near the Taunus mountains at 09:22 Sunday. We left Zürich at 03:00 and there are still 400 kilometres to go to the ferry at Amsterdam. It began to snow like Hell about an hour into Germany; there were roadworks, we were diverted off the motorway and there were either no diversion signs or they were snow bound. Whichever it was, we ended up hideously lost and dropped a chunk of time.
But once the sun comes up, it all doesn’t seem quite as grim: despite the spray and demented German drivers. We passed the emergency services at one incident where a hot hatch was lodged in the branches of a tree – crazy. And on the subject of dangerous surfaces, Kenny De Ketele and Peter Schep confirmed that they were the strongest pair on the rattling boards of Zürich to relegate Roger Kluge and Danilo Hondo to third.
Snapshots from the Gent Six Day 2012, as we roam around the city and spend time with the winners in the bar.
On Sunday it was a steam train – the sound took me back to when I was a boy, and it was nicer than Dave’s snoring. A centre for the Art Nouveaux movement, rich industrialists commissioned the ‘hot’ architects of the day to make sure the world knew that they had taste – and money.
If you look up as you walk around the city, your eyes will be rewarded.