Roadside at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and KBK 2018. The first classic weekend of the year has been and gone and safely back in a rather snowy Scotland I've got time to reflect on the Classic season opener. The glorious Belgian sunshine all weekend could not lift the thermometer and the riders endured bitterly cold conditions for both Het Nieuwsblad or Kuurne Brussels Kuurne.
Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-Jumbo & The Netherlands) goes from way out, Arnaud Demare (FDJ & France) scrambles for his wheel but is lengths back at the line with Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain & Italy) doing well for a man whose speciality is late season races in balmy Italy, taking third. We agree it was a great sprint from the Dutchman but it wasn't a vintage Kuurne Brussels Kuurne.
"Ooooohhhhhhh!" The moan echoes around the bar; these boys are aficionados, they all know that solid Astana Dane, Michael Valgren Andersen isn't coming back - he timed his jump to perfection, there was that fatal second or two of hesitation among the frozen men behind him and he was gone, en route to win Het Nieuwsblad 2018. Big Pole Lukasz Wisniowski (Sky) takes second with the only Belgian who properly 'honoured the race,' big Sep Vanmarcke (EF) taking third place.
In a classic Six Day finale points shoot-out with the result not confirmed until the finish line, classy Home Boy Michael Mørkøv paired with the current Capo of the Six Day boards, Belgium's Kenny De Ketele to land his seventh Copenhagen Six Day at midnight on Tuesday on the wide boards of the 250 metre Ballerup track.
Daniel Holloway does the countdown in his Californian-Swedish, ten down to six; the crowd takes over from five down to one, the cannon report just about bursts everyone’s ear drums, then there’s the smoke. For a split second nothing happens, everyone is too stunned by the noise and reek of gunpowder. But there’s the bongos – and Paul Delicato’s velvet voice; 'Cara Mia mine, must we say goodbye...' It can only be the Copenhagen Six Day 2018 !
'Beauty and the Beast' is the first entry in our Berlin Six Day 2018 scrapbook - handsome devil Denmark's Marc Hester warms up on his rollers as the German sprinters' mechanic waits for the next gear change job. Marc rode with Jesper Mørkøv ‘til kidney stones forced the younger Mørkøv bruv out. Meanwhile our boy Nico plays shy but Achim gives us a smile. Nico is the son of sprint legend, Lutz Hesslich - Berlin was his second last race - he calls 'time' after Copenhagen.
"All is forgiven," Mr. Kenny De Ketele. After the two and four lap finale debacles of Gent and Rotterdam the Belgian former World Champion finally served us up a proper, entertaining final chase in the Bremen Six Day 2018; five teams were all in with realistic podium chances going into the closing 60 minute chase and the winning move only came late in the day.
At the Rotterdam Six Day Gent winners Moreno De Pauw and Kenny De Ketele carried on where they left off – but instead of winning by two laps, they made it four... dominant for sure but no spectacle. We drove north for a couple of hours then parked up in a truck stop for what passes as sleep on the Six Day carousel... Bremen is the next stop, an industrial city of more than two millions souls in Northern Germany.
Forgive me if all I do these days is moan about Six Day finales. But ... As Chelsea Dagger by the Fratellis booms out of the PA the scoreboard tells me Kenny De Ketele and Moreno De Pauw are FOUR laps clear in the last chase at the Rotterdam Six Day 2018. It's a real cliff hanger ...
Sunday, Stage 15 and VeloVeritas’s last shift on Tour - so we headed for the biggest hill we could find to remind ourselves how special and beautiful France and this race really are. Today we’re in the heartland, perhaps not deepest agricultural ‘France Profonde;’ the rural, simple, beautiful heart of the nation, not with the gorges and cols - but it’s quiet, lovely and some of the simple, striking images surprise as you drive the parcours.
Yes, there are days when we’ve criticised the racing – those endless ‘sprinter stages’ where only the last five minutes saves the day. But we were puzzled by the comments we saw about yesterday’s stage to Rodez on social media; the "Bore de France" and the break "allowed for purely commercial reasons"?
VeloVeritas soothsayer, Viktor and I have long been critics of Warren Barguil (Sunweb & France) as a ‘one hit wonder,’ with his two stage wins in the Vuelta in 2013 then very little else; but in this Tour he’s certainly been reborn. He was so close to Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale & Colombia) last Sunday after being the hero of the day and today, on Bastille Day he scored the biggest and most beautiful win of his career with a historic stage victory.
It wasn’t until inside the last kilometre at Peyragudes that the drama really unfolded; Bardet confirms, as does Aru, Froome cracks a little, Quintana cracks A LOT and much as it pains me; ‘one season too many, Bert!’ And Bennett and Martin impress, especially the latter who’s carrying injuries from that horrible crash with Porte on Sunday.
‘Sprinter stages,’ why are they so dull? Albeit ‘Bison’ Bodnar (Bora hansgrohe & Poland) did a job of enlivening the last wee bittie of yesterday’s procession. Maciej Bodnar ended the day on top. Firstly, the GC teams won’t go in the break, they’re there to look after their team leader; mountain stages are different where they’ll put men up the road so as the team leader can bridge up to them.
VeloVeritas’ first Tour stage start of the year; Stage 10, Périgueux to Bergerac through the lovely Dordogne Valley countryside. But not before all them words were written and pictures edited, placed and posted from the VeloVeritas bedoffice. Périgueux wasn’t the busiest stage start we’ve ever witnessed but we’re not complaining; we were in among the buses and riders in jig time...
The deal is that they have four static bikes on rollers hooked up to a magnetic ‘cycle track’ – Scalextrix style - with little ‘Lego figures’ on tiny bikes on the track. The harder you pedal, the faster your little figure goes. Scottish honour was upheld by VeloVeritas with Martin posting fastest heat against Berteld Van de Velde, "the Moules Guy" at time of leaving, although the Davide Bramati v. Wilfried Peeters heat looked damn quick to us, albeit they’re unlikely to want to spend a weekend at ‘Penzion Stybar’ in the Czech Republic, the reward for being fastest on the day.
Ghent, or rather ‘Gent’ we love it; the bars, the people and the fact you can walk into a filling station and there are six quality cycling magazines on the shelf to chose from, and you have to love a city where they have taps to discharge the rainwater. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the first real races of the year – Down Under, the Desert races, Langkawi? Come on!
The wee small hours of Wednesday morning, heading north out of Berlin, en route Rostock, the ferry across the Baltic and Denmark for the Copenhagen Six Day. I wish I could say that Berlin had an epic finale - but I can't, it was dire. Processional, flat, uninspired with no tension, no theatre, no drama.
You’ve got to get here first, right? Even by Ryanair punishment flight standards, it was a sore one. The lady in front of me, I’m sure was taking her kids to audition for; ‘Devil Spawn of Berlin, The Revenge’ – they’ll get the parts, no problem.
I braved the tourists and human statues up on Edinburgh’s High Street to see if I could get Monday’s L’Equipe in the International Newsagents – it’s the one for all the good Tour stats. But alas, no dice – I had to settle for Sunday’s Observer and Monday’s Guardian where it’s wall to wall Christopher and Sky.
We'd hoped for a big GC dog fight on the Joux Plane but what we got was a dour struggle to the line whilst those crazy baroudeurs battled for the stage win. It was a nice morning to start with but as we parked up on the Joux Plane the clouds scudded in, thunder roared down the valley and the lightning flashed brighter than a million photog's flash guns.
We chose the wrong mountain - but little did we know there'd be a big rain storm on the last climb to give the race the jolt it's been requiring for three weeks. A great day for Bardet and AG2R. A good day for Quintana, Mentjies and Martin. A bad day for Mollema, Yates, Dumoulin, Rolland and Navarro - the latter three all crash victims. And Froome and Porte have had better days. . .
If anyone harboured any doubts about the fact that Froome was going to win this Tour it took him just 30 minutes to straighten things out. He destroyed everyone in including the man who's probably the world's number one 'chronoman' - Tom Dumoulin. Whilst the mountains may be beautiful, a time trial up one is a daunting prospect.
How are the mighty fallen? We had to double check the number – but ‘yes’ it was Tejay, way off the back and just ‘riding in’ on the Col de la Forclaz – well, we got that one right, we said he do nothing in this race. But we did also say that Nairo Quintana would win it – but that was more out of hope than anything else but it would be tall, skinny Russian Ilnur Zakarin who would take the day, eventually.
'Rest day' - it's a misnomer if you're a fanatic; but you could do one interview then hang out, I guess? But if you're like us, confirmed saddos, then it's a great opportunity to get a lot of talking and snapping done. Albeit on rest days you can linger a bit longer over breakfast - which is nice in a week of always having to be somewhere/do something right now or in five minutes. We asked our Trek contact if we could get an interview with Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne winner, Jasper Stuyven.
Peter Sagan, again! There’s little left to say about the man but as soon as we walked the last couple of kilometres we knew it was one for him – a sharp cobbled climb up from the river, across a cobbled bridge, past the bear pit then another nippy climb before the 1,000 metre, straight as a dye, pan flat finish straight. We thought just maybe Cav could hang on but in the event they were going mad on to the climb up from the river and it was too much for the ‘pure’ fast men but ideal for those who come to the fore when it’s tough – Kristoff was well there and good to see Degenkolb riding back into form.
While Jarlinson Pantana was winning the stage today for IAM Cycling and Columbia (that's his contract sorted for 2017 - IAM folds at the end of the season) Ed and Callum were race-bound, flying in to Geneva to get the car and get organised with race accreditation.
Kruijswijk's crash, would you have waited? Wee Esteban says: "I’m very sorry for the crash of Steven (Kruijswijk), unfortunately it’s a part of bike racing and he was unlucky today." Either way, it was a horrible crash - the Dutchman seemed paralysed with fear, it didn't look like he even tried to steer round that bend. Ed rounds up the last three stages roadside.
It looked like Pippo was going to send Italia into raptures on Wednesday's Stage 17 - but big, bad Six Day man and omnium specialist, Roger Kluge (IAM & Germany) spoiled the dream, jumping early from an uncontrolled peloton to take a beautiful stage win. IAM are folding at the end of this year but Rodge will have no bother finding a contract. With so many of the big sprinters gone - Kittel, Greipel, Demare, Ewan, Mezgec and Viviani - there was no one capable or willing to control the last kilometre except Lampre for Modolo and/or Trek for Nizzolo.
It wasn't a good day for Chaves on Tuesday's Stage 16, he lost time to Kruijswijk and Valverde. With three minutes in hand over the Colombian, the Dutchman is going to take a bit of shifting; and there's a danger that Valverde might leapfrog Chaves, too - he's now just 23 seconds in arrears. Nibali lost time, too. He just doesn't seem like his old self in this race. We were at the GreenEDGE hotel on the rest day - whilst the likes of Tuft and Plaza went out for a couple of hours on the road, Chaves sat on the turbo, smed and chatted to journos. It's not for us to say but we think that perhaps Chaves' rest day programme wasn't the best?
The Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne adventure began when I met Craig Grieve, Spokes bike shop owner and U23 race team backer, early Friday morning, to get a picture of the newly-logoed team car. For Craig, the journey to Kuurne is a long haul; catching a ferry from Hull, arriving Saturday in time for the riders to recce part of the course. We caught up with them on Saturday night in Kortrijk for a pizza and to hear how their preparation has gone and to plan for the race.
Saturday dawns crisp, cold and sunny for the Omloop Gent Gent. We have a copy of Het Nieusblaad which has all the information we need about the route so its time to head for the start. It's moved this year to the S.M.A.K complex, site of the Gent Six Day. As the car park fills with the now de rigueur coaches, ushered in by whistle blowing attendants we grab a quick pic of world champ Peter Sagan's Specialized before being asked to move on by an unfriendly team staffer...
Hardware at the Six Days: it’s not nearly as exciting as it used to be when you mooch around the pits, with Dolans and Cervélo’s in abundance and Fuji creeping up; but it’s always nice to look at and talk about racing bikes – one of life’s simple pleasures. When Michael Mørkøv hooked up with Dolan, it was the start of the Merseyside builder becoming one of the main names on the winter boards.
This year saw edition 105 of the Six Days of Berlin, VeloVeritas had the good fortune to be there helping soigneur Kris look after Messrs. Germain Burton (GB), Daniel Holloway (USA), Mathias Krigbaum (Denmark) and Mark Stewart (Scotland). Here’s a selection of images from under the largest unsupported steel roof in Europe on the site of what used to be the Berlin STASI Headquarters.
Ed and pals spent a few days at the Gent Six Day, catching up with the racing and old friends, and taking in the world cup cycle-cross race at Hasselt as well - but before we consider the racing at the track we have to think about the entertainment; whilst Belgium is a modern country and advance technologically we still marvel at the track-side entertainment; it’s like stepping back to a miners’ welfare in the 70’s – but the crowd loves it - and so do we...
When we spoke to Cav's personal soigneur, Aldis half way through the stage we knew it wasn't to be; 'And Mark, today ?' Aldis screwed up his face; 'he's a little sick...' So 4:1 to Greipel - and the rumours about Cav having to learn to understand Brian Smith's accent at MTN get ever stronger. We changed our system and didn't drive race route for the last stage; instead we drove straight to the digs, got organised, had a shower and headed off across a wet Paris to the finish circuit.
We didn't want any slip ups on 'le jour d'Alpe' so we were offski early to make sure we were on the parcours in plenty of time. Trouble is that we were on the road before the routing crews and had a wee bit of mucking around before we picked up the parcours. One mitigating factor was that we stumbled on Oleg out for a run, complete with bodyguard/training partner and team car.
It's fabulous being on Le Tour but it does involve hugely long days and there's always too much to do. With that in mind, to claw back a little time to get the pictures up to date, do the washing and get some proper sleep we decided to work a stage start then head for the digs.
Ca va, ca va! Friday, en route the Stage 19 start and it's been hectic. We arrived on Sunday afternoon but by the time we got to Valance, the Press Centre was closed - so it was 'Plan B,' go to the finish at Gap the next day and uplift them. Vital bits of plastic duly collected on Monday morning we headed off up the Col de Manse which is just behind Gap for Stage 16.
Well, as our amigo Dave is won't to say at this stage; "our creds are no good to us now." Just a curiosity on the windscreen; the Giro is won and lost, Contador confirmed as one of the all time great stage racers - he's won all three Grand Tours - one of only six men in history to do so, along with Nibali, Gimondi, Anquetil, Hinault and Merckx, and now stands fourth in the all time Grand Tour winners list. The route from Torino to Milano today was as bland as you could get but Radio Nostalgia was cool and our coffee stop was a cracker. The Milano circuit was similarly bland and it's one aspect where the Giro doesn't quite get it right but Iljo Keisse and Luke Durbridge delivered an exciting finale as you get.
It was a privilege to be there and great to be part of it all on Stage 20; a marvelous spectacle on the 'sterrato' without doubt - but is it sport or simply a circus? The cameras love it and it's great copy - maybe I'm being too harsh? Paris-Roubaix throws back to the old days so why not have stages like this, many would say?
It was nice to wake up in the shadow of the Matterhorn this morning; imposing, snow capped and stunning against a picture post card blue sky. Yesterday? There's a clue in what Contador, Aru and Landa call themselves; "professional" cyclists. It's a job, a commercial enterprise, a way to make money for riders, sponsors and organisers. The way we read yesterday is that Alberto is due a big favour from Astana whilst Landa is due one from management and Aru.
Monte Ologno, high above Lago Maggiore, Thursday 15:00 hours; we had to get up here early to beat the road closures; we got a slapped wrist from Vancouver for 'missing the cut' on the Mortirolo so no slip ups, today. The stage describes a big curve from Melide near Lugano to Verbania on Lago Maggiore; but there's a late surprise - which we're sitting at the top of. It's a nasty one; 10.4 K @ 9.0% average with a max of 13% makes it Category 1 and very tough. Where we are - 450 metres to go - it's scenic with wonderful vistas across the lago but lower down it's not unlike the Mortirolo in that much of it is a tunnel through the trees.
If you're working the race it's really hard to see a stage finish - the best spots get grabbed hours before. The answer is to find a good bar with a big tele, order a beer and enjoy the racing. That's what we did today, we were at the start then on the big climb and that was about all we could cram in. The traffic around Milan/Como/Lugano is absolutely horrible and to get from points A to B takes forever. There was no way we could make the finish, so a bar it was - on lovely Lake Como side, Bellana with cool beer and a nice TV...
You forget how gruesome the climbs are here in Italy; I'd never been over the Mortirolo before but it was an eye opener - 11.9 kilometres (that's more than seven miles) with an AVERAGE gradient of just under 12% and a maximum of 18%. Lance reckoned it was the toughest climb he ever raced and 'Bert' was on 34 x 30; 'nuff said !' On most of the big climbs there are sections where it eases a little; not on this swine, it's unrelenting and unforgiving - ask Fabio Aru ...
The Monday after Kuurne can be a bit of a downer, most of the bike shops are shut and you know that reality is just one sleep away but not this one; first up we had an interview with Rudy Pevenage – strangely, there were no scales, horns or tail on view and rather than being the devil incarnate we met a man who – like so many others – ‘did what he had to do’ in era where the UCI as much as invited you to kit up.
I remember once, after the last chase in a Six Day I asked Dirk, our Belgian mechanic; ‘was that finale ‘straight’ Dirk?' He fixed me with a patient stare, much as a good parent would do after their child has said something silly, ‘have you ever seen a ‘straight’ Six Day, Ed?’ I took his point, they’re all pretty much choreographed – but like I keep saying, you have to be able to take laps out of a string riding at 52-53 kph to win. But I reckon that on Sunday evening I did see a straight finale.
We're at the Gent Six Day, and of course, the pils still gets the better of a few of the ‘don’t get out much brigade.’ Friday night didn’t see the best madison chase ever, and on a unanimous decision we headed for frites – and beer. We love the Vivaldi, the landlady, the crazy clientele, the 70’s Disco and the fact that no matter how late we stay, we’ve never seen closing time... And the Saturday of the Gent Six Day means just one thing – the big ‘cross at Koksijde.
Kris maybe summed it up best; 'it felt like a Monday night at any another Six Day.' There was none of the tension or expectation which usually precedes the final chase in a Six. Granted, we weren't looking after riders who were in the mix for the win but it was indeed, 'just another chase.' Maybe it was because it was clear from the start that Terpstra was the strongest man on the track and there was only going to be one winner.
It’s my first time at the Amsterdam Six Day – Kris (the soigneur I'm working with) said I needed to attend so I can say I’ve been at every one of the current winter races - and initial impressions aren’t bad; it’s a nice wee track in a good location, the old village of Sloten, a suburb of Amsterdam.