Friday, Schonefeld Airport was cold with snow on the ground – but it was good to arrive in Germany in the sunshine. We're here to work at the erlin Six Day 2013. Sometimes in January there’s a depressing grey half light here, 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.
It's 05:30 CET Monday in the North Sea, somewhere. Our epic through the night time snow of Central Europe after the Zürich Six Day 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 the Zürich Six Day 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 snowbound. Whichever it was, we ended up hideously lost and dropped a chunk of time.
Snapshots from the Gent Six Day 2012, as we roam around the city and spend time with the winners in the bar.
Dave and I saw our first Six Day in 1973, the Skol sponsored London Six Day - Sercu, Pijnen, Duyndam, Van Lancker . . . This is Callum's first trip to the Kuipke but Stuart's umpteenth. The Adoma has been our base for years - it's a great jump off for Het Nieuwsblad, Gent-Wevelgem and the Koksijde 'cross.
Watching a dream die is never nice, but if it's done quickly and clinically, then it's humane, at least. Iljo Keisse and Kenny De Ketele were ruthless executioners in the last chase in the small hours of Sunday morning. Bryan Coquard and Morgan Kneisky rode with panache and bravery, in what I believe was a 100% 'straight' finale. Inside the last 50 laps of 180 the Belgians attacked - we were waiting for it.
Vik phoned me this morning; ‘the racing can’t be very good if you’re spending so much taking pictures of boys on the trapeze!’ If I could get him down here it would be different, it’s not just a bike race; if he was here, eating the nice food, drinking champers with friends, with the race whizzing around him and the amazing shows, it’d be different. He particularly hates the magic acts and the girl who does the balloon figures; I asked him if he wanted me to bring back a balloon puppy dog or a monkey – that got him off the line.
The trouble here is that when folks see you with a camera and hear you write for a website, you've had it. I spent a chunk of the afternoon taking pictures of Gunther, one of Iljo Keisse's soigneurs. He's back on the bike as a 'master' and has the track bike down here with him, he trains on the boards in the afternoon and actually looks good on the bike. And five minutes ago I was collared by Laurent Biondi to take pictures of his laddie who's in the 'Cadets' race.
I haven’t taken any pictures of the Paris Folies girls yet - I got into an awful bother last year with those topless shots – and decided to wait and see what the outfits were like before I reached for the Nikon. The first routine was a ‘no, no’ – there was silicone jutting everywhere! They’re fully clothed for their second number – you could see the disappointment in the riders’ faces as they looked at the big screen. Yes, we’re at the Grenoble ‘Six’ – only it’s no longer a ‘six;’ in line with Zurich, they’ve cut back to four days.
The ‘best world championships ever’ the organisers are saying – but I guess they would say that? It was certainly a good race; and if last year’s race in Copenhagen was a model of GB team work for Cav, then this year was all about Belgium and ‘Phil.’ Having walked the parcours and seen all of the road races up to and including the U23 end in a bunch sprint, I thought that it would be a bunch sprint. The parcours weren’t as tough as we all thought – the surfaces were good and two bergs apart, it was very fast. But when I saw Marianne Vos win on Saturday afternoon, I got to thinking; ‘Gilbert could do the same thing, maybe?’ And so it proved.
It's a nice afternoon in Limburg for bike racing, the sun is out, there's not a lot of wind and The Netherlands' Olympic road race champion Marianne Vos has just bridged up to the break; so the crowd is happy. Yes, yes, I'm watching another women's race. No report though, I'm just out of the press room. I had the report to write up and pictures to process for the U23 race from this morning. It started at 09:00 am so I had to leave the camper at 07:30 to work the start area.
There are time trials – and then there are time trials. Dual carriageways with high traffic counts on balmy Essex afternoons are one thing; Limburg in the autumn rain with a parcours which includes the Cauberg is another. The VV camper is parked on the road race parcours on the opposite side of the circuit from the finish/press centre tented village. The elite TT parcours merges into the road race circuit just 200 yard from the campsite, making it easy for us to pick up the route and walk perhaps the last seven kilometres.
Did I say that having the camper van here meant that I didn’t have to walk to the press room? Cancel that - I’d forgotten that the protocol is once you hook the van up to the electrics, you’re here for the duration. Kris has his electric bike – I have my shoes. A three kilometre walk through the back roads of Limburg to the press room and back is good for the soul – I suppose.
I resisted the bars of Valkenburg and was in bed not long after 10:00 on Saturday night. The body clock woke me for 06:15 and I was on the Cauberg before 07:00. I decided to do my Cauberg piece early on Sunday because the junior time trial starts early on Monday and the police won't let you walk on the parcours, so best to get a bit of peace and quiet whilst I could.
The beer's not cheap on Grotestraat in Valkenburg, at two Euros a pop, but with Dario G's 'Sunchyme' banging out, you can't complain. It takes me to Copenhagen and the 'balustrade sprints' at the Six Days. But that's not 'til next year - and we still have this year to put to bed. Most importantly, who's going to be wearing the rainbow jersey, a week tomorrow? There’s a full Worlds programme to get through first, however.
Monday July 23rd, 21.55 in a Ryanair Boeing, somewhere over Northern England. They sell papers on the plane, these days - at inflated prices of course. The whole outside 'wrap' of The Times is a Bradley Wiggins picture, yellow clad and taking the turn at the top of the Champs Elysees, l'Arc de Triomphe providing the background. And the 'The Thunderer' isn't too proud to pinch L'Équipe's headline from two days ago; 'Promenade des Anglais.'
It’s Sunday morning and I’ve just about come out of the mild shock I was suffering from last evening, after watching Bradley Wiggins’ stunning time trial into Chartres.When he crossed the line, it finally sank in that an English rider was going to win le Tour. Up until that moment, it had all seemed like a dream, but as Bradley punched the air, I looked around the wee bar we were in and realised; ‘he’s done it, he’s actually done it!’
It’s a new hotel chain today, Premiere Classe – we had a bit of a battle to get in. To keep the costs down, they only man these places in the morning and early evening – during the day you have to punch codes in to gain access. We started with credit card information, then the reservation number – no dice. Eventually we stuck Martin’s name in – et voila!
I wasn't sure about the 'blip' at La Toussuire when Froome distanced Wiggins in the finale - I thought it was 'mountain out of molehill' stuff. Although we did hear that Wiggins was 'raging', that night in his room. But today, there seemed little doubt that a message was being sent; 'I can drop you any time I want.' The body language and facial expressions around the team aren't relaxed, happy or positive. But there's little doubt now that Brad will win - barring Acts of God.
As a colleague from another life used to say; ‘you should never drink on an empty head.’ A sentiment I can endorse as we sit in our hotel in Vielha, Spain. Having left Pau, there were no digs to be had in France near the stage finish – the Tour is a black hole which sucks up every hotel room within an hour’s drive and we had to cross the border after the finish at Bagnères-de-Luchon to get to our digs. QuickStep, Saxo, Movistar and Euskaltel all did the same thing and are here in Vielha, too.
I hate to start with our Formule 1, again - but to emphasis the true glamour of being on le Tour, we're sharing lodgings with the race's cherry picker truck. I had to get up early to do a phone interview with Cameron Wurf, this morning. He's from Tassie; like the Sulzbergers and Richie Porte - did I ever tell you I had a Tasmanian Devil for a fiancée? No, some other time, then? Le Tour de France 2012 - Second Rest Day.
There’s a touch of the Twilight Zone to Formule 1 hotels – you check out of one, drive for hours, check into the next one and the room is identical – to the last detail. Scary! We’ve taken to putting a pencil mark under the one plastic stacking chair in the room and checking to make sure it’s not there when we get to the next town. Samatan.
I was speaking to Vik, the other day.I shan’t use the word which he did to describe Brad’s opponents, but it wasn’t complimentary. Limoux - After yesterday’s display, it’s hard to disagree; whilst there was drama at the end with Kišerlovski crash – more of which later – when we drove the course it seemed to us a perfect opportunity for Nibali and his descending skills.
Le Cap d’Agde and we're puzzled. We've steadfastly avoided getting involved in speculation over the ‘d-word’ – if you regard yourself as a serious journo, you have to be able to distinguish between factual information from a good source and wild speculation on twitter from individuals who may well have never seen the race, let alone spoken to anyone on it. Maybe it's because we've been on le Tour during the Ulrich, Basso, Mancebo, Bottero, Landis, Morreni, Rasmussen, Contador - and if we forgotten any, sorry - 'affairs.'
What a day; when we heard Millar was in the break, we knew he was definitely capable of beating three of his companions - Gautier was the only one we didn't know about. But when we saw him, we knew he'd win - it was there in his eyes, if you knew what you were looking at.
We're late! Despite us writing our schedule out for the morning, we're heading to the Albertville depart later than we should. I just smile when people tell me about the high old time we'll have in France. By the time we get from the parcours to the hotel, edit the pictures, insert picture holders in the text and get all that sent off, it's well after 9:00 pm when we grab a pizza and one beer.
Bonjour! Today was our first outing on the Tour parcours, in the mountains it’s sometimes difficult to get on to race route, because just as in the Highlands of Scotland, there aren’t that many roads. We set the satnav for Ambronay, which was 73 kilometres into the stage but within easy reach of the autoroute and guided by Brian Blessed’s foghorn voice slipped along a network of tiny roads into the village, after we’d paid our last toll charge.
Bonjour! VeloVeritas joins le Tour. The hotel is the Formule 1, Viry, with a wonderful view of a pile of tyres – it’s a glamorous life. But we’re not complaining. Easyjet, Edinburgh to Geneva wasn’t too bad, finding the car hire was a bit of a magical mystery tour but we were soon headed for Mâcon, our credentials and the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank hotel.
'Mission accomplished' with Ryder: Dave rattled us through dire weather up to the Garmin Hotel, just over 100 miles away. The Liquigas guys were on their turbos when we arrived - lean, cut looking men. Before the start, I wasn't sure Basso could win, but his policy of loss limiting has taken him to third on GC @ 1:22 on Rodriguez and 52 seconds behind Hesjedal.
It's the Scottish road race championship, today - damn this Giro and it's climbs in beautiful Lombardy! But Martin was telling me that the sun was out in Balfron and the jackets were off, so Scotland certainly had the last laugh - the weather here in Italy was grim.
We thought it was the end for Cav, yesterday. The gruppetto was way down on the first of the two big climbs of the day - but Cav was even further back. And behind him, in a dreadful state, was Graeme Brown.
Cav, like him or loathe him, what a sprinter. His train is by no means HTC - the GreenEdge boys were much better organised, yesterday - but all that does is to underline his quality. He was isolated and boxed - he was free-wheeling at one stage - the gap opened and he was through it in a blink. His spatial awareness, reactions and acceleration make him a remarkable athlete. The Gazzetta compares him to Cipo - in terms of total wins and at the same age.
'Sad news, Donna Summer has passed away' said the text from Martyn Frank. That news cast a shadow over a day of bright sunshine and hills. The start was down on the coast - it's not quite beach season, so it's not heaving yet. In a month's time you won't be able to move on those beaches. We had a chat with Jack Bauer before the stage - he looks in great condition.
A man who's been working hard in defence of Garmin's pink jerseys - first on the shoulders of Lithuanian Ramunas Navardauskas and then Canada's Ryder Hesjedal - is Danish fast man, Alex Rasmussen. Alex took time to chat to his six day runner before the roll out at Assisi on Wednesday. If he'd had been one of the counting riders in the team time trial, it would have been him pulling on the pink jersey, not his Lithuanian team mate.
Giorgio Moroder's 'The Chase' from Midnight Express pumps out across the Civitavecchia sea front. A huge fibre glass sculpture of a nurse succumbing to the charms of a sailor - 'Unconditional Surrender' it's titled - towers over us. The whole scene is surreal, topped off by Pippo ambling past in shorts and T-shirt. He broke his hand yesterday and is out - but he still looks cool.
It looked to us like Cav and Goss were out of it anyway. There were a lot of riders round that wild bend before we saw Matt on the deck and Pippo looking a tad sheepish as he stood in the road checking to see how that nice MCipollini had stood up to being dropped.
Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) retained the overall race lead. Spain’s Joaquin Rodriguez is second at just nine seconds.' So said the official Giro press release - you'll read that again, on various websites. Press releases are where much of the daily content on web sites come from. The difference with us, is that we tell you we're quoting them.
Het Volk used to be a cult race, the teams would line up in the street just up from the Kuipke velodrome. The first team to set up would be the late Frans Assez's Flanders squad-no flash bus or trucks, just a 'Luton' style van. But his red Flanders bikes always looked the part, neatly arranged on their stands-and as first team there they caught a lot of public attention.
We left the Vivaldi at 02:15 on Thursday morning - we must be getting old. Gent is changing, they've pulled down most of the station and there are cranes everywhere as the old girl's face gets lifted. Our first stop after breakfast was the Holiday Inn - up until a year or two QuickStep and Rabobank used to bunk here for the weekend. But now it's the French teams - FDJ-BigMat, Cofidis and AG2R. We didn't pester too many mechanics.
The camper, 10:23 Wednesday morning, and it's all over. The cabins are bare; Dirk is in his camper headed for Drongen; Jackie and his dad have been safely deposited at the airport and we're heading into Copenhagen for a little bit of R & R before we get the plane home.
It's another big madison tonight; 75 kilometres/300 laps, but with a 'twist'-it's a handicap. Bartko/Lampater, Stam/Stroetinga and Alex/Michael give away six laps to Jackie/Schröder-with the rest of the field somewhere in between. The final laps count for the overall so there's no messing; if a big team doesn't pull the laps back then they're lost. Really, all that goes before the handicap is just to whet the appetite-there are a lot of nervous cyclists in the cabins.
Sprints to start and Hazel Dean thumps out, quality high energy from the 80's 'Searchin'-quality. Followed by 'Livin in America' from the late, great James Brown-we're in luck, tonight. And then 'Cara Mia' to start the 75 lap chase-I never get tired of that tune. The two chases weren't bad at all-for a Sunday, that is.
Danny Clark; in a world where the word 'legend' is used too often, it's wholly appropriate in the case of the Australian. He holds the record for the number of six day starts at 236 and he's second in the all time winner ranks with 74-unsurprisingly he's 'double Recordman' here at Copenhagen with eight wins off 21 starts. He's here driving the Derny (and singing!) but clocks up an hour plus on the track every day-he looks better now than he did 20 years ago.
'Rivers of Babylon' by the Melodians, now there's a tune to fold jerseys by-until the guy in the cabin next door hops on his rollers, that is. And there was me looking for some peace on a Saturday morning-a split day today with afternoon and evening sessions. We don't like double sessions, neither do the riders, but like the song says; 'That's just the way it is.' Last night wasn't a bad one . . .
The gun fires, the bongos rattle, 'Cara Mia' blasts, the rattle of chains and rumble of rubber on wood builds and the chase which kicks off the 50th Six Days of Copenhagen is up and running. But it's not any old chase, since I first walked up the steps from the tunnel when we arrived here on Wednesday afternoon the lap board has been displaying a short but grim message-400. That's 400 laps at 250 metres for each lap; I'll help with the arithmetic-100 kilometres.
The line of taxi lights stretches back into the darkness like a string of pearls, it's beautiful in an a big city kind of a way - it could be a scene from a Woody Allen film; but it's not Manhattan, it's Berlin at 01:40am. We're here for the Berlin Six Day 2012.
It’s gone 1:00AM here and I thought we could have a look at the Berlin Six Day Bikes; the Dernys buzz their 'Ipcress' noise, Brad eases down off the fence, he takes the sling off Jackie, tucks in behind the little monster and Mr. Simes is done for the night.
Berlin Six Day 2012 and Jackie summed it up best when I asked if he'd slept well; 'yeah, but just not long enough!' But Dirk had a take on it too; 'why can't we just go straight from Saturday to Monday?' There's always a down beat Johnny Cash kind of vibe to Sunday afternoons sessions; 'the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad, so I had one more for dessert.'
The 101st Berliner Sechstage Rennen (Berlin Six Day) started on Thursday and according to reports the crowds have been down a little on last night.
'Just Another Tequila Sunrise,' it's ironic that the covers band who kick off as soon as the racing finishes at gone 01:00AM aren't half bad - but it's time for me to disappear down the tunnel to hang up the washing etc. etc.