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...
The first weekend of the classic season is fast approaching, with the ‘semi-classics’, the 71st Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Elite 1.HC) on Saturday 27th Feb and 68th Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne (1.HC) the next day; the heat and sun of the Middle East and Australasia being replaced with the cold and biting wind of the Flemish Heartland.
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.
With all this Six Day chat we thought it might be nice to re-run this interview we did with Danny Clark some six years ago - jingz! where does time go? We hope you enjoy it...
Ace photographer John Pierce, not content with sending us those cracking shots of 70’s/early 80’s Six Day men, has sent us another batch of track images which bring us right up to the present day. Again, we thought you’d like to see them...
He's been making the headlines again, that Mark Stewart laddie. We last spoke to him after his wins in the British scratch and team pursuit championships - not forgetting his silver in the points race. This time it was success in the second round of the UCI World Cup in New Zealand where he won the scratch race.
It’s not every day that you receive pictures from one of the world’s best cycling photographers – they’re way too good to keep to ourselves so with Mr. John Pierce’s permission allow us to share his memories of some of his favourite Six Day riders of the 70’s and 80’s. John attended the last London Six in 1980 and these first images are from that race.
Coming to Gent to watch the Six Day, as I have for 20 years, is like meeting up with an old friend, a friend you see just once a year but when you meet you are familiar and easy in each others company. Most familiar is the velodrome, Het Kuipke that hosts the Six Days which has, barring a few upgrades in the bar areas, changed very little during the time I’ve been coming.
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...
Second place finishers and race revelations Chris Latham and Ollie Woods are both products of the British Cycling ‘system’. There were a number of factors which contributed to their result – they’re familiar with the venue and the track is big, fast and non technical unlike Gent and Bremen which take a bit of getting used to.
On a cool but dry and benign morning around the beautiful lochs and hills above Aberfoyle and Callander it was Paisley Velo Race Team's Scottish ‘Olympic’ Time Trial Champion Chris Smart who defended his title as 'King of the Trossachs' despite being 21 seconds down to former Tour de Trossachs Tartar, Arthur Doyle (www.Dooleys-Cycles.co.uk) at the top of the Dukes Pass.
Courtesy of the Legend of North East Cycling that is Ms. Isobel Smith, here’s the lowdown on the 2015 Scottish 100 Mile Championship. "With six miles to go it was all done bar the shouting; Stephen Williamson was looking strong and had increased his lead to 3.39 over the Deeside rider with last year's winner now having to settle for bronze."
Ben Hetherington of Achieve attacked into the final drag maintaining a slender lead all the way to the line to take a strong victory with Jack Rees also of Achieve winning the bunch sprint.
On a windswept day for the strong of leg and heart on the Ayrshire coast it was last year's silver medallist, 'fresh' from that toughest of races, the RAS, Peter Murdoch (Neon-Velo Cycling Team) who's 52:13 was 22 seconds too quick for deposed reigning champion, Iain Grant (Fullarton Wheelers) and 49 seconds faster than bronze medallist and another former '25' champion, Arthur Doyle (Dooleys).
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 ...
On a dour, grey morning by the banks of a brooding River Clyde Iain Grant (Fullarton Wheelers) reminded us why he's Scotland's short distance king with a stunning 19:38 in the Scottish National 10 Mile Mile Time Trial Championship on a sodden, cold Westferry course. Second in 20:13 was 'new kid on the block' Harry Bulstrode (VC Edinburgh) with Sandy Wallace Cycles ever consistent Alan Thomson third in 20:32; just one tick of the second hand ahead of Billy Bilsland's Ben Peacock in 20:33.
Chris Smart (Paisley Velo) explained to us that he’d no choice but to successfully defend his Scottish Olympic Time Trial Championship over the Meldons course in the Scottish Borders, recently. If he hadn’t, he’d only have been the champion for half a year; with the Trossachs being the championship race in October 2014 and the Meldons coming in April of this year.
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.
Two decades, twenty years, it's a long time - especially to ride a bike at world level. But it was 1994 when Australia's Luke Roberts won his first world title in the junior team pursuit. The following year he twinned another victory in the team event with the world junior individual championship for good measure. Two Commonwealth, three world and an Olympic team pursuit title followed. He's ridden Pro Tour with CSC, Milram, Saxo, the Grand Tours, Classics and just about everything there is to ride - including the Six Days.
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.
The Six Days of Amsterdam kicks off next week, the first race of the 2014/15 winter season. The programme until Christmas makes sad reading with few ‘names’ in Amsterdam; tales of crooked promoters souring things there and in Rotterdam; possibly the last race in Grenoble - and it's down to just three day; Zürich only four days and only Gent going from strength to strength.
Paisley Velo's Chris Smart joined the likes of Ian Steel, Billy Bilsland, Graeme Obree and Jason MacIntyre on the Tour de Trossachs roll of honour with a fine 1:08:10 winning ride on a cool, grey morning which favoured the strong men. Last year's winner, Silas Goldsworthy (Sandy Wallace Cycles) was second with 1:09:29 and fast pedalling David Griffiths (Glasgow Wheelers) third in 1:09:47. VeloVeritas drove the whole course and snapped about every rider...
Spanish sports paper, Mundo Deportivo says; 'El Tigre, en la Lieja-Ponferrada-Lieja' comparing the race to an Ardennes Classic. 'A complete cyclist with a brilliant future,' they say of the 24 year-old Pole Michal Kwiatkowski. Despite a tiny box on the front cover, the race gets two-and-a-half pages with nice colour pictures.
I hate to keep moaning about these Worlds, but ... There's no way you can get from the two K to go sign at the foot of the final descent and up onto the climb. Barriers, tapes, police, volantarios (volunteer janitors) - grim! A man who can't walk the course ends up in too many bars.
Well, if there's a pizza place in Ponferrada, we can't find it. It's rude to criticise your host's abode but we're mystified by how the Worlds came to be here. The communications are terrible, it's four-and-a-half hours by road or rail out of Madrid or get transfer flights up to the North West and more driving.
Movistar top and tail la Vuelta as Italian Time Trial Champion, Adriano Malori has the weather gods on his side and rides in the dry whilst the GC boys look like they’re pedalling on ice around the technical circuit in beautiful and historic Santiago de Compostella. The last time I stayed in Santiago weeds were sprouting from the cathedral’s lovely facade, so that scaffold was no surprise – a face lift was long overdue.
Samuel Sanchez summed it up best in the BMC press release for Stage 20 to Ancares; "To understand how was hard it was, you only have to look at the riders' faces." That was certainly true of Chris Froome, his face ashen, skin tight on his skull, eyes popping, gasping for air like a dying fish.
VeloVeritas cycling sage, Vik hates those narrow bars Adam Hansen uses - they're to make him more aero and save those precious watts - but they certainly didn't do him any harm, today in Cangas de Morrazo. Not just a win; he's saved Lotto's Vuelta - it goes from 'Ligthart and Hansen enlivening the breakaways' to 'stage winning' and that's about a million miles. By good fortune we had a chat with the man just before this Vuelta kicked off...
‘Alberto defends lead in spite of heavy bombardment at Monte Castrove en Meis,’ says the Saxo-Tinkoff press release – with Chris Froome the man in charge of the howitzers. Christopher may not be stylish but the man is a bike racer – and that has to be respected. The tactic is simple, when the road goes up and the pace eases back a notch – attack! It nearly netted him the win today but Aru is young, hungry, skinny and pretty quick for a mountain man. But Froome did climb to second on the ‘virtual’ podium and claw back some time on Contador.
There was the chance that the break would stick; but with John Degenkolb’s Giant boys working themselves into the tar for him – and having done their homework by riding the stage finale on the rest day – and the likes of Ferrari and Matthews fancying their chances now that Bouhanni is back in France, not to mention Sky piling it on to keep Froome out of trouble, it was odds on to be a sprint finish.
My son reckons he’s on something and will, ‘get caught; there’s no way he could break his leg in the Tour and then be as strong as he is... Let’s hope (and pray) not; but my perspective is different – I think Alberto Contador is one of the greatest stage racers the world has ever seen and as such you can’t compare him to lesser mortals. People forget that Contador has been as close to death as a man can get and still survive.
Przemyslaw Niemiec wins today, but it’s just morbid curiosity which compels me to watch Chris Froome (Sky & Monaco/England/South Africa/Kenya) these days – he climbs like a stick insect with Saint Vitus Dance. It upsets me; but distressing or not, it gets him up them hills, albeit in his own mystifying style – off the back, off the front...
A good day for big Ryder Hesjedal – it looked for all the world like Zaugg was going to double his career wins with only one, the Tour of Lombardy.
Stage 13 took things back up a level but on a parcours which didn’t make for ‘The Bigs’ to do anything but mark each other. Unlike the Tour de France where there have been years where the honour of France has been saved by a single stage win by the likes of Sandy Casar, the Vuelta has always inspired it’s children with Spaniards well to the fore. When it comes to stage wins the ‘Home Boys’ always reach deep into their top hats to find a rabbit with Daniel Navarro at last giving Cofidis something to smile about.
We had a feeling that Quintana would find it very hard to continue in this Vuelta – whilst the man is hugely talented he’s not at the level he was in the Giro and to make up three minutes on Messrs. Contador, Rodriguez and Valverde was never going to be easy. His morale was in his boots anyway but then fate intervened, down he went on the stage from Pamplona and the Media can stop asking daft questions about imaginary feuds in the Movistar camp.
Alberto Contador Velasco (Tinkoff & Spain) pulled on the red jersey, raised his bouquet to his adoring fans in Borja then offered his clenched right fist up to his chest. The man has a big heart in there, for sure – all that was missing was Kiss pumping on the PA, ‘Back in the New York Groove,’ the line which goes; ‘this place was meant for me!’
Stage Nine to Valdelinares; a horrible day after the baking heat of Andalucía - but joy at last for Lampre with Anacona after the Ulissi and Horner debacles. But where the hell is Pippo? Perfect tactics from Movistar; "we’ve got a man in the break, why would we chase?..." And they keep the jersey – and despite the best efforts of the Media to rustle up a feud, Quintana and Valverde seem to us to be working a perfect ‘one – two.’
On Stage Eight to Albacete, once the break got caught with around 20 miles to go it looked like standard sprinter stage fare – Giant, Lampre, F de J and GreenEDGE would control it for their sprinters, with Nacer Bouhanni prominent.
As Dario Cioni once told us; ‘sometimes it’s nice for the big teams to get it wrong and the break to stay away.’ Big Italian Alessandro De Marchi was originally a team pursuit rider and paid his dues for three years in the low budget but big achieving Androni squad before stepping up to the World Tour with Cannondale, last year.
Alessandro Valverde was hugely impressive – not the shadow of himself we saw in the last week of the Tour. It’s like Robert Millar said; ‘there comes a day when you have to stop dreaming.’ That day was yesterday for many as we were reminded of the savagery of professional bike racing at the highest levels. There were no interlopers – just the best of the best, all of the pre-race favourites trying their best to waste each other on that horrible grind to the line.
We have to start betting ‘each way’ – yesterday we said; ‘Michael Matthews’ and he was third, today we said; ‘Nacer Bouhanni’ and he was second. And much as we admire the wiry Frenchman, John Degenkolb was 100% correct when he said of Bouhanni’s complaint about the German shutting the door on him; ‘on the right side there was only the barriers.’
We weren’t so far away with our tip for the win in Cordoba, Michael Matthews the GreenEDGE Aussie was third and held on to his race lead; but we should slap out own wrists for not mentioning Germany’s Giant, John Degenkolb – the man to watch when gravity is involved and rains on the ‘pure’ fast men's parade.
We’re feeling a bit smug, this morning, on the eve of Stage Three we said; ‘It could be one for the breakaway but GreenEDGE may control it for Clarke and Michael Matthews – and maybe Yates?’ And they man they call ‘Bling’ due to his penchant for jewellery proved us correct. The 23 year-old from Canberra again proved that in an uphill finish, if his motivation is good – there’s a little question mark over his grinta - then he’s very hard to beat.
Stage Two had been hailed as one where the cross winds could blow things apart from the off but fortunately the Weather Gods remained benign and we were treated to a high speed finale where F des J and Nacer Bouhanni demonstrated again that they know exactly how to handle fast, technical finales. The wiry Frenchman was in a class all of his own after a beautiful lead out by his boys and in particular last man in the train, Geoffrey Soupe who rode a magnificent finale for his Capo.
Movistar win Stage One in Jerez de la Frontera – no surprises, then. Perhaps we could have expected more from reigning World TTT Champions, QuickStep but with Tony Martin just back after a break and a technical parcours where it would have been easy to pile up, the Belgian team took no chances and finished fifth.
We were there, walking the streets and parks of Glasgow - until the Monsoons came and discretion became the better part of valour at which times the words of Doctor Samuel Johnson have never rang more true; 'There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.' Especially if it has an HD tele.
Essex boy Alex Dowsett proved that there is life after Sky with a brilliant time trial win in the Commonwealth Games event to add to his 2013 TT stage in the Giro, beating Aussie race favourite Rohan Denis into second and Wales Sky flyer Geraint Thomas into third on a blustery sunny Thursday afternoon around ‘The Dear Green Place’ that is Glasgow.
That man John Archibald is back in action again – and with a 48 minutes and 13 seconds ‘BANG !’ down on the Westferry course in the CTT ‘25’ Champs on Sunday past. It gave us a good excuse to catch up with the Commonwealth Games individual pursuit silver medallist and see what he’s been up to since The Gold Coast and what’s next on the agenda for him?
Despite his flyweight 56 kilos Eddie Dunbar has already established himself as one of the worlds' best U23 riders with top ten finishes in the European and World U23 Time Trial Championships - and riding for the Irish team rather than his usual US Axeon Hagens Berman team he took Ronde victory in that bike riders’ Mecca, historic Oudenaarde.
In 2016 in Belgium Ethan Hayter won the tough junior races, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, GP Serge Baguet, De Klijte-Heuvaelland, was in the winning team in junior European team pursuit champs and was British Madison champion with Joe Holt. Last year he won the u23 Berlin Six Day with Matt Walls, took a medal in every British track championship he rode and was part of the winning u23 Europeans team pursuit squad. This season he began training with the senior team in January and was world champion within weeks, at 19 years-of-age.
Sometimes on the big tours you have to change plans; road closures, janitors, barrier crews, motorway crashes can all influence your 'best laid plans.' At the end of the day you may not have missed deadline - we rarely do - but there'll be that feeling that you could have done better. Then there are days when you have to struggle then struggle some more but eventually it comes together, you get to where you want to be and get those special pictures. This day was such a day; lost, lost again, a massive detour through the mountains - against race route to the top of the Colle Delle Finestre - but we really enjoyed our pizza after this one...
‘The best Commonwealth Games performance ever by the Scottish cycling team’ – that’s for sure. VeloVeritas hopes to speak to all of the athletes concerned and we’re proud to start with individual pursuit silver medallist, John Archibald.
‘I’m a Believer,’ a great song, the Monkees had the hit back in 1968. I used to be a ‘Believer’ and can remember the sense of relief when we discovered that Lance’s Tour ‘positive’ back in 1999 was all a big mistake; those tricky corticosteroids had been in a cream he used to treat a saddle sore and he had a TUE to cover it. What a relief.