East Lothian in springtime should be an idyllic setting for a bike race; but today she showed her spiteful side for the traditional east coast season-opening Musselburgh 3-up, with a freezing, grey day which granted no favours to the weak. John Anderson’s Bicycleworks 'tester trio' of Sharkey, Dale and Caesar proving strongest on the day. But one must remember that Scotland’s notorious cannibal, Sawney Bean was born in East Lothian – perhaps on a day like this . . .
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.
Sportsmen in general, and cyclists are no different in this respect, are a superstitious lot. So it goes without saying that good omens are often looked for when we set out to the first race of the new Scottish season. Sunday morning dawned bright, clear and sunny as sixty teams of two warmed up for the Ice Breaker 2-Up Time Trial on the outskirts of Irvine, and the unseasonably favourable weather was the omen that most had looked for.
Cyclists are a hardy bunch, perhaps Cyclo-Cross Cyclists are the hardiest of them all. On a miserable and bitterly cold February afternoon at Strathclyde Country Park they faced the sleet-fall and muddy terrain with good humour and sturdy resolve. I didn't hear one complaint all day, maybe because everyone was just happy to finally be having a Scottish Championship after it's postponement from last November due to the ice-rutted dangerous course? Demonstrating that the Scottish 'Cross scene is in burgeoning good shape, there were lots of riders in each category, with the Senior riders going off last and enjoying the nicely churned course in drying but ever-colder conditions.
'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.
To close off it's tenth season, the Revolution Track Series made it's first visit to the fantastic Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow tonight, and a full house of over 4,000 spectators witnessed the strong Rapha Condor JLT team take the win on the night to clinch the overall series title. Undoubted star of the show, and not for the first time, was the big friendly South Yorkshireman Ed Clancy (Rapha Condor JLT), who led his team to victory by scoring personal wins in the Flying Lap and Points Race, the Madison Time Trial with teammate James McCallum, and taking a fourth place in the Scratch Race which saw Team Rouleur's two new World Champion recruits, Steven Burke and Andy Tennant take the first two places.
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.
Steve Penny has been bringing you the race reports, John Young the action images, so I thought we'd look at the people who make the "Berlin 6 Tage Rennen" such a unique affair. At the start of each evening they have a 'Vorstellung der Parade der Asse' - a parade of champions. This year there was only one bona fide senior rainbow jersey holder - World Madison Champion, Kenny De Ketele. Charlotte Becker was wearing a rainbow jersey, too - initially I couldn't figure out what for.
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.
A crowd of around 12,000 filed into the Landsberger Allee Velodrome tonight. The large numbers continued a trend for the Six Days - with an estimated 70,000 coming through the doors - attendance figures are up rather than down, a good sign going forward. On the track, following Mondays racing the standings were tighter than they looked on Sunday afternoon with Kalz / Bengsch, Kluge / Schep and Müller / Marvulli all gaining a lap on the weekend leaders De Ketele / Roberts. So with four teams in the hunt here is how the final night in Berlin went.
So there I was in Berlin and it's the ladies’ Six Day - well, three days, actually - and I hear one of the lasses waiting to go to the line speaking in a good Lancashire accent. Check the numbers, #7: Hannah Walker, GB. At the risk of incurring the wrath of our hard-core readers Viktor, Ivan and Dave , I thought we'd best have a chat with her.
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.
Twice World Madison Champion, twice World Scratch Champion, Olympic silver medallist in the madison and the winner of 33 six days off 115 starts - Franco Marvulli is the most successful rider on the Six Day circuit. Over the last few seasons there have been times when it looked as if the genial Suisse's star is in the decline - at Gent in 2011 it looked like his best was behind him. He took time to talk to us on Sunday's 'Familientag' - Family Day - at the Berlin Six Day - his 11th start in the race.
Sundays at German Six Day races have always traditionally been ‘Family Day’ with the programme of sport and entertainment held during the afternoon rather than in the evening / night. With temperatures outside now (just) above freezing, making it a relatively mild Berlin winter afternoon, local families came along to the Landsberger Allee Velodrome to celebrate the past, present and future in this their 102nd Six Day race.
I remember interviewing Andreas Müller a year or two ago and him telling me that he'd be happy to emulate the career of German former Six Day rider Gert Dörich, who was the 'Taxi Driver' par excellence during his long career which took in 163 Six Day races. 'Taxi Driver' is the term used to describe solid, experienced riders whose job is to partner riders who are new to the world of the 'races to nowhere.' But Andreas’ sights are set higher, these days. We spoke to the 33 year-old on the eve of the Berlin Six Day.
First up on Sunday was the team picture, like one of those shots of the ‘class of 1955’ or whenever that they take at expensive schools. The only photos the guys I went to primary school with had taken were on an individual basis with the each of them holding up a card bearing their name and number. Sunday afternoon sessions are always pretty lackadaisical, it’s as if subconsciously we all know it’s the Lord’s Day and we shouldn’t really be drinking beer and arranging who wins the Derny races.
Any talk of decline appears to have been, thankfully, premature as 25,000 people had visited the 102nd Berlin Six over the first two days. Tonight was ‘Golden Night’ and another massive crowd of around 13,000 trudged through the ice and snow in temperatures of around -13 to cheer and, in Berlin’s inimitable style, whistle the riders around the 250 metre track.
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.
The 102nd Berlin Six Day (Berliner Sechstagerennen) starts in the German Capital on Thursday night. This event is one of the classics of the winter track calendar but despite that unfortunately Six Day racing continues to be in decline. This is not just something that can be laid at the door of the global economy, rather just a fact of life that times change. As events have left established Six Day cities such as Dortmund, Munich and Stuttgart in recent years due to lack of sponsors and public interest it is left too Berlin, and Bremen, to fly the flag in the country that was once the European home of Six Day racing.
Yorkshire rider Adam Blythe first grabbed the big headlines when he won two stages and the GC in the 2010 Circuit Franco-Belge; a UCI 2.1 stage race with a history stretching back to 1924. Blythe became one of the youngest-ever winners in the event, beating Sep Vanmarcke (Topsport Vlaanderen) by six seconds and Jakob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank) by seven.
As a web site which tries to keep its readers in touch with what’s happening on the winter boards; it’s remiss of us not to have spoken before now to Britain’s greatest ever Six Day rider – Tony Doyle, MBE. Other ‘Brits’ rode the ‘races to nowhere’ – Tony Gowland even managed to win two Six Days (off 31 starts); London (with Patrick Sercu) and Montreal with (Gianni Motta).
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. 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.
Stephen Penny last report from the Gent Six Day; The final day of the Gent Six promised a big tussle between the Belgian World Madison Champions De Ketele / Van Hoecke and local hero Iljo Keisse with Glenn O’Shea.They didn’t disappoint.
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.
Stephen Penny files another report from Het Kuipke; There are tired legs in the bunch but on a wet and windy Saturday night in Gent all roads again led to the track for another sell out beer and bike racing fest.
Here in Gent Friday night has always been the big night of the Six. It's not just about the beer, it’s about the cycling and fans of all ages bring the wife or girlfriend to what is for all concerned a big night out. A number of the revellers are ex-riders many of whom no doubt spend the night reminiscing on their time pedalling around the hollowed boards of Het Kuipke.
Contributor Steve Penny summarises the action for us from Het Kuipke (the little oval) last night, as we reach the halfway point in the Gent Six Day. The crowds filed into Het Kuipke in the thousands to meet friends, drink a beer or two and watch the 72nd Gent Six as it approached the all important weekend. Before the racing started it was announced that Wim Stroetinga was out of the race – for now - with a stomach problem. This would explain why he and partner Peter Schep had not been scoring many points over the first two nights.
Englishman Steve Penny is a long time track enthusiast and writer - this will be his 17th consecutive edition of Flanders' mythical Six Day. Here's his take on the 72nd edition of what is now unquestionably the hardest six day race on the calendar. VeloVeritas will be there for Sunday afternoon's Grand Finale. Champions of the World, or The Prodigal Son - that's the question which can only be answered on the steep bankings of the Kuipke velodrome.'
The first major competition on the brand new Sir Chris Hoy velodrome in Glasgow was the three-day UCI Track World Cup. We've been racing the Wednesday night Track League here since early October, and the Scottish Championships were held a few weeks ago, with the invitational two hour 'Thunderdrome' event taking up an afternoon and covered live on Radio Scotland, but this was something else.
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. Keisse thunders round the track like he's on a monorail, the ultimate stylist. De Ketele isn't as smooth but the power is there - he has those super fit riders' 'roadmaps' on his inner thighs. They took the lap quickly, cleanly - beautiful to watch.
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.
It's been quite a season for Saxo-Tinkoff's former world madison champion, Michael Mørkøv. The man from just north of Copenhagen was the prime animator in the Spring classics; wore the polka dot King of the Mountains leader's jersey in the Tour de France for the first week; was in the Danish team pursuit squad which dipped under the magic four minutes in London and he was back off 'up the road' in the late season Northern European classics. And now, he's just won the first Six Day race of the winter - Amsterdam, with former Netherlands elite road race champion, Pim Ligthart.
On a beautiful Scottish Borders Sunday morning, Boardman Elite’s versatile mountain biker, Grant Ferguson turned around a 10 second deficit at the top of the steep section of the Stow climb to win the Scottish Hill Climb Championship by three seconds from up and coming Steve Lawley (thebicycleworks.com), with the bronze going to Jamie Kennedy (Glasgow Couriers).
'It's not a competition any more, it's a personal time trial,' the words of Tour de Trossachs organiser, Janette Hazlett after she had to void the result, following a serious crash. David Clark of the Stowmarket & District CC was involved in what appeared to us to be a head on collision with a car on the Loch Venachar road and had to be helicoptered to hospital. The ensuing traffic chaos meant that top seeds Ian Wilkins, Arthur Doyle and Ian Grant were all held up as the police closed the road.
In a day of torrential downpours Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) secured his place in the history books as the first Spaniard to win the Giro di Lombardia, with a beautiful solo victory ahead of Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky). The wet weather played a significant role on the day, particularly as the riders negotiated the soaking and glassy, deisel-splashed descents, with several of them taking a tumble, most notably new World Road Champion Philippe GIlbert (BMC) who subsequently abandoned. We didn't manage to attend the race ourselves this year, but our pal Dave Martin (theBicycleWorks.com) did, and he has kindly shared his photos with us.
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.
When you write and then put your words out there into the ether, you set yourself up. Whilst there’s nothing better than someone taking the time to say that they like your work. On the other side of that coin is that there will always be folks who have a real go at you. I understand and accept that, but what’s difficult to accept is uninformed criticism, where people don’t really understand the situation.
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.
The party’s over, there’s no more nice wee room in Valkenburg and ambling down for breakfast, with the patron asking if you’d like a fried egg to go with your rolls, cheese and ham. Its camper van time – but at least I won’t have that four kilometre forced march to the press room, we can drive. There were two races today, the junior time trial and the U23 time trial.
When I was a younger man my 'Mr Motivator' was a certain man from the West; Willie Gibb. I recall battering myself on a training ride alone thinking "Willie Gibb would be going faster" invariably in the races he was and I have no recollection of ever having beaten my one time motivator. I got in touch with Willie to find out more about his story and as it transpired find his palmarès was something else again...
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...
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?
‘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.