Dernys, you love them or you hate them, they're a big part of the Sixes; and always with a capital 'D'-Roger Derny et Fils first manufactured them in Paris, in 1938. There's some real Derny history on the boards here-the tall, slim, grey haired man who chases the riders up to their events is Bruno Walrave.
Like it says on the report cards; 'could do better!' We're referring of course to 'our Alex's' time keeping - he missed the rolling presentation on Sunday. It's not a huge deal because at the time he had no partner, poor Stöpler having crashed out.
The 'Devil' had just started when I wandered down the stairs in search of bottles of water (still - no gas), and by the time I got back what should have been 'just another race' had become another of those episodes which remind you that as well as being glamorous, the sport is also a very dangerous one.
It's not a proper six unless it's a marathon to get there - and really you should arrive in a different country. My journey to the Rotterdam Six Day meant a super-early start, Transit van to West Craigs, cab to Edinburgh airport, plane to Amsterdam, train to Rotterdam, Metro to the Ahoy Stadium - then walk across the road. I arrived in the same country though, so it's not really a proper trip.
He's more Australian than most folks from 'Down Under' - despite the fact that he's from Gent in the heart of Flanders. He's currently writing a history of Australian cycling, he's the Drapac team's European Co-ordinator, he's a photographer at the Gent Six Day, and he's VeloVeritas' biggest asset and chauffeur at Het Nieuwsblad. He's Dirk Van Hove.
It's 11:29 on Sunday, somewhere on an autobahn in Bavaria. The race finished at 02:30 but it was around 03:45 before we got away from the track. We parked up at 05:00 at a motorway services and rose at 10:15; we're en route Düsseldorf, which will take us the best part of the day. It's all part of the game.
The hotel I'm in for the Zürich Four Days 2011 is nice, a double bed, en-suite shower and beautiful breakfast spread - but it's a logistical pain. Kris has to 'make massage' with Jesper at lunchtime, but I don't want to hang around the hotel all morning - there's work to do at the track. I had to scrounge a lift - always a pain.
From the chaos emerged a track centre bar and restaurant, cabins for us, work space for the mechanics - and something to race on. I can't say too much about the track - or Pete will slap me, but it obviously can't be as smooth as a permanent one. The stadium restaurant is good; we get one meal each day - last year it was two. Maybe they figure that since it's only four days we don't need fed as much?
Monday passed in a trice - a motorway is motorway and a Formule 1 hotel is a Formule 1 hotel. Now it's 14:15pm on Tuesday and hard to imagine the building site I'm sitting in the midst of will be hosting the Zürich Four Days 2011 in a little over 24 hours. But it has to - first and foremost, the Sixes are a business proposition.
It's a long way from Gent Six Days 2011 to Zurich, around 800 kilometres - so best get on the road early. We picked up Jesper at the Expo Holiday Inn - where Vik and I have stalked the mechanics at many's a Het Volk - and then we were offski.
On the one hand, the 18:00 finish is cool; but on the other, the lunch time kick off means that the last day is pretty hectic for the support staff. The result was never really in doubt and I thought that the last chase was poor. But I said all of that yesterday - and what I'm not taking account of is the huge gaps in the Six Day programme.
We used to get to park the camper inside the old exhibition hall which ajoins the velodrome - but 'safety' means we have to park outside, adjacent to the old hall. In the morning it means you have a long walk to the shower, previously you could lurch the 10 metres, zombie-like, to the shower cubicle and be reborn.
Whether it's a great edition of the Gent Six Days or not, it's still quite an experience to walk up through the tunnel for the first time. Especially if the Dernys are up on the track droning out their monotonous tune, there's the buzz of a thousand conversations, the lights, the throng, the smell of beer, the renners flashing around the bankings, the people piled high up to the roof in the corners - We love it !
Last day - it's not a big programme, sprint series, team time trial and the closing 180 lap chase. By six day standards that's not a long chase, around 38 K - at Copenhagen they have 300 lappers on a 250 track - but here, it's heavy duty for the small teams. Franco reckons that Kris and I should have dinner in the track centre, tonight - well, it sounded good to me.
Grenoble Six Day 2011... Bed was at 02:00 am so I didn't have too much problem getting up at 07:45 to do some 'real world' stuff. The only trouble with that is I know I won't feel nearly as frisky come 02:30 am. I was meant to have an interview with Luke Roberts today, he was meant to get word about what's happening team-wise for 2012.
It's a glorious day in Grenoble, warm, calm, sunny - not a day to be stuck in a stuffy stadium. But that's the runner's place in the way of things - scrambled eggs on fresh baguettes for breakfast eased the pain. The 35 minute chase was a better show tonight and the French guys didn't get pummelled quite so savagely.
Grenoble Six Days 2011... One day, I'd like to come here and sit at one of the big tables with friends and family, watch the cabaret, and the racing, chat, eat and drink too much. It's good value at 63 euros per head: that gets you in, allows you to attack the beautiful buffet and provides you a bottle of wine, mineral water and a coffee as you watch the racing and the cabaret - one day...
It takes a few days to find the rhythm of a six-day - usually for me it's the sixth day. My feet stop hurting and I get a proper sleep. Last night I slept ok 'til around 06:00 am but after that it was disjointed, the sound of the traffic and the drone of the refrigeration units on the restaurant supply tucks saw to that - not to mention the bizarre dreams.
'The track door will open at 09:30,' we were told, but this is the Grenoble Six Days 2011 - in France, and you have to give or take 45 minutes - and sure enough, we got in around 10:15. Bring the last of the gear down from the camper, set up the track cabins, go to the shops for supplies, help the guys with their bikes, go to the shops for razors so Franco can shave his legs, help with the dinner, do the washing up and then slip out quietly when the riders all descend upon our cabin for their pre-race meeting.
It's a grey morning in Grenoble; we can't unload until 11:00 am and then we have to drive up to Lyon and collect Jesper and Marc off the plane. In the stadium office they have great old black and white photos of the stadium under construction; it really is a gem of a building, if you like modern architecture.
Up at 04:30, the plan was to get the bus from Porty at 09:00 - however, and to cut a long story short, the van is abandoned in a western suburb of Edinburgh and a cab was flagged down to get me to the airport on time. The flight was undramatic - thank God - and there was Kris in the airport bus park, with the camper. It's seems to be an unwritten law that you have to arrive in a different country from where the race is; so the rendez-vous was in Geneva, Switzerland.
It's hard to break into the six day circuit; but if there's a local rider with promise or a road star that needs mentoring then there has to be a rider on the circuit to provide hands on guidance. Enter Austria's Andreas Müller. Müller was a member of the German track squad during the last decade with strong results, like silver in the 1999 Moscow World Cup team pursuit; Madison bronze in the Chinese round of the World Cup in 2002 and Madison gold in the Moscow and Sydney rounds of the 2003 World Cup.
In any sport there comes a time when the order changes, the old stars fade away and the new ones begin to shine brighter. But Dane Marc Hester is no super nova, shining brightly then gone, it's taken him several years to get to where he is in the Six Day constellation.
If you ever decide to promote a Six Day race there's a check list you'll have to go through. Start with a short steep indoor track; the best riders you can afford; food and drink concessions; a cool light show; a good 'speaker'; maybe some live acts-but one of your key ingredients will be music. Enter Peter Traynor, originally from the Wirral Peninsula across the Mersey River from Liverpool - the city that gave us the Beatles and the 'Mersey Sound'.
The experienced American rider Colby Pearce was one of the guys looked after by Kris, Martin and Ed at some of this winters' Six Days, including the recent event at the Ballerup Stadium in Copenhagen. Having raced at elite level on the track at the Olympics, at World Cups and in the World Championships, as well as being a National Champion 14 times and holder of the US Hour Record (50.191), together with a spell working as the US Track Coach, Colby had seen most of what track cycling had to offer. One element was missing though: Six Day Racing...
Copenhagen Six Day 2011, but first... Ricco - you have to respect his 100% commitment to being a moronic little twat. There was a piece about him on CyclingNews having a 'kidney problem,' when I checked the site in the morning, I thought it was a tad strange - how does a super fit young man have a kidney problem? But the press release I received from Vacansoleil a little later revealed the true horror of the situation...
It's the last day of school today; the six day circus goes to ground until October when-God willing-we head south to Grenoble with its blue skies, snow capped mountains, Follies girls, great bread and French riders who smile, shake your hand and give you a 'ca va?' every time they see you-they may not be fast but they're nice guys. It's unlikely there will be any surprises tonight, Alex and Michael are well in charge; I hope that Jens and Marc hold on to second-they deserve it.
It's Monday morning at the Copenhagen Six Day 2011 and I've folded the clothing, tidied the cabin, swept the floor, cleaned the flasks, blah, blah, blah...The wi-fi has decided to visit the cabin and Tommy Hunt is 'Loving on The Losing Side' from the laptop - it's hard to be 'down' when the 'Northern' is banging out. The weekend was a bit of a blur; Saturday was a split session - nitemare!
Saturday, 13:20 - the afternoon sesh starts in a few minutes but there's a distinct lack of riders; this reflects in their (and their runners') lack of enthusiasm for afternoon sessions - but more of that tomorrow. Again, it wasn't the greatest of madison racing last night, our guys in their Par nr. 7 tricots, but it's hard for the guys to raise their game if most of the house seats are empty. Michael reckons that ticket sales for Saturday night are good - let's hope so.
It wasn't a great first night, sparse crowds, lack lustre chases and I seemed to spend the whole day gittering about to little effect; but we're set up, the hotel is great, the boys are all relaxed and it's Friday - so maybe we'll get a better crowd. The Copenhagen Six Day 2011 is 'old school' - long chases are what Six Days are all about say the organisers; I'm not so sure.
The stadium we're in for the Berlin Six Day 2011 is spectacular, with a 142 metres span it boasts the largest steel roof in Europe; the crowd has to be seen to be believed, on the last night there were certainly more fans than there were seats; the noise is deafening-and for a fan it's just like you dreamed of.
The fall (and rise?) of the German Sixes... Rotterdam has been won and lost; and now, so too has Bremen - Home Boys Bartko/Bensch topped the podium from Suisse pair Franco Marvulli/Alexander Aeschbach with the Danes, Jens-Erik Madsen/Marc Hester third. The home win was greatly assisted by a format which dispensed with Dernys and was time trial heavy.
Rotterdam Six Day 2011: It's approaching midnight, we're in the camper, headed north out of Holland to Bremen in Germany on a pan flat, black motorway. Kris is headed for the Six Days of Bremen to work with Franco Marvulli (fingers crossed that he's well) and Jens-Erik Madsen. I fly home to Bonnie Scotland from Bremen - my next six is Berlin, for the last two days, then Copenhagen.
At the Rotterdam Six Day 2011 and I'm sitting next to this chap, drinking my coffee, eating my Vacansoleil cookie and thinking; 'I should know who he is, he's the double of Ezequiel Mosquera.' Then the penny dropped; it was Old Zeke, in person, my - now tarnished - hero from the Vuelta.
The theme from 'Star Wars' plays as the U23 riders victory ceremony gets underway - not long 'til the lunch time kick off. I haven't seen much of the U23 event, the riders don't share the area we're in and when their racing is on I'm usually busy getting our cabin set up. There's more of that confusing team changing thing going on again - Terpstra is now with Lampater who was with Stroetinga until he crashed.
It was 'musical riders' on Saturday night at the Rotterdam Six Day 2011: Franco is out with sickness; his partner, Netherlands road race champion, Niki Terpstra now goes with tall pursuiter, Jens Mouris. Terpstra is a big draw and has to be a part of the race; he can't continue to sit-out the chases.
Here at the Rotterdam Six Day 2011 the buzz off iljo's rollers fills my ears as I write this; despite the best efforts of the UCI, he's still here and looking sharp. My amigo, Dirk the mechanic was telling me that Iljo is retaining two of the three best lawyers in Belgium - I'm glad I'm not paying the bills.
Rotterdam Six Day 2011 and it wouldn't be a Six without off-the-track dramas - you'll all be familiar by now with the 'Iljo Saga.' Who ever you think is at fault, there's no doubt that the sport's governing body is now doing itself no favours with the way it's handling this situation. They tell the Rotterdam organiser that Keisse shouldn't start, but when Frank Boelé says; 'and you'll pick up the tab for the 50,000 Euros/day fine if Keisse's judgement sticks because I'm denying him the right to ride?'
"Hello Mr. Sercu, how's life?" I ask at the Rotterdam Six Day 2011. "Well, I'm still alive!" comes the reply. He's a 'glass half empty' kind of a guy is Patrick, sometimes. But he's sport director here at the 6-daagse Rotterdam and not to be messed with. And he has a lot on his mind; his 'boy' Iljo Keisse may be smiling out at me from the 'programmakrant;' but there's no one smiling at UCI HQ in Switzerland. They've instructed Frank Boele, the organiser here, that Iljo is not to start...
It's Monday morning, I'm sitting in some horrible 'theme' bar at Charleroi Airport. My flight home to Edinburgh is cancelled due to the snow in Auld Scotia and the best I could wangle was Charleroi to Dublin, tonight then Dublin to Prestwick in the morning. My pal Dave has booked me into a hotel at Dublin airport, so I'm as sorted as I can be. The alternative flight from here was late on Wednesday night. The six all seems a long time ago...
Last year's Under 25 winner, big Aussie, Alex Carver just landed on the boards, somewhere close to my right ear. Meanwhile, down in the cabin, all of our guys sleep peacefully. It was mozzarella and ham salad followed by chicken and spaghetti for dinner and a post dinner nap (on the floor) is the last luxury they'll enjoy, tonight. Sure enough, the race hasn't long started and the dope test guys arrive - just like Elliot Ness and the Untouchables; but without the Armani suits - one guy tells me his day job is a plumber - the riders are suitably underwhelmed...
I just received an email from Rapha; "The New Tweed Softshell and City Riding Collection" - that's exactly what I need, tweed. Set a new trend at the Kuipke... Maybe not - my shorts have caused enough raised eyebrows. Night three? Lots of Dernys, lots of beer - Franco sick, Iljo fraying a little at the edges, the Danes calm under fire and bed for us at 03:45...
It would be easy to go native, work all the sixes, get a job in a bike shop or with a little team for the summer, forget the "25" champs, the 'day job.' The sixes are seductive, the rolling presentation, the music, the lights, the banter, the 'insider' chat, the gleaming bikes, the pretty girls, the total isolation from reality. But maybe it's because it's only three or four times each year that it's so special.
Last night? It's tonight, already! No-one stood out, the home boys had to be seen to do well and De Ketele, Mertens, and of course Iljo, all did the biz. Who can win? Alex & Michael are favourites but it's been a long season for both of them and there are some hungry big fish in this pond...
Monday night, 24 hours until the 70th Six Days of Gent commences. The Derny exhaust fumes are sweet and sickly, like the stench from the Grangemouth chemicals plant on a bad day, the cold air makes them all the more pungent. Five or six riders sit behind the little bike, loosening off stiff legs, dull after hours sitting in aeroplanes or cars. They're all wrapped up tight against the cold - Michael Morkov, Steve Schets, Tosh Van Der Sande, Kenny de Ketele and Iljo Keisse. De Ketele wears a balaclava under his crash hat; Iljo has on gloves and leg warmers.
The Gent Six day kicks off next week, so as a way to build the excitement we thought we'd revisit last year's finalé, with VeloVeritas' own Ed Hood there and working for the Danish World Madison Champions, Saxo Bank riders Alex Rasmussen and Michael Mørkøv, as well as Swiss star Franco Marvulli. Read on!...
The crowd is good, the riders' contracts have been paid, there's one more procession, one last picture of the Folies girls, I've polished Jens' and Franco's bikes, most of the stuff is out of the big cabin, the strongmen are going through their routine and there's a buzz in the air. The programme is short - just a 25 lap sprint series with points every five laps; the flying three lap time trial and then the big one - '180 tours pro madison' with sprints on 120, 140 and 160 for 5, 3, 2, 1 points and 'points doublé lors du sprint de l'arrivée de 6 jours.'
There's no telling what you'll see when you walk up those stairs; you'd expect to see Teun Mulder on the rollers on his road bike or Shane Perkins on his track bike on the rollers-but a juggler? The views over to the Alps were stunning this morning, the city is ringed on all sides by mountains; sit outside Bar Clemenceau with your beer, the autumn sun on your skin, look over to the Alps and it's easy to think; 'I could live here'...
"Dirk, you're working on the bikes early today," says me. "Yes, I must finish early so I can watch the darts on BBC TV in my camper van!" I didn't expect that answer. He was telling me that the new Look 496 track frame costs in excess of â‚¬6,000 and there's a waiting list; they only build to order. They are beautiful though and as Dirk says; 'it's the best bike for the sprint and it's a genuine European product.' It's cool and grey in Grenoble today - and very quiet...
"Only in Grenoble" is stamped in red on this file - a track standstill competition. If Vik was here he'd rush the track shouting bad things about la Belle France, the French, and their ways. We've got 15 minutes on the clock and Daniel Mangeas hasn't stopped talking for more than a few seconds as the big men twitch their muscles to keep those Looks stationary on the pine. I know a little French but can't summon up the interest to listen; the crowd adore it....