Last night at the Gent Six Day 2010? 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.
Monday night, 24 hours until the 70th Gent Six Day 2010 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.
The Gent Six Day 2009 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 the bikes of Jens and Franco Marvulli, 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.
There’s no telling what you’ll see when you walk up those stairs; you’d expect to see Elia Viviani or Teun Mulder on the rollers on their road bikes or Shane Perkins on his track bike on the rollers — but a juggler?
"Dirk, you're working on the bikes early today," says me at the Grenoble Six Day 2010. "Yes, I must finish early so I can watch the darts on BBC TV in my camper van!" I didn't expect that answer," 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 at the Grenoble Six Day 2010 he'd rush the track shouting bad things about la Belle France, the French, and their ways.
The average speed last night for the first madison of Night Two at the Grenoble Six Day 2010, run over 35 minutes, was 52.310 kph - file under 'not as slow as Vik says it is.' The thing you have to remember is that when you're in Grenoble, you're much closer to the Mediterranean than you are to the Channel; 'le Munich Six jours est finis? ah!' The cold, grey North is a long way away.
There were politics in play before a ball was even kicked; ‘how have you guys got that big cabin, you only have two riders?’ Kris’s response was succinct; ‘Because I’ve been coming here for 30 years and the organisers are friends of mine!’ A Six Day wouldn’t be a Six Day without politics and plaudits.
"It's not a real Six," says our pal Viktor - coincidentally, riders like Marc Hester (Denmark) and Danny Stam (Holland) used to say the same. But that was before the Munich Six disappeared - now they're more than happy to head south to Grenoble at the end of October. As have we, for the Grenoble Six Day 2010...
Wednesday morning in the camper van, long straights of grey motorway tarmac through a flat, snow blanketed landscape, minus three, no sunshine, just more grey above us; in all the times I've worked at the Copenhagen Six Day 2010 Six, I don't think I've ever seen the sun.
There I was, sitting track side at the Copenhagen Six Day 2010 getting my copy up to date and the BlackBerry rings - Viktor. "I've just seen the stage from Qatar; Boasson Hagen punctured and the rest of them are nowhere to be seen!"
I decided not to mention the demise of Franco Ballerini in my reports; a Six is a joyous thing and it's hard to write about a tragic death and be upbeat. All I would say is that he was a man; any Italian who can come to the North and win the biggest races, has my respect. His work as Italian boss was excellent; probably the best drilled national team in the World.
My buddy, John Hardie is a 65 time Scottish grass track champion; his hero 'back in the day' was Danny Clark. When he heard that 'Six Day King' Danny Clark and me were breakfasting together at Copenhagen, it wasn't long before the email arrived with the questions he wanted me to ask the great man.
Maybe it was all those minds thinking; 'I hate split sessions' that made the access panel in the track jam? In fact, it was an electrical fault, caused by someone who didn't understand the procedure for shutting the big sliding panel in the track's back straight that meant the Saturday afternoon session was cancelled.
'For me, that was the hardest chase of the winter!' The words of Franco Marvulli as he flopped onto the bench in his track side cabin, after he'd just won the night's closing 60 minute madison with Bruno Risi, here at the Copenhagen Six Day.
It's 01:41 Day One at the Copenhagen Six Day 2010 and I've decided to rattle off a few lines before I succumb to the coma that surely awaits me. It wasn't vintage racing tonight; there wasn't much of a crowd, the whole bunch looked like it was pedalling in mud and Franco said he'd never seen Bruno struggle the way he did in the first chase.
On my way to the Copenhagen Six Day 2010 and Scotland was beautiful this morning, the views from the window of the British Midland jet were stunning, the Pentlands covered in snow, the 'terriers head' of Fife framed by the Forth and Tay; the Isle of May seeming to hover in the air, guarding the mouth of the Forth.
There was no partying at Iljo's dad's bar, De Karper - which is just along the road from the Gent track - for us tonight; we had a ferry to catch. I didn't have time to put together a Day Five piece, today. We were up at 09:00 for the 13:00 start; usually I spend the early afternoon writing, but today I couldn't, although I did manage to get the Day Five pictures away as the under 23 lads prepared for action.
Viktor has been keeping in touch, he was going to come over but couldn't get a flight. 'Is that Bruno's wee brother's bike he's on?' He does have a point, with carbon frame manufacture, one of the biggest costs is to produce the moulds.
The Belgian papers are something else. Whilst you do get superb cycling coverage; in yesterday's 'De Gentenaar' we had to endure a colour photograph of a fatal road accident, complete with burnt out car and mangled push bike; a racist photo manipulation of Michelle Obama as a character from Planet of the Apes and images from a slaughter house, including a cow getting it's head chopped off - I'll stick with the Guardian.
It's different here; the butcher asks you how Keisse is doing in the six and the local paper has Iljo in full colour, on the cover. In the same paper - De Gentenaar - which is a local 'rag,' there's a two page guide to track racing and two pages of stats on the 2009 season.
It was 1975 when Dave, Don, Ed the Pole and yours truly first climbed the concrete stairs to get our first sight of the legendary boards of Gent velodrome. I still remember the smells; derny exhaust, pee, frying food and beer! Having spent my formative years riding time trials and road races (badly !) in the wilds of Scotland, with sheep as the main audience, I was fascinated by the spectacle.
Compared to the wide open 210 metre pastures of Grenoble, at 166 metres, the Gent track does look tiny; the bankings aren't really steep enough and you can't ride the top 400 mm of the track, because the crash barriers overlap the boards by that much.
It's easy to write an obituary when one of your heroes dies - probably more so if you don't know them well. There's just the legend, palmares, anecdotes and the sadness. But I knew Dimitri De Fauw, not well, but I worked at maybe half-a-dozen Six Day races where he was riding.
Noon, local time, on the Easyjet flight out of Geneva. The race finished at midnight and we were on the autoroute for around 12:45 am - that's a record. The hotel bed in Geneva was blissful, the 'transporter pod' in the motor home is all very well, but crisp, clean sheets and a proper mattress - lovely!
Bar Clemenceau was open again today, for our afternoon 'snifter.' The bar tender must have had a heavy Sunday session, he was asleep at one of his own tables. I went for a Ricard today; it reminded me of the time John and I were in the Bar Britanique on Alpe d'Huez. We drank so much pastis that we only just made it outside in time to catch Pantani on his way to the stage win - those were the days!
The cheer from the cabin next door to ours - below the Grenoble velodrome - told us that the result Flanders had been holding it's breath for, had arrived. Belgium's number one Six Day man, Iljo Keisse's 'positif' in the 2008 Gent six day race has been dismissed on the grounds of 'insufficient evidence.' "Cathine was not found in the 'B' sample and HCT was there in quantities so small as to have no effect on performance."
I had a great dream last night after day four; I won a mountain stage of the Tour, I was on my way to the press conference when I woke up - maybe just as well, knowing my luck it would be one of my ex-wives asking the questions. Four days down and two to go, the racing wasn't too intense; there are a lot of 'tired laddies' on that track.
Them sprinters are big guys-I passed them in the tunnel tonight, they looked cool, cocky, stylish. The public here love the sprinters; at intro time, they actually get their big build up from Daniel Mangeas after the Six Day riders. Bauge did a standstill for more than half-an-hour, in Gent there would be bricks getting lobbed at him, but in Grenoble-they love it.
It's 3:00 pm on Saturday and time for my 'pression' - draught beer - at Bar Clemenceau, I coincide this with a trip to the shops, so as not to arouse too much suspicion. The weather is glorious, despite the carpet of leaves on many of the side walks, it's like a Scottish summer day. Shorts are fine - essential in the heat of the velodrome - in the sunshine and the frantic Grenoble traffic is on valium for the day.
I'm sitting beside the track, it's nearly 3:00 pm and last night seems like a long time ago. Gianni Meersman and Iljo Keisse are up training, they rattle past every 20 seconds - legs have to be kept loose.
Franco Marvulli, twice world madison and scratch champion, four times winner of the Grenoble six and a winner of 25 sixes in total; Jens-Erik Madsen, world team pursuit champion; Luke Roberts, multiple world team pursuit champion; Iljo Keisse, kermesse star and winner of 11 six days; Leon Van Bon, twice Dutch pro road champion and a Tour and Vuelta stage winner - that's not a bad list for starters.
Alcazar's 'Crying at the discotheque' may have been the soundtrack to Alex Rasmussen's huge attack in the closing minutes of the 2009 Copenhagen Six Day; but the only tears shed some 17 laps later were those of joy as home boy, 'Razi' and his Denmark and Saxo Bank 'other half,' Michael Mørkøv sent the full house home happy from Ballerup Super Arena.
Susie, my chow chow would love these meat balls; cold, greasy, smelly with around one percent meat content; it's a pity she's not here - but think how awful it would be if she bit Danny Stam. Dinner time at the restaurant; day one the food was cool, but as the week goes on, the menu refuses to budge and the temperature of the food drops; 'not good for riders to eat cold pasta,' says Ronnie our number two soigneur.
"I was second in the derny, behind Muller, and he's very good-why don't you test me?" says Michael Berling to the UCI guy at the Copenhagen Six Day 2009 who has to chaperone Michael Morkov to the doping controle. Franco pipes up; "Grasmann was last in the derny, that's a suspicious result!"
VeloVeritas are in Copenhagen (south of Sweden) for day three of the six and it's time for the horror that is - the afternoon session. The highlight of the afternoon was the break dancing competition, manfully judged by Messrs. Rasmussen and Donadio. It's not well known, but break dancing has a long connection with cycling.
"Oh Copenhagen, Copenhagen south of Swee-den, sweeter than the sweetest honey,sweeter than the sweetest wine, in Copenhagen city too, you can make a dream come true!" Deeply profound Europop lyrics that start each day's session in just the right thought provoking vein-well, maybe you have to be here!
The crowd counts us down; the pistol cracks; I give Franco a hefty shove; 'Cara Mia' blasts from the PA and the 2009 Copenhagen 6 Dages Lob is well and truly under way. Two minutes ago I was wondering why I put myself through that nightmare journey from Portobello to Ballerup-the suburb of Copenhagen where the Super Arena and it's pine velodrome live-two buses, a plane, another bus, a long train journey then waiting in the freezing cold of a Copenhagen night for my lift to the track.
Nine gold medals at the Worlds for Team GB - wow! So, the rest of the World will be happy to compete for silvers at Beijing? Hardly! One man who'll be doing his best to deny Bradley Wiggins two gold medals in China is Denmark's Michael Mørkøv. He took bronze in the Madison at Manchester, last month partnered by compatriot and former world scratch champion, Alex Rasmussen.
The tall, rawboned rider ambled across to the barrier; Gary Wiggins was broad and square across the shoulders, big-thighed and walked with a loose-limbed gait. His long legs made easy work of straddling the steel fence which separated the riders' enclosure from the paying public at the Gent six, back in the early 80's.
It's Leicester's Saffron Lane velodrome, August 1974. The newly crowned British 20 kilometre champion, Maurice Burton waves his bouquet. Sections of the crowd are booing. Is it because the champion rode a tactical race, not killing himself in the winning break, conserving his sprint? Perhaps, but Burton has just made history, he is Britain's first black senior champion.
It must be the end of term at Lotto Zesdaagse van Hasselt 2007; "Mr. Happy", stoney-faced derny pilot and former king of the big motor drivers, Bruno Walrave was actually laughing at breakfast - hey! It's pay day today too - always good for morale.
I've arrived; Matt Gilmore said "hello" to me today here at the Lotto Zesdaagse van Hasselt 2007 - wow! It's the Chocolate Jacques team presentation during the six tonight and Matt is here as part of that gig. "Rambo" is here too - Niko Eeckhout, last June in Antwerp at the Belgian elite champs he was in the break with Boonen; the Tomeke fans had their man as a cert to win.
Kris was just telling us that oxygen cylinders are banned from track centres under UCI regulations. Marc piped-up; "that's a pity, I could have done with a cylinder strapped to my back on the first night!" He's one of the boys now, amazing how much difference a couple of days can make to relationships. It's wet outside and very warm in here, there was a big junior and ladies programme in the morning, complete with the usual crashes. Belgian junior track racing is not for those of a nervous disposition.
Lotto Zesdaagse van Hasselt 2007. It's 18.00, the juniors are up and keeping the red cross busy. At a time when any sensible person is contemplating a movie then a nice pasta and bottle of red at their favourite Italian restaurant in the company of their sweetheart, we're just about to start work.
"Aint go bump no mo' with no big fat woman!" Seventies disco and six-day racing - Hot Chocolate, Van McCoy, Cool and the Gang and Joe Tex; the biz! It's 19.35 and the theme from Chariots of Fire is blasting-out, Lotto Zesdaagse van Hasselt 2007 and we're off!
Lotto Zesdaagse van Hasselt 2007. Kris picked me up at Dusseldorf Weeze airport at tea time yesterday (Wednesday), it's actually only about two kilometres from Holland so it wasn't long before we found a frites stand. Hasselt is in the Limburg region of Belgium, Flemish speaking and with a population of about 70,000. The local tourist office brochure tries hard to talk the town up but there's not much to say - a nice-enough place though.
The Copenhagen Six Day 2005; Danny Kaye is telling me over the public address that it's "Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen". I'm not so sure: it's gone 1.00 am and we have 18 Lycra jerseys; 18 under-vests; six pairs of chamois-lined cycling shorts; six pairs of socks and six pairs of track mitts to hand wash, spin dry and hang up to dry in our 'cabin' in the bowels of the stadium. Welcome to the glamorous world of Six Day bicycle racing.
The last day at Grenoble Six Day 2006 isn't too hard for the riders, there's a points race, a time trial and then the big chase - 180 laps of the 210 meter track. I did hear guys complain though that the lack of warm-up races made for sore legs early in the Madison.