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 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….
The average speed last night for the first madison of Night Two, 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 wouldn’t be a six without politics.
I was a bit ropey on the first night; ‘what happens now?’ flashed through my head a few times…
“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 Bremen Six disappeared – now they’re more than happy to head south to Grenoble at the end of October.
“Real” Six or not, the list of winners is pretty damn impressive – Post, Merckx, Sercu, Moser, Doyle, Clark, Baffi, Villa, Marvulli, Gilmore, Keisse, Rasmussen and Morkov.
I can’t remember how many times I’ve been here, but it’s never disappointing to drive down the valley road between the limestone cliffs and snow capped peaks beyond, to the ‘Capital of the Alps’…
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 this six, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sun.
The boys did it, I didn’t think they would, but they did – it was wonderful to be a part of it…
There I was, sitting track side getting my Pez 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!”
Eight kilometre TTT’s don’t cut much ice with Vik – best not tell him about that nice SKY notebook Gregor brought me back from the team launch.
Monday means two things at Copenhagen – the last washing of the race; and the handicap madison…
I decided not to mention the demise of Franco Ballerini in my Pez 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.
Vai con Dio, Franco.