The wee small hours of Wednesday morning, heading north out of Berlin, en route Rostock, the ferry across the Baltic and Denmark for the Copenhagen Six Day. I wish I could say that Berlin had an epic finale - but I can't, it was dire. Processional, flat, uninspired with no tension, no theatre, no drama.
You’ve got to get here first, right? Even by Ryanair punishment flight standards, it was a sore one. The lady in front of me, I’m sure was taking her kids to audition for; ‘Devil Spawn of Berlin, The Revenge’ – they’ll get the parts, no problem.
I braved the tourists and human statues up on Edinburgh’s High Street to see if I could get Monday’s L’Equipe in the International Newsagents – it’s the one for all the good Tour stats. But alas, no dice – I had to settle for Sunday’s Observer and Monday’s Guardian where it’s wall to wall Christopher and Sky.
We'd hoped for a big GC dog fight on the Joux Plane but what we got was a dour struggle to the line whilst those crazy baroudeurs battled for the stage win. It was a nice morning to start with but as we parked up on the Joux Plane the clouds scudded in, thunder roared down the valley and the lightning flashed brighter than a million photog's flash guns.
We chose the wrong mountain - but little did we know there'd be a big rain storm on the last climb to give the race the jolt it's been requiring for three weeks. A great day for Bardet and AG2R. A good day for Quintana, Mentjies and Martin. A bad day for Mollema, Yates, Dumoulin, Rolland and Navarro - the latter three all crash victims. And Froome and Porte have had better days. . .
If anyone harboured any doubts about the fact that Froome was going to win this Tour it took him just 30 minutes to straighten things out. He destroyed everyone in including the man who's probably the world's number one 'chronoman' - Tom Dumoulin. Whilst the mountains may be beautiful, a time trial up one is a daunting prospect.
How are the mighty fallen? We had to double check the number – but ‘yes’ it was Tejay, way off the back and just ‘riding in’ on the Col de la Forclaz – well, we got that one right, we said he do nothing in this race. But we did also say that Nairo Quintana would win it – but that was more out of hope than anything else but it would be tall, skinny Russian Ilnur Zakarin who would take the day, eventually.
'Rest day' - it's a misnomer if you're a fanatic; but you could do one interview then hang out, I guess? But if you're like us, confirmed saddos, then it's a great opportunity to get a lot of talking and snapping done. Albeit on rest days you can linger a bit longer over breakfast - which is nice in a week of always having to be somewhere/do something right now or in five minutes. We asked our Trek contact if we could get an interview with Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne winner, Jasper Stuyven.
Peter Sagan, again! There’s little left to say about the man but as soon as we walked the last couple of kilometres we knew it was one for him – a sharp cobbled climb up from the river, across a cobbled bridge, past the bear pit then another nippy climb before the 1,000 metre, straight as a dye, pan flat finish straight.
While Jarlinson Pantana was winning the stage today for IAM Cycling and Columbia (that's his contract sorted for 2017 - IAM folds at the end of the season) Ed and Callum were race-bound, flying in to Geneva to get the car and get organised with race accreditation.
Kruijswijk's crash, would you have waited? Wee Esteban says: "I’m very sorry for the crash of Steven (Kruijswijk), unfortunately it’s a part of bike racing and he was unlucky today." Either way, it was a horrible crash - the Dutchman seemed paralysed with fear, it didn't look like he even tried to steer round that bend. Ed rounds up the last three stages roadside.
It looked like Pippo was going to send Italia into raptures on Wednesday's Stage 17 - but big, bad Six Day man and omnium specialist, Roger Kluge (IAM & Germany) spoiled the dream, jumping early from an uncontrolled peloton to take a beautiful stage win. IAM are folding at the end of this year but Rodge will have no bother finding a contract. With so many of the big sprinters gone - Kittel, Greipel, Demare, Ewan, Mezgec and Viviani - there was no one capable or willing to control the last kilometre except Lampre for Modolo and/or Trek for Nizzolo.
It wasn't a good day for Chaves on Tuesday's Stage 16, he lost time to Kruijswijk and Valverde. With three minutes in hand over the Colombian, the Dutchman is going to take a bit of shifting; and there's a danger that Valverde might leapfrog Chaves, too - he's now just 23 seconds in arrears. Nibali lost time, too.
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...
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.
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...
When we spoke to Cav's personal soigneur, Aldis half way through the stage we knew it wasn't to be; 'And Mark, today ?' Aldis screwed up his face; 'he's a little sick...' So 4:1 to Greipel - and the rumours about Cav having to learn to understand Brian Smith's accent at MTN get ever stronger. We changed our system and didn't drive race route for the last stage; instead we drove straight to the digs, got organised, had a shower and headed off across a wet Paris to the finish circuit.
We didn't want any slip ups on 'le jour d'Alpe' so we were offski early to make sure we were on the parcours in plenty of time. Trouble is that we were on the road before the routing crews and had a wee bit of mucking around before we picked up the parcours. One mitigating factor was that we stumbled on Oleg out for a run, complete with bodyguard/training partner and team car.