Gent Six Day. The A2 Dover to London road, 23:23 on Sunday.
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.
(The big Aussies – Alex Carver & Scott Long – won it by three laps, with Luke Rowe and Jon Mould third for GB.)
To tell the truth, I can’t remember much about Saturday night, except Eddy Wally.
Eddy is part of what Belgium is all about, you never now what to expect; he’s 78 years old, eccentric as hell but adored by the fans.
And I do remember asking Dirk what a particular song was; ‘that’s the Dutch guy, Father Abrahams.’ I asked him is he thought there had been anything going on between Father Abraham and the Smurffs; ‘I think maybe it’s possible!‘
Tonight was special; one of the first Sixes I worked at was Grenoble, five or six years ago. Michael and Alex were young Danish laddies riding their first Six; but Michael crashed on the first night and broke his collar bone, whilst Alex was paired with Marco Villa.
I remember Michael eating all of our biscuit stocks and telling me that he wanted to be a Six Day rider – the ‘laddies’ are men, now. They’re champions of the world and tonight they joined the greats as winners of one of the toughest Six Day races there is.
I always hit it off with Michael, but used to feel there was a little barrier between Alex and me.
But that came down at the Copenhagen Six – which they won – back in February and I enjoy my relationship with Alex, now.
It’s not certain that they’ll be defending their world title at the worlds in Copenhagen next spring; the track isn’t that big a deal to Pro Tour teams.
I hope they do ride, if they do, I could well be tempted to get over to the Ballerup velodrome – where the Worlds will be, and where the Copenhagen Six is held – to watch ‘my’ boys.
People say; ‘ah ! those Six Days are all fixed, aren’t they?’
Of course! It’s a doddle to win one, provided you can take a lap when the string is riding at 55 kph – easy.
If you were Iljo Keisse, would you give your home race away? – me neither!
Iljo was impressive, and has done his reputation no harm with the way he rode here; aggressive, flamboyant and gracious in defeat.
Kluge is a big strong boy, out of the Bartko mould, they both ride Cervelos and have impressively smooth but robotic riding styles.
But they don’t play to the crowd, like Iljo – or Franco. Franco oozes star quality, tall, tanned, handsome, multi lingual, popular with the ladies but cool with the guys too.
He won the flying lap tonight, then rode round pointing at his chest; ‘that was me just did that 8.71!’ following the win up by distributing his bouquet, flower by flower to the ladies in the crowd.
Bruno Risi – he’s still the man; a joy to watch, fast, strong and with some sort of bat-like instinct to detect the exact second to go for the lap gain. We’ll miss him.
Whilst Six Day organisers across Europe wring their hands, the Kuipke pulses like a living thing.
I was fascinated by it; on Thursday night, the crowd in the track centre was huge, threatening to brush aside the railings and cabins and drink it’s pils on the slow running boards.
The amount of beer drunk is mind boggling, they ship the stuff in by the pallet.
There’s little grief, although a lot of them get carried away – they want jerseys, sun glasses, shorts – anything!
You have to be firm – and keep back from the barriers or you’ll spend the whole night taking programmes to get autographed.
It’s hard when folks come for a chat, you have to keep half an eye on the cabins – you never know what you might have to do and you can’t stray too far or for too long.
People may think that when you stand track side, you’re doing nothing anyway and could be away for a blether. They forget that you might have help change a wheel; change a rider’s shorts or jersey, if they crash; hand up a drink, retrieve or fill a bottle.
But there’s another aspect, just as important; Franco, in particular, likes his team to be there, visible, giving moral support – not ‘missing in action.’
And now it’s Monday morning, we parked up, for a sleep at Watford Gap for a few hours, early this morning, and now we’re battling the traffic north on the M6 – reality beckons.
Michael and Alex are off to a Saxo Bank training camp, today.
Franco will be sleeping – him, Bruno, Alexander Aeschbach and Tristan Marguet drove home to Switzerland through the night.
When my ‘day job’ is doing my head in this week, I’ll just let my mind slip back to Sunday night at the Kuipke and Alex coming over the top of Iljo down that home straight… I won’