We’re at the Grenoble ‘Six’ – only it’s no longer a ‘Six;’ in line with Zürich, they’ve cut it back to be the Grenoble Four Day.
I haven’t taken any pictures of the Paris Folies girls yet – I got into an awful bother last year with those topless shots – and decided to wait and see what the outfits were like before I reached for the Nikon.
The first routine was a ‘no, no’ – there was silicone jutting everywhere!
They’re fully clothed for their second number – you could see the disappointment in the riders’ faces as they looked at the big screen.
This race has a great tradition, stretching back to 1971 when Six Day legend Peter Post of The Netherlands partnered dashing ‘playboy’ Frenchman Alain Van Lancker to victory.
Merckx, Sercu, Pijnen, Thurau, Clark and Doyle have all won here in the Palais Des Sports.
But the thing about the Six Days is that first and foremost, they have to make money – and the organisers have to make decisions to safeguard their margins.
As Franco Marvulli once said to me; ‘better four days than no days!’
Johnny Hallyday, aka ‘the French Elvis’ was beaming down at us from the posters as we arrived to pick up our accreditation – he’s here in December (Johnny, not Elvis, that is).
The hall is a big venue for gigs – Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen have played here.
Of all the stadiums on the circuit, this one is the most spectacular – the concrete ‘wings’ curve up into the sky, with the local football club’s all glass stadium next door and the limestone crags towering over everything.
Inside, Dirk was getting ready to cosset the expensive hardware, including Kenny De Ketele’s new stead and Iljo Keisse’s gorgeous Specialized – the lightest track bike I’ve ever come across.
The indoor season started in Amsterdam, where Saxo-Tinkoff road star, Michael Mørkøv paired with former Netherlands elite road champion, Pim Ligthart to win.
The word is that Mørkøv was riding the string off his wheel, he was so strong.
Second in Amsterdam was the QuickStep pairing of Iljo Keisse and Niki Terpstra, the reigning Netherlands elite road race champion.
Keisse is here, paired with World Madison Champion, Kenny De Ketele.
Kenny was fourth in Amsterdam, paired with world champion partner, Gils Van Hoecke.
Completing the podium in Amsterdam was the strong home pairing of Stroetinga/Schep.
As well as the strong Keisse/De Ketele pairing, we have ‘home boys’ Morgan Kneisky and Bryan Coquard.
It’s a little while since there’s been a solid French Six Day team; but this pairing is quality.
Kneisky rides for the Roubaix Lille Metropole squad and won the Worlds Scratch Race title in 2009, was second in the Worlds Madison with Riblon in 2010 and in 2011 he was second in the Worlds Scratch and Points Races as well as winning here in Grenoble with Keisse.
If Coquard can maintain his momentum then he’s bound for the very top – he was World Junior Omnium Champion in 2009 and 2010; in 2011 he was second to Britain’s Ed Clancy in the European Omnium Championship, but this year he’s been outstanding.
He was second in the European Omnium Championship, second in the Olympic Omnium and on the road won the prestigious GP Cristal Energie in France before finishing second in the World U23 Road Race Championship in Limburg.
Riders who’ve ridden against him in the Omnium will tell you that he’s all but unbeatable in the Devil (or Elimination as the Continentals call it) – a discipline where it’s easy add ‘a whole shed load’ of unwelcome points if you get caught out early.
The third team which should be contending for the podium is the pairing of current Six Day king, Franco Marvulli and rapid countryman, Tristan Marquet.
Marguet is reining Swiss Points Race Champion and won the summer Six Days of Fiorenzuola with Marvulli.
However, Marvulli came down in a bad crash in a derny paced track race in France in August sustaining severe injuries to his arm when he was run over by three riders and a Derny which were behind him.
He had to quit the Amsterdam Six so it’s unclear how he’ll go here.
But the caterers are ready to go; there are new tricots (jerseys) for the coureurs – the old ones were getting a bit tired – and Gregory Baugé is good to go in the sprints.
Baugé and the man who denied him that Olympic Individual Sprint gold which he so covets, Jason Kenny are first up in the keirin.
It’s a tame affair, they’re even chatting among themselves when they pass us.
The pros get a 42 lap Points Race to loosen their legs, more sprinting – then its trapeze time.
If you’ve followed my jaunts to Grenoble over the years, then you’ll know that it’s not just about the bikes (didn’t someone write a book called that?)
The whole track centre becomes a restaurant; 100 tables each with 10 diners.
There’s a lavish buffet – and a cabaret, which could be tenors, a magic act, strongmen, jugglers…
But the acts aren’t ‘Portobello Toon Hall’ – they’re world class; some of the strong man acts I’ve seen here beggar belief.
The first act this year was a contortionist, a normal sized guy who can pack himself into a small box – it’s a not a career I’d have much of a future in.
The trapeze artists are excellent, the diners sip their fine wines and the riders watch the giant screen as the artistes do their thing up in the roof space.
Chase time – there’s no ‘easing in’ to it, Iljo and Kenny flex their muscles from the off.
They take the first lap but Kneisky/Coquard are right there too; ‘we’re no push over’ they’re telling the men from the North.
Franco is hurting, you can see it, but he hangs tough – it’s only a 35 minute chase.
Folies time; and there’s a South Pacific/Hiawatha/Divine kind of a vibe – ‘Happy Talk’ meets ‘Running Bear’; with a bit of ‘Shake it Up’ – but they’re topless, so no one really cares.
Team Sprint time, with a twist – the Six Day guys wind it up, dive for the line, then peel off after their lap on the front, leaving the sprinter to do his thing for the final lap.
Jason has his GB ‘super bike’ here, complete with ‘trick’ ends to stop all those watts from pulling a wheel.
Franco and Tristan go with him – despite Franco being the colour of chalk, they take the win.
Franco may be jaded, but Tristan is rapid and Kenny isn’t Olympic Champion for nothing.
But within minutes of finishing, Franco is stretchered out of the hall and off to hospital – a viral infection, dehydration and loss of kidney function.
Tristan is concerned for his partner, but disappointed that his Grenoble may be over as he texts home.
And yet more negs – there have been four punctures tonight; staples are the culprits – Dirk works overtime with the contact adhesive.
The 20 minute chase isn’t too savage – Austin Carroll and Guy East, our young American charges enjoy this chase more than the last one; but Iljo, Kenny, Morgan and Bryan will be at it again tomorrow in the 35 minute chase, you can be sure.
More Folies (fully clothed), the music is Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker face’ so the dancers all stand motionless and – you guessed it – ‘poker faced.’
And yes, it was as bad as it sounds.