In Part One of his account of ‘running’ at the SKOL Six Days in the early 70’s Pip Taylor told us about the 1971 race.
For the 1972 race he’d moved up the strata and was ‘running’ for a bona fide ‘Blue Train’ pairing.
* * *
By Pip Taylor
In 1972 I was supposed to ride the international amateur chase of 30 minutes each night and a matinee chase on the Saturday afternoon.
Having crashed in a road race earlier in the summer I couldn’t Madison change and was withdrawn, so I decided I would work as a ‘runner’ again.
Not having made a prior arrangement with any GB riders I decided to simply rock-up and offer my services to a continental pair.
Steve Snowling worked in the kitchen again and I offered my services to top Dutch Six Day star, the late Leo Duyndam when he parked up.
He was partnered with Tour de France yellow jersey wearer and stage winner, top roadman sprinter Dutchman, Gerben Karstens who was quite a character with a scary reputation but turned out to be a great bloke.
Whilst we unloaded his car he asked if I was also a mechanic. I must have given him the impression I was as he handed me a big plastic bag in which was his #1 track bike!
The problem was, it was in bits, all bits – the fork was out of the frame with no headset bearings attached, no bottom bracket and all the ball bearings lying uncleaned and in grease in the bottom of this bag.
The frame looked like it had been hand painted in Rokado team blue/yellow and put in the bag when still wet.
It was stuck to the bag.
Panic set in.
I only had a few spanners, a chain whip, track pump, bike stands and my own bike…
What to do?
I asked a few continental mechanics if they could fit the headset and bottom bracket but for some reason they declined when I told them who owned the bike.
Plan B – could I get from Wembley to Slough to Dave Russell’s or Jack Hearne’s bike shops to ask them to build it and get back in time for a 7pm start?
Not a chance.
Not even my Dad could help this time.
So with trepidation I went to find Gerben and suggested he ride his spare orange Locomotiev bike.
He said he had never ridden it ever before but he eventually agreed and in fact loved it and rode that for the whole event (he and Leo came second overall that year).
Being a top continental paring they had the choice of trackside cabin and opted for one under thestair case into the track centre, which was off the track slightly and out of the way. It provide an unobstructed view under the staircase and up to the people walking over it.
I think this amused Gerben when they ran a fashion show on it.
Both were consummate professionals, two lovely Locomotiev framed bikes for Leo, one (and the bag of bits) for Gerben and twice the number of Conti-shod spare wheels compared to the British riders.
Some with 165g tubs and 16 tooth cog (52 x 16) for the chases and 175g and a 15 tooth cog for the derny races.
Leo is the only rider who has ever given me a tyre pressure gauge to use to check and maintain tyre pressure in his wheels.
They were also respected by the other ‘hitters’ – and even by the chef.
In addition to normal runner duties I was asked to massage their legs in between races and I did so with my recovering broken arm.
Mid-evening, chef Jan Heil would arrive with fruit and ambrosia creamed rice and coffee for Leo and Gerben after he had delivered the same to Peter Post and Patrick Sercu.
We never got that in ‘71.
* * *
1972 Night One
Realising the pedigree of the pairing I was working for I was very nervous not to mess up.
Before the last chase of the night started soigneur Pierrot De Wit came to me and said ‘give this to Gerben with 20 min to go before the end of the last chase.’
It was a small slightly medical looking plastic bottle (you could get them from Holdsworthy) with what looked like tea in it.
After a nod from Pierrot I walked along the finish line to stand in the middle and hand up ‘refreshment’ to Gerben.
I didn’t have the same arrangement with Leo.
Between the next change Gerben came down off the banking and I held out the bottle.
He must have been doing in excess of 20mph and he hit it out of my hand with the contents went all over the Cote d’Azur.
Pierrot noticed and was not happy.
He gave me another and a lecture, same thing happened because Gerben was even faster this time.
Peirrot was seriously not happy with me, wagging his finger at me and swearing in Dutch.
By this time I was conscious of the crowd watching in the finish straight and track side tables, a third failure was not allowed so Pierrot handed up the third bottle himself and Gerben was much slower this time, the bastard!
I was trusted again on the other nights but I never failed again but I never knew what was in that bottle but Gerben liked it and they won many of the final chases!
* * *
Where did you get those jerseys from Junga?
When Peter Post summons you across the canteen and says ‘where did you get those jerseys from Junga?‘ you are nervous and you do as you are told and go over and explain.
I hadn’t stolen them but bought them from a professional rider. Peter asks ‘Who?’
Barry Hoban I said – Dutch expletives… ‘Never buy kit from professional riders and never buy anything from Barry Hoban‘, Peter Post told me. Come to my cabin under the track tomorrow afternoon, no explanation why.
I’m in trouble.
I was scared but duly knocked on the door the next day and was let into the inner sanctum of the top Six Day team in the world, the soigneur was massaging Peter in the table and Patrick was in the corner waiting his turn.
The atmosphere was thick with embrocation and oils and kit everywhere.
Peter instructed the soigneur to get something from his case and to give them to me.
He gave me one of Peter’s own Willem II road jersey’s with a P sewn in the collar and Peter Post Bowling race cap.
He reiterated his instruction never buy kit off professional riders.
He asked me who I was running for and I explained Leo and Gerben and he just shrugged.
I left walking on air to show Steve Snowling the kit (which I still treasure today).
Years later I met Barry Hoban and told him this story and the fact that I had got told off by Post for buying his kit. He said everyone got told off by Post in those days and he shrugged and walked away.
In ‘72 I bought a pair of Madison shorts from Gianni Motta. Interestingly the Madison bung pocket was sewn into the back in the right hip?
I was paid with two pairs of Goudsmidt Hoff track shorts and £15.00 cash by Leo and Gerben but they did cover my kitchen bill too.
* * *
I learnt a lot but in hindsight there are so many questions I should have asked those professionals; how to set up my bike, how to train, what to eat, what does doping do, how much did they earn?
But I was too young and too introverted to ask.
Some say the Six Day is a circus. If it is then so be it. But it’s a very difficult way to earn a living and for British riders who had not benefitted from a continental road season or perhaps the race quality of Holland and Belgium it was doubly tough.
I saw Tony Gowland turn himself inside out each night to please the crowds, his partner (they’d paired him with Sercu) and his manager, and he won it – but at a cost.
I saw top hard Aussie riders trying to break into the Blue Train coming out of Post’s room on day six in tears as they had not got the money they were expecting.
I saw Jan Heil physically attack riders for asking him to cook something different.
Six Day Racing is not a milieu for the faint of heart…