are sometimes smooth and silky, and other times tired and tight.

Monday, October 29, 2007

One Night at the Six Day

For the past few years I’ve been wanting to attend the Amsterdam Six Days, but never managed to get organized enough to get the tickets in time. For those who are unaware, Six Day races consist of two man teams that compete on an indoor track. Historically the races lasted 24/6, although much to the amphetamine trades dismay, they switched it to a more reasonable 6 evenings.

This year, I finally managed to experience a night at the track first hand. While it was truly a treat to see the likes of Erik Zabel, Robert Bartko, and Bruno Risi, and Theo Bos in person, I must confess that the social atmosphere is almost as important as the races themselves: needless to say, a vast amount of beer is consumed.

On that note, some images.

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Patrik Bos and Theo Bos getting ready to rumble.

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Keirin race in full swing.

Near the end of the night, a friend and I tried to sneak into the VIP zone to try and get a picture with Mr. Zabel. While we had no luck getting in, we did manage to see most of the racers on their way to the changing rooms, as well as a few VIPs. To their credit, almost all of them put up with our well lubricated antics.

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The star attraction, Erik Zabel, on his way to the showers after a hard nights work on the saddle.

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Multiple Olympic Gold and World Championship winning cyclist Leontien van Moorsel, giving a few tips on how to ride on the track and maintain a tan.

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Michael Zijlaard, van Moorsels husband, as well as one of the organizers of the nights, and a Derny driver to boot.

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Dutch veteran, Aart Vierhouten - a very nice guy, and strong as an ox.

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Some cheerleaders.

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Last, but not least, the overall winner of the 2007 Amsterdam Six Days, Robert Bartko.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Loop of the loop of the loop (A tale of two races – part one)

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Sitting in the club house, drinking coffee, I pin on my number one last time, mystified at how quickly the season has passed. Thinking about it, I realize that apart from the weather, not much separates the various races. 2007: a loop of a loop. I’ve become a little bored with it. No matter, today is the “Sluitingsrit”, or Closing ride, the last race of the season.

I roll up to the line, and see most of the usual suspects: the Sprinter, van der Moser, Flick, van Poppel. There are also two friends, both psychologists. I’ve always wondered if racing is research or therapy for them. Maybe both?

A few words are spoken before the start, a round of applause for the organizers is given, and for the last time in 2007 I attack from the line. Actually, it’s not so much an attack, but an attempt to get the race over as soon as possible. I’m quickly reeled in.

The following 30 some odd minutes grind away without incident. There are a few attacks, but none that manage to stick. I stay near the front and notice that the psychologists have two friends with them today. They’re not wearing the same shirt, but they’re playing team tactics. It’s the only thing of interest that I note.

I find myself on the Sprinter's wheel just as he jumps from the field. I go with him. The two of us have a gap, but the Sprinter tells me that two isn’t enough. I’m not feeling very adventurous, so I agree. Meanwhile, Flick has bridged up to us. I wait us to be reeled in. The Sprinter says to continue riding, but not too hard. We share our work, setting a moderate tempo, recovering for the next wave of attacks.

I look behind, and see that we now have some company, but the field isn’t getting any closer. Once again, the usual suspects are all there: van der Moser, van Poppel… as well as one of the psychologists. It looks like the teamwork is working back in the field, because it doesn’t take long for us to pull away, safely out of sight from the peloton.

We commit to the break, more or less, and the race blurs. The collaboration slowly becomes spotty. A few riders are sitting in, while others are working hard, some words are exchanged, but that's about it. The bell rings, and we prepare for the final sprint. As expected, van der Moser, who has been sitting at the back the entire time, attacks. We catch him quickly.

The Sprinter asks me if I’m feeling strong. I’m not sure. Maybe. Why? He tells me I should try and surprise the group. I decide to do just that, but I wait until there’s about 1km to go, just before the "hill" on the course.

I’m sitting, 4th man from the front staying tight on the Sprinters wheel. There’s a half -hearted surge on the left, it’s van der Moser again. He stops before he’s even started. When I switch my gaze back to the front, the Sprinter accelerates. Someone is off the front. It’s one of the riders who had been sitting on for the previous 45 minutes.

We crest the ‘hill’, a viaduct in reality, and accelerate down the road, taking the final turn of the final lap of the final race of 2007. The Sprinter is reeling in the opportunist. I hear a gear shift behind me, and know that the game has finally begun.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Darwin Rewards

I subscribe to a theory. The theory is pretty simple: the dumber you are, the bigger an advantage you have as a bike racer. Thoughts, doubts, concerns… they don’t get in the way. You just go for it, without a care in the world.

Youth used to compensate, the whole invulnerability thing. When I was young, I found myself going to the Emergency Room at least once a year: broken leg skiing; partial finger amputation; head split open from falling out of a tree; front tooth broken from doing a face plant into the back of a van while on my city bike; etc...

That devil may care attitude helped quite a bit with my racing. I used to do completely idiotic things for no better reason than the fact that there were some upgrade points to be had. Squeezing through gaps that weren’t there, taking a turn with way too much speed, rubbing bars in a sprint. What an idiot I was.

The one memory of those bygone days that still resonates is from a race in upstate New York. I’ve forgotten almost everything about it, apart from the sprint. I had missed the initial jump, but to my surprise I was actually passing others who had gone too early. Riding in the right gutter, focusing on the finish line, I was sprinting for what would turn out to be 6th place.

I was about to squeeze past a rider on my left. He must have seen me, because the next thing I knew the gate was closing, and he ended up shoulder checking me. Let me remind you this was in the midst of a Cat 4 sprint. Even now I find myself a little irked with the guy, but that the time I was furious. Even more so, because after our first knock, he did it again, trying to force me to brake, or force me off the road. How I managed to stay up, I still don’t know.

Fortunately for me I somehow managed to find a few one last surge of speed, because just as he went to check me one more time, but I had slipped past him, crossing over the line, the sound of scraping metal behind me. My nemesis had crashed himself out.

A few minutes passed, and I heard my name being called on the PA. Was I going to be disqualified because some idiot thought he was Djamolidine Abdoujaparov? I approached the officials and discovered that they wanted to confirm who I was, because I had sprinted under their finish line cameras vantage point.

Later on, in the changing rooms, I saw the wannabe Abdoujaparov, standing under the shower, covered in road rash from knee to face, feeling sorry for himself. Priceless.

Now, after writing this anecdote, I realize that stupidity isn’t exactly an advantage after all.