January 8, 2006
I've spent a fair amount of last evening and this morning watching the live stream from the Rotterdam 6 day event. Very cool. All of the events - the madison, scratch, 400m TTT, miss-and-out, derny (that sounded like I was trapped inside a beehive echo chamber), plus the keirin and match sprints - were entertaining (especially since while I've been a big fan of historic 6 day events, I've never actually seen one take place live).
While the pros on the track are undoubtedly physically talented, what I actually have the utmost respect for is their ability not to go postal after hearing this soundtrack absolutely beaten to death:
Right Said Fred: "Stand Up (For the Champions)"
Queen: "We Are the Champions"
Survivor: "Eye of the Tiger"
London Symphony Orchestra: "Star Wars Main Title"
At least the audience can drink heavily to diffuse the torment. The riders out on the track have to hear it all full-bore, stone cold sober. Ad nauseum, again and again and again.
And having just finished the 1992 Tony Doyle biography, Tony Doyle: six day rider, where he details the execrable conditions the riders had to put up with (particularly housing), I hope that the riders today are getting better treatment and salaries then Doyle had to put up with in the 1980s-early 1990s, and what was likely worse prior to that. Doyle mused about tennis pros like Ivan Lendl, surmising that he didn't sleep in a cot in a basement at Wimbledon or have to take a dump in a plastic bucket courtside while playing. What was particularly interesting to me about Doyle's bio was how many big-name road riders (we're talking Tour de France and Giro champions: Laurent Fignon, Gianni Bugno, Stephen Roche, Greg Lemond, Francesco Moser) did six day races in the winter. Plus, Doyle chronicled the tension that it created among the 6 day specialists who were wary of the road pros' riding skills on the tight quarters of indoor velodromes plus jealous of their larger paychecks. It seemed to me that the road riders had yet to adopt the globe-trotting winter travel currently in vogue to seek out warmer climes for winter riding. Instead, they had the choice of cyclocross or 6 day races to add intensity to their road off-season training regimen. Perhaps in addition, the paychecks weren't quite as large as today for many of the pros and racing six day events was an economic necessity. I did notice a few road pros in Rotterdam (Isaac Galvez-Lopez, Max van Heeswijk, Servais Knaven, Aart Vierhouten, plus I'm sure some of the others race on the road), but it seems to me that the recent generations of Grand Tour contenders avoid the winter track season. It's probably not a bad thing, particularly for the rider's constitution's sake, but just a fact of contemporary pro racing. I think riders don't race as many days on the road per year, but the days they do race are more intense. Gone are the days of rolling into February a little overweight and able to race off the pounds by the classics or first grand tour. Expecting someone these days to race a full road season then hit the 6 day circuit is likely a one way ticket to uber burnout.
I confess to not knowing too much about the current state of track racing in Europe, but it seems that there still is a core of riders Doyle dubbed "The Blue Train" who are 6 day specialists comprising about 50% of any event's lineup, while the remainder of the field is made up either of younger, up and coming 6 day riders or road pros looking for training/paycheck/thrill of competition in their home country (or maybe just the desire to suck down cigarette smoke and live vampire hours for 6 days straight).