The sprint World Champ has figured out his role. I have the luxury of a common language with the Dutch, so my first pro Six has gone fairly smoothly. They've acted as translators for VIP schmoozers, organizers and announcers, and I'm endlessly grateful. However. They nor I speak anything close to French, and Bauge speaks about 10 words of English, so that line of communication has been iffy. High-fives, shrugs and smiles only go so far.
But finally, after a few touch-and-go evenings, the massive french champion really Gets It. Before the kierin we are all relaxing in the cabins, mocking some awful song the DJ has chosen, when Bauge throws down a fierce French rap. Yondi immediately makes for the announcer's booth, smiling wickedly.
As you wind up for your 200, it's equally important to wind up the crowd. I ride my 200 while the previously mentioned "Born In The USA" plays at maximum volume, with the first two laps at the rail no-hands, clapping to the beat and willing the crowd to cut loose. So far, the DJ's have chosen some lifeless techno song for Bauge to wind up to, but tonight is different. He rolls up the track with his usual World Champion game face. Deadly serious. A true professional. There is a moment of silence as he climbs the banking and the song cues up. The chorus of 50 Cent's "In Da Club" erupts from the speaker stacks and the crowd absolutely loses it. Bauge smiles wide and for the first time seems to be enjoying himself, bobbing his head and dancing with the crowd on lap 2.
We are circus animals in colorful clothing, brought here to play to our national stereotypes and entertain the patrons. Winning the race and destroying your competition is secondary to the much more difficult task of winning the crowd.
They will know immediately if you are over your head. These people have watched cycling like football their entire lives, and there are no excuses worth their time. So make it a good one. Get out of the gate like you mean it, don't disrespect someone with rainbow stripes and give it everything for the show. There is no UCI or USCF rapping your knuckles for headbutts or chops. If we raced like they want us to at US Nationals, spectators would leave their seats and never again slap down 30 euros to watch a bike race. No reward without risk.
This week was many things. Stressful? Yes. Successful? Yes. I returned from Europe with some great memories, average pictures, a notebook full of over-caffienated writing and a paid invitation to return.
So instead of going through a tedious day-by-day account of what happened, we'll start with a couple of excerpts of what I wrote at the time and a few pictures.
Day 2: Baggage difficulties, language barriers and twisted, sleepless nights fade instantly as you find yourself riding at the rail, winding up for your 200 as "Born In The USA" blasts out of the stadium speakers. Now you're playing to the crowd like you've never done before. Hands off the bars in mid-corner, fist-pumping, willing the crowd of rabid Dutch out of their seats. Keep your machine under control amid the road, the music, the derny fumes, the strobes, lasers and nerves. Just keep your head up, be the rockstar the crowd paid 50 bucks a pop to see. This is your job, so enjoy it.
The riders' cabins are beyond cramped. 36 pro men including the sprinters. 2 riders per 3X5 cabin, each pair with 2 soigneurs and mechanics drifting in and out. Add to that a constant stream of "VIP Liasons," taking paying fans through the rider's area to see their favorite starts. As a World Champ, Bauge is in high demand, so most high-roller patrons end up at the end of the row, standing in front of the sprinter's cabins asking for autographs and pictures.
Day 3: The derny smoke hangs thick tonight. 3 rounds of 50-lap noise-fests down, one to go and I cannot wait for those laps to be over. Every night at the hotel I'm spitting black crap and listening to my ears ring, waiting for the noise/fumes/adrenaline/exertion headache to fade away. This a scene tailor made for Vegas. Singles dressed to the nines, stalking each other and liver disease, swilling free booze on the VIP infield, chaotic frenzy from the cheap seats, strobes and lazers everywhere.
My corner of the world for six nights is very literally that. A tiny corner, with a light, a dirty mattress and a shelf. It is cramped and it is hot, but it's also mine. In someone else's country, at someone else's event and on someone else's turf, this is all the real estate I need to keep grounded. That and a free coffee every now and then...
Home is where the heart is? Where the wife is, the cat, the french press and by far the most comfortable bed in the world. Yes. All of these things. It's good to be home (for a minute). A quick breath, try to recover from a few weeks in two of the most vile places on the planet and off to somewhere unknown.
Vegas, first up. What a city. A bunch of rich guys showing off in the desert. The trade show went well, but it wasn't quite the show that it's been in the past. No huge announcements, not many revered euro-pros, very few (meaningful or exciting) unveilings. But there was a pretty sweet high-wheel:
Cav's Tour bike was cool to see:
It was also pretty entertaining watching the Chinese exhibitors assembling some future Wal-Mart Specials in the parking lot.
All in all I would say that the business side of my trip to Vegas was a success. Learned some good stuff for the shop, saw some important things, got some things settled. However, one thing is for certain: Vegas right before Nationals is no good. Too much free beer, waaaay too much walking, not enough riding. I did get one important thing accomplished. Every now and then you must go above and beyond as the only sober person in the room. Every now and then you need to take apart your couch and reassemble it on your unconscious, barely alive co-worker.
Enough of that. On to Los Angeles.
Nationals this year was not a bust, but it was not the nationals I was hoping for. I false started the standing 250 and destroyed my chance at a National record and another jersey. My time in the 200 was less than stellar. In face it was pretty much unacceptable to my coach and the USAC folks in the stands. My tactics in the Kierin were questionable (first or last!). I even briefly toyed with the idea of having my mechanic go chop some tendons:
Looks like he liked the idea. Actually not surprisingly the cause of Dave's burst of activity was cake. So there ya go.
It all came around on the final day for the team sprint, not a moment too soon. I rode first, lost a few tenths coming out of the gate a little late (was not interested in false start X2) but still rode a first lap that would have won me the 250. Lanell Rockmore rode a stellar lap and Kevin Mansker fought the big fight to chase back and finish the third lap. In the end we won by a comfortable margin and got to stand on the top step of the podium and pull on another one of these:
What will also feel good will be wearing it (or something like this) in the Amsterdam 6-Day. One week from today I'm back on a jet plane, headed over the pond to Holland. This is a huge opportunity for me, and something I've wanted to do for a long time. If you had asked me a year ago, I would have been happy just to see a euro 6, let alone race one! If you're interested, you should be able to follow the race at www.zesdaagseamsterdam.nl. With a little help from Google Translate the site is pretty cool.
As for me, I have a roller session to do. Rest is for suckers. DT