Friday, January 29, 2010

SixDays and FouteenDays

The six days for me ended and era. They ended the era where cycling occupied a place in my mind of an unattainable goal. Now I live in an era where cycling is a rockstar sport, and I can be on that stage with enough work.

It is not all spotlights and loud music. Check that. It is all loud music. But for every stomach tightening 30 seconds of cheers and reptile-level thinking, there's an hour of staring at this as spastic lighting engineers have their day and DJs play the same 8 songs at eardrum-shattering decibel levels.

It's all worth it. The 6 hours of waiting are worth the moments like this. 10,000 people either willing you on or willing you to go down, and go down hard. Either way, that energy is palpable.

Hearing your name from the crowd in a foreign accent is something I'm not sure I'll ever get used to. Even if those encouragements are being drowned out by the cheers and shrieks for the champion behind you.

This is where thinking stops. The brain fights for control but the reptilian self has it now. You go, react, shift gears, shift tactics, change your position just enough, but never think about it.

When race A is done and race B is up after a madison, a derney and a concert from some rhinestone-encrusted human sneer, things are pretty loose and relaxed in the cabins. You're guaranteed to go home every night with total sensory overload, so the less serious things are, the more bits of sanity everyone gets to take home when it's als tal over. This photo was taken just after a kierin round which featured an elbow to the face of the guy next to me (the guy mugging for the camera on the right). I came down from the blue line and put him onto the apron, ears ringing, helmet cocked over one eye. I hit him harder than I intended to (brian abers and his headbutt-induced broken ribs can attest to the fact that this happens every now and then), but after it was over things were right back to normal. Just another day in the pits.

It's all for the show. By the end of the six, we were the most violent (towards each other, mostly) of all the sprinters. By no coincidence, the crowds loved us. If you don't have those rainbow stripes hanging in your closet or stretched across your barrel chest, you have to compensate. Give people a reason to cheer for or against you.

This last picture is both unfortunate/awesome. I got to know Bauge pretty well at the two sixes we both did this year, and I can say that he's a standup guy. Always the right dude at the right time, so to speak. This is in a kierin round at the Beijing World Cup, right after Rotterdam. Bauge is crashing downtrack from the rail while Denis Dmitriev from Russia pulls probably the coolest move ever actually caught on film. No, he didn't land, but who cares? No one got a photo of that part. Just the extra-gnar before impact.

The horror! The humanity! The EXTREME-NESS!

The Joy!
In fourteen days Jenny and I will pack our few meager belongings into a Uhaul van and point ourselves West. West to the promised land. Back to Portland. Away from the culture-void and strip-mall suburbia we've been in the last two years. Back to home base. We recently returned from a quick weekend trip to find an apartment (successful) and things became very clear on the plane, about 40 minutes from landing. I look up from from my book (George McGovern sounded like a cool cat) as the captains gives his "soon we'll be landing in Portland, the weather is a bla bla bla" bit, and I look around the cabin a bit. I see: Girl with pink hair. Guy with purple beard. Lady in business attire with tattoos down to her wrists, a grey-haired man in a sequined dress, not a single tan on the entire plane. An aircraft full of smiling, pasty people.

So soon I'll be back to teammates, friends, family, racing, a happy wife and the rhythm of the city. Soon, but not soon enough.


Monday, January 18, 2010

up to 11

The most important thing to remember as an American six-day rider is: This is not your normal life, so don't get used to it.

It's mind-bendingly strange to go from spectator numbers in the high tens to racing for paying fans that number 10,000 or more. So much about the sixdays are foreign to us, but so much about them could be a successful model for racing in the US, it's hard to wrap your head around it all at once.

As far as the racing goes, for me it was as good as it could have been. Racing with riders who have supportive federations (and tracks that stay open year round) is tough when you live in Colorado, in the land of the USOC and USAC. On days that the weather was clear and the roads were dry I was told there was "no way in hell" that I would be allowed on the track. So out on the road bike I'd go. The other 70% of the time the roads were covered in snow and ice, so onto the trainer or rollers I'd go. The result of all this was a slow first half, and a building second half to the six. I'd see my times drop a bit every day, and know that if it wasn't for the awesome beaurocratic bullshit that kept the gates to my home velodrome locked, I could've come here on much better form.

Complaints aside, I did my job. We all did. Sprints and Kierins at the sixdays are the ultimate test of a rider's skills with contact at speed. You have never given a real headbutt until you've done it to a man wearing World Champion's stripes at top speed in front of thousands of gasping fans. You've never ridden a rough sprint round until you've come blazing down the back-straight at the rail, elbows locked, leaning hard against your opponent, then pulling out of the tailspin at the final moment for the semi-controlled dive to the lane, drag racing elbow to elbow through the final corner and finishing it with a desperate bike throw.

A mother of a young American girl who was racing in the Women's Six was lamenting loudly to our cook about the sprinters. She said it was disgraceful how we ignored the rules, and that we'd never get away with such behavior in the US. He responded with something along the lines of "nobody wants to see those boys follow the rules." We put on a show, gave the paying spectators the thrills they were looking for, went home tired and toasted to our collective success.

Racing like this doesn't always end well. Compared to the madison riders, we were relatively safe, only 2 crashes in the entire Six. Both happened in the kierin (no suprise), and neither seriously injured the unfortunate board-surfer. This time it was Mulder. He's crashing downtrack here, right into the lane and into my path. You can see the imminent doom in my eyes, as I'm hoping the officials on the apron have enough sense to jump out of the way. They did. I rang the finish line bell with my shoulder, narrowly avoided splitting Mulder's head open with my front wheel and made it back onto the 50 degree track mid-corner from the apron at speed.

More later. For now it's coffee and long, slow miles.