Thursday, January 20, 2011

A wold cup, a sixday, a beer or two.

These past few months have been busy to say the least, so let's jump right into the fray with no protection and little concern for our own well-being. Let's pick up the action in the city of Cali, en route to the plush Four Points hotel in a bus filled with World Cup riders and surrounded by assault-rifle equipped Colombian soldiers.

I'm not convinced that this bus will survive this descent. Rolling over these hills in a broke down 80's tourist bus, two first-time world cup competitors are gripped with a kind of wild-eyed mania. This is Colombia. These hills are packed with danger and the city seems uncontrollable. A massive glittering city, that for all we know could be the largest place on the planet. Our bus driver isn't helping anyone's nerves, he's taking these curves at speeds few would attempt in a European sports car.

I was flown to Columbia at great expense to ride 250 meters from a dead stop as fast as possible. One lap of a purpose built track. That is my destiny. Density? That is a quarter of this year in the books for me, that one lap. My friend in the seat behind me, laughing hysterically at the dirty madness of Cali is an endurance rider of a different breed but at this point, we're practically indistinguishable. Jaws on the floor, eyes bigger than the moon. Drinking in this thing, this absurd experience, this incredible place. Everything all at once.

The Colombian people are incredible sports fans. Viciously nationalistic, but sports fans of the finest type. 5,000 Colombians are three times louder than 10,000 Europeans, and 5 minutes before our race I can hear every single one of them. Our third man is missing. The National Team coach is searching the catacombs of the velodrome's basement and I know that at the very least he will drag the poor bastard out by his hair and throw him on the track in a vomiting heap, somehow strapped to a bicycle. I remember a countdown, a false start and a reset. I remember a TV camera in my face and incredible fear. I remember the second half of my lap, but not the first. I remember disappointment seeing our final time.

2 Days after my return from Colombia I'm running a fever of 102.8. Locked on the couch in a sweating, hungry mess. I recover in time for my good friend Aaron Kacala to visit from Colorado for New Years. We show him and his wonderful ladyfriend Leilani our favorite parts of the greatest city on the planet and I finally start to feel better, which gives me enough time for one workout before I catch a direct flight to Amsterdam for the Sixday of Rotterdam.

Will he, Won't he?

Sweet mother it's cold here in Holland.

I feel simultaneously comfortable and waaay over my head. Being an American at a European sixday is a lonely thing. Without friends here I'd never be able to come back. There is a hierarchy, and I am very near the bottom.

Night 1.
Lots of noise about Kiesse tonight. Will he ride? Won't he? Will he be allowed? Who will Sercu pair him with at such a late hour? Iljo Kiesse's legal troubles after his positive test a few years ago are never-ending, but somehow in the 11th hour he's been cleared to ride here in Rotterdam. The riders are happy to see him, the crowds are nothing less than ecstatic. Kiesse rides with the flair that the public devours and he lives with the midnight hubris that the riders appreciate. The UCI will make trouble about this, but for now in the insular world of the Six, everything is good.

Night 2.
I am worried that I won't make it through this one. The overstimulation is already getting to me, with 4 nights to go after I survive this one. My two weeks suffering on the couch are not reflecting well on the legs. I'm covering it up well the only way I can here. Crowd-pleasing violence. Things I couldn't get away with at a race that's officiated by the books.

Night 3 and 4.

Blurs and flashes. The crowds roar, my legs are smashed and I can't remember anything but Cozy Shack and rough sprint rounds.

Night 5.

There is nothing more satisfying after another night of sixday shenanigans than an ice cold Amstel beer in a hot shower. Nothing in the world. It's like a delicious Icy Hot for your churning guts.

Tonight I profited from mass confusion in the kierin and ran away with a big win. I was so suprised I nearly forgot to celebrate.
As you can see here...

Night 6.

Everyone in the circus is tired. The soigneurs are tired of dealing with tired/hungover riders, the mechanics are spun out on tire glue vapors and too many Amstels, the runners are tired of indentured servitude and the riders feel exactly how you'd expect after 6 nights of nonstop everything. Bloodshot eyes above satisfied smiles. Gentlemen, we're done. The final laps are run, the confetti falls, envelopes full of Euros are exchanged, and we all say our goodbyes to what are becoming very familiar faces. Until next time.