Russell Mockridge

Russell Mockridge in the 1955 Tour de France. Photo source: My World on Wheels: The Posthumous Autobiography of Russell Mockridge by Russell Mockridge. 1960, Stanly Paul, London.

I’ve been somewhat fascinated by several pro cyclists through the ages whose appearance does nothing to instill fear into their peloton rivals. In fact, quite the opposite. Just take a quick glance at them—Jean Robic, Mariano Martinez, Jan Raas, Gerrie Knetemann, Martin Earley— a cast of characters more likely to sit across a desk from you granting approval to mortgage loans than ripping people’s legs off in the Euro pro ranks. Add to these ranks Australian phenom Russell Mockridge (pictured to the left), seen here rolling to the start line of a stage in the 1955 Tour de France.

Mockridge’s story is rather extraordinary, and it’s one that’s likely not too well known outside of his native Australia. I’ve very recently read his autobiography, My World on Wheels: The Posthumous Autobiography of Russell Mockridge, and it’s an exceedingly well-done piece of cycling-related writing. Tragically, Mockridge was struck by a bus and killed during a road race in Melbourne, Australia on September 13, 1958 at the age of 30. He was primed to return to Europe for the 1959 road season and perhaps make his mark in the Tour de France, but one will never know if he could have done what only Patrick Sercu did later in the 1974 Tour de France: make the complete transformation from Olympic gold medalist as a track sprinter to Tour de France stage winner and green jersey winner.

There are several resources online which summarize Mockridge’s career: an Australian newspaper article about a cyclist who crashed in the same accident that killed Mockridge, an earlier piece on, and the very recent Les Woodland penned article***. Here’s a brief timeline:

1948: Competed in the Olympic Summer Games held in London without success
1950: Two gold medals (match sprint, kilometer TT), one silver medal (4000 pursuit) at the Empire Games
1952: Paris Grand Prix match sprint…only person to win the amateur event and then beat all the pros in the open event
1952: Two gold medals (match sprint, tandem sprint) at the Olympic Summer Games in Helsinki
1953: Turned pro in August, moved to Europe to pursue career as a pro track cyclist
1954: February—DNF at 6 Days of Gent
1954: Rest of season—turned to the road competing (with some success) in Belgian kermesse events
1955: Track—Victory at 6 Days of Paris (teamed with Sydney Patterson and Reginald Arnold), steady number of regional madison and omnium events throughout France
1955: Road—Mockridge’s sole full-on Euro season highlighted by Paris-Roubaix (41st place), Tour du Vaucluse (1st place in a 160 mile event which included an ascent and descent of Mont Ventoux), Tour of the Midi Libri, Dauphine-Libere, Tour de France, World Championships (Frascati, Italy…DNF), Paris-Tours.
1956-1958: Track and road racing in Australia

Russell Mockridge anecdotes:
1. Why was his autobiography so well-written? Mockridge apprenticed as a journalist and nearly left cycling to pursue a journalism career after his 1948 Olympic participation. And while it’s not too unusual for cyclists to transform into journalists, Mockridge is likely the only world-class talent to give up cycling to pursue a career as an Anglican minister. Following his performance at the 1950 Empire Games, Mockridge enrolled in the University of Melbourne to become a minister and did not pedal a bike for 14 months. He then abandoned his aims at the ministry and returned to cycling for the rest of his life.

2. Mockridge had a well publicized showdown with the Australian Olympic Federation when he refused to sign their fidelity bond. This contract made it illegal for an Australian Olympic athlete to turn professional until 2 year after the Olympics. Mockridge was ready to give up his Olympic team slot in protest, but a last minute deal was brokered in which Mockridge would only have to remain an amateur for one year instead. Mockridge won 2 gold medals at the Games, remained an amateur for exactly one year per his contract, and immediately turned pro the following day.

3. Here’s an amusing anecdote which occurred January 1, 1954 while Mockridge was living miserably in Gent trying to earn money exclusively as a pro track cyclist:

[Oscar] Daemers [manager at the indoor track at Gent] lived in a flat in the velodrome building, and I went over to see him on New Year’s Day to discuss contracts. It was bitterly cold with some snow flying around. I strolled into his office, wearing shorts, which to me was perfectly usual. Daemers was horrified. ‘Your legs—they will freeze’, he gasped. Several other cyclists in his office at the time shared his view. They made it plain that I was either crazy or the original dead-end kid. It had always been my habit to wear shorts no matter what the weather conditions. I looked at it from the point of view that if you have to race in bitterly cold weather wearing shorts why not train in them, too? Surely one would toughen you for the other. But this is not the custom of cyclist in Europe who believe in keeping their legs thickly wrapped up no matter the conditions. I complied with this idea when I was in Europe but since I have returned to Australia I have reverted to wearing shorts in the winter-time…I have never found it detrimental to my muscles or condition.” My World on Wheels. pgs. 89-90

4. Mockridge devoted a chapter of his book to doping and here are some select comments:

Dope is the ‘bomb’ that will send a rider romping home miles ahead of everyone else in the race and have such a bad after-effect that he will never ride well again. Stimulants, according to Louison Bobet, are the milder types of drugs in more common use, which, if used wisely have definite advantages without being harmful.” My World on Wheels. pg. 130

I believe that I have, unwittingly, taken stimulants or drugs sometimes—particularly during the Ghent and Paris six-day races. During the course of these races bottles of various liquids are constantly being handed to you by your soigneurs and there is just not the time to insist on a written analysis of their contents. I had sufficient confidence in my soigneurs in these races to take what they gave me as I did not believe that they would knowingly give me something that would be harmful.” My World on Wheels. pg. 132

Mockridge’s description of racing his first 6-day event (the 6 Days of Gent) was undoubtedly the most vivid chronicle of pain and suffering I’ve ever encountered involving track racing. Mockridge almost finished the event in 2nd place with his much more experienced teammate, but just two hours from the finish Mockridge blacked out on his bike from complete and utter exhaustion, crashing heavily. He could not recover and DNF’d.

5. Russell Mockridge rode the 1955 Tour de France for a composite Luxembourg national team in the national team era of the Tour (1930-1961). Since Luxembourg did not have enough riders to complete a full squad (only four) several riders of other nationalities, such as Mockridge, were recruited to compete. There were Germans and Austrians as well on the 1955 Luxembourg squad. And what of the “Vampire” on Mockridge’s jersey? Russell Mockridge rode for the French trade team Vampire-D’Allesandro in 1955 and Tour riders were allowed to wear a trade team panel on their national team jerseys. I believe Vampire was the bicycle sponsor for his squad. Mockridge’s most notable teammate in the Tour was Charly Gaul who ultimately finished 3rd overall. Mockridge defied the odds and the critics to become the first track sprinter to ever finish the Tour (plus the first Australian post WWII) and he wrote of his premier naysayer, French journalist Andre Leducq:

After the stage [Stage 8: Thonon les Bains-Briancon], Andre Leducq, winner of the Tour in 1930 and 1932 and now a journalist, was quoted in the Press as saying, ‘I did not have much time for sprinters until this Tour, but if Mockridge finishes I will shake his hand as warmly as I shake that of the winner.’ He added that if I did finish I would have accomplished the impossible, meaning that pure sprinters, as I had previously been classified, just do not finish the Tour de France.” My World on Wheels. pg. 162

And at the Tour’s conclusion…

Sitting on the grass verge waiting my turn for a bouquet-laden lap of honor—each finisher is applauded as if he had won the race—I noticed [Louison] Bobet speaking with M. Mercier (they were probably discussing bonuses) the cycle manufacturer whose machine he rides, and journalist and twice winner of the Tour, Andre Leducq. Leducq was the man who had stated that if I finished the Tour he would shake my hand as warmly as the winner’s hand. He was a man of his word, and was lavish in his praise of what seemed to be a lowly position in the overall race.” My World on Wheels. pg. 174

6. Mockridge finished the 1955 Tour in 64th place. Only 69 of the original 150 riders finished. Mockridge was overshadowed by British rider Brian Robinson who finished 29th overall (one of only two British national team riders to finish, the other being Tony Hoar in DFL) and stole the spotlight as highest-finishing English speaking oddity. While Mockridge finished the Tour de France that year, he was so physically destroyed from the effort that he never fully recovered his strength for the remainder of the 1955 Euro road season. He did, however, finish Paris-Tours (his last Euro race) with the lead pack which turned out to be the fastest road race over 200km in history…an average speed of 27.5mph for 153 miles. However, that record would stand for only 1 year…

7. The longest race in Australia is the Warrnambool to Melbourne at 163 miles. In Mockridge’s day it was run as a handicap and in 1956 Mockridge set out with 11 other riders as the scratch group. Mockridge beat his fellow scratch companions in a sprint, and set a new fastest road race for events over 200km. Those 12 riders covered 163 miles at over 28mph average speed. Even more extraordinary was 1957’s event in which Mockridge and one other competitor were the only two scratch riders. Primarily powered by Mockridge, those two riders did a two-man TTT for 163 miles (with Mockridge winning the sprint) and averaged a scorching 27.5mph. Wow.

8. While in Australia from 1956-1958, Mockridge was the reigning national road champion as well as match sprint champion on the track. While building his strength on the road year after year, he still had the jet engine turn of speed in his legs to win 5 mile velodrome scratch races in about 9 minutes. European track stars would head to Australia for competition and get their clocks cleaned by Mockridge and others. He was nearly wooed back to Europe for the 1958 Giro d’Italia, but the invitation came too late for his liking. Mockridge didn’t feel he had a big enough window to arrive in Europe well in advance of the Grand Tour, rid himself of all travel related adjustments, and lay down a massive final block of training in the mountains. It seemed he had every intention to return to Europe in 1959 to take part in the Tour de France. Since his humbling experience in 1955, Mockridge set out to truly become an exceptionally powerful endurance cyclist and he felt he had the strength and the experience to return in 1959 and actually compete and not merely survive. Unfortunately his life was cut short in September, 1958.

***If you really have plenty of time to kill, this is what initially popped into my head upon reading the latest Les Woodland feature, John Turturro’s signature line from the forgettable film Secret Window. I mean, what are the odds of two Russell Mockridge stories coming out in such rapid succession?…Just kidding, of course, Mr. Woodland!

Zesdaagse Vlaanderen-Gent…Night Two–the full story

Everyone who loves professional cycling should spend at least one evening in the Kuipke.

The evening’s race schedule:

6:30pm UIV Cup: Flying 1 lap TT (166 m) and 200 lap madison
8:05pm Pro team introductions
8:30pm 60 lap points race
8:50pm Madison miss-and-out
9:10pm Flying 1 lap TT (166 m): Team 13 first…Team 1 last
9:30pm Madison: 40 minutes + 10 laps
10:15pm Break…cheesy singing performed by Gary Hagger, definitely time to re-load on beer and brats.
10:35pm Derny heat #1 (teams 7-12): 60 laps
10:50pm Miss-and-out
11:05pm Derny heat #2 (teams 1-6): 60 laps
11:20pm Flying 500 m TT: Team 13 first…Team 1 last
11:45pm Supersprint: Madison miss-and-out until 6 teams remain + 10 laps
12:00am Derny final
12:15am Scratch race (everyone except those who just competed in the derny final)
12:25am Madison: 30 minutes + 10 laps

2007 Zesdaagse Vlaanderen-Gent…Wednesday Night

As Mac Canon previously stated, “50 degree banking, baby!” The electronic screen above the track shows the results of the UIV Cup flying lap TT still in-progress.

Pictured are 1 of 2 American teams taking place in the UIV Cup, an espoir precursor to the pro event, at the 6 Days of Ghent. Fore is Guy East, rear is Austin Carroll. Unfortunately for these guys, Austin Carroll ate it hard near the end of their 200 lap madison and he was taken away in a stretcher with a separated shoulder. At this point I was purchasing bratwurst and beer and I totally missed the incident. And as you can see, if you’re not racing the pro event you don’t get a bunk to set up shop. It’s uber low budget all the way…folding chairs, duffle bags, and rollers out in the open on the infield.

The pros are taking processional laps for approximately 25 minutes as all 13 teams are introduced. They form a tight double paceline with the teams in reverse order (ie…team 13 at the front down to team 1 at the rear). The announcers run down the palmares of the team on the front, once completed that team pulls up high on the track and waves to the crowd for one lap, then they drift to the rear in order for the next team to get their due. At this point it’s pretty early in the intro laps…the team in the solid red jerseys near the rear of the double paceline are Team #2: Iljo Keisse (the local Gent hero) and teammate Robert Bartko (a German with tree-trunk legs). Behind them in white are Team #1: the Swiss duo of Bruno Risi/Franco Marvulli. It’s only 8pm-ish…the stands didn’t fill up until the first madison, the fourth event of the evening, got underway at about 9:30pm. Racing went until 1am.


I’m in Gent, Belgium this week. First up on the “things to do before I die” list is catching a night of the 6 Days of Gent. That will be Wednesday evening…I’ll be drinking beer in the center of the track all night. Next up on the list is a ‘cross World Cup in Belgium…so it’s off to Koskijde on Saturday. Tomorrow my mission is to ride from Gent to Oundenaarde and back so I can ascend the Koppenberg. And not pull a Skibby.

(Mac) Canon of Knowledge

There’s a single paragraph in Allan Peiper’s excellent autobiography, A Peiper’s Tale, which stopped me in my tracks. It’s 1978 and Allan Peiper is in the United States for the Junior World Championships (track events at T-Town then a week later the TTT and road race in Washington, DC). Having finished the road race, Peiper finds himself stranded all alone in DC with another 10 days before he can fly back to Belgium. Here’s the paragraph at the bottom of page 34:

It was time for another angel. Luckily there was one in Washington, a guy called Mac who had raced in Belgium the year before. He arranged with his parents to take me back to his place in North Carolina. I didn’t ride well in the [road] race-my emotions were all over the place-but afterwards we drove home with Mac’s mother, and Mac got me a job for a week sweeping the floors in the factory where he worked. It ended up being the most fun week I ever had. I made some money, and even rode a race at the weekend where Mac arranged for someone who was going to back to New York to drop me at JFK.

Now, for those who live in North Carolina, the words Mac, North Carolina, and raced in Belgium can only mean one person: Mac Canon. Being very intrigued by this passage in Peiper’s book, I called up Mac recently and he graciously spent approximately 45 minutes talking about Allan Peiper, among other things. Thirty years ago in 1977, Mac Canon befriended Allan Peiper at an ultra low-budget rental house in Ghent, Belgium. I had a litany of questions lined up for Mac, but as it turns out I only had to interject very sporadically to guide the conversation. There’s probably several books worth of stories still locked in Mac’s head, but what follows is certainly fascinating reading. It’s a lengthy piece, but I believe one can never overdose on first-hand, insider Lore and Legend. Enjoy.

How did you end up coming to Allan Peiper’s rescue in 1978?

That’s a long time ago! [laughs] We go way back before that. When I went to Europe the first time, (because we didn’t have Colorado Springs and all that good stuff like we do now, and if you wanted to race you had to go to Europe to race) I searched around and kept calling and writing. A lady in Ghent, Belgium was putting some people up or getting them put up with a guy who ran a little place renting rooms. It was kind of run down so badly I don’t think even the locals could live there, it was only foreigners. It was me, Roger Young, Tom Schuler, and a whole bunch of Aussies. Allan was part of that Aussie group as a Junior. He was 17 or 18, and we rode all the races together. We just huffed around and raced. I think Alexi Grewal was there for a while, not at that particular place, but in the area.

The guy [landlord] was like the Fred Sanford of Ghent. He would sleep underneath newspapers and he was crazy. He’d burn you out of your room because he’d stuff the furnace with all kinds of junk. But he was a real nice guy and I think we lived there for less than $50 a month.

So Allan was part of that group. He and a couple of [Aussie] guys lived in the back. He went with a group of Belgians to Austria [1977 Junior World Championships]. He was doing well in the races. He came back with a bronze medal in the Road Race [actually, according to Peiper’s book it was a bronze in the Points Race]. So we just got to be friends hanging out there [in Ghent]. We’d head out to the cafes, head out to the pubs…just having a good time.

The next year [1978] was just more bike racing and I was keeping up with him through some letters and things like that. He says ‘I’m coming to the Junior Worlds road race’ [held in Washington, DC]. I went with a friend of mine…we headed up to watch. We hung out, I can’t remember how he did in the race [Not well…but Peiper won a silver medal in the Junior Worlds points race on a borrowed bike a week before at T-Town.], but he had a week or 10 days before he was going to go back [to Belgium]. I said ‘Why don’t you come back [to North Carolina] with me and stay with me.’ I’m working at this door factory and I talked to the guy [the owner], he was a young fellow, and I told Allan ‘I’ll get you in, no worries’. This was back before all this stuff you deal with now. We paid Allan under the table and put him to work.

It was a hot summer and we trained a lot. That’s the first time that I ever saw veins on someone’s belly. My dad had this little BMW 2002 that he bought right out of the showcase in 1976. We used to motor pace behind that thing [after work]. Allan was tearing up the bumper with his tire. But getting back to the work thing…this is funny. Remember the small Cokes that had where they were made on the bottom, like Washington, DC or Water Valley, MS, or Spokane, WA or wherever? The workers had this big board with a bunch of pushpins out there. So I said,’ What are you doing?’ They said, ‘Oh, that’s Travel. When we break we drink Coke and everyone chips in a quarter and we travel’. ‘So what do you mean, travel?’ ‘Whoever’s Coke is from furthest away wins all the money.’ So we used to play ‘Travel’. And it used to get close, you had to break out the yardstick and measure. So Allan loved that, he loved to ‘Travel’.

It was just hot summer nights…skinny-dipping. Just hanging out. My sister was his age and she’s a good-looking girl and Allan liked her a lot. Mom fixed a sit down meal, old school, we ate at the table together. All the food you needed and wanted. He just loved it. I think Allan grew up in a broken family. His dad was an alcoholic and they used to not even tell him where they lived because his dad would show up drunk and raise hell. So they’d hide from him and just that whole deal dealing with that. Allan thought is was the best thing in the world being in Albemarle [NC], training and racing.

Then we drove up [to the Northeast]…did a road trip. The next week was Fitchburg–back before it was a stage race it was just that big crit downtown in Fitchburg. So we did Hartford, Fitchburg, and Walpole…three big crits they had 4th of July weekend. So we drove this guy’s big ol’ station wagon with a buddy of mine. Just seeing everything, hanging out in the New England experience, going up through the mid-Atlantic states, going to New York, and going to New England and racing. Allan had some good races. Just seeing 4th of July…he never experienced anything like that. When he left he was going back to Europe to stay with Eddy Planckaert. We got real close. We were both upset, it was a tearful moment so to speak, it was hard to say goodbye to him. It was just bike racing and being buds. He’s just a super guy.

I went back over there, I guess it was 1989, when I was racing some on the track just for a little fun doing some 6-days. He was there and he gave me a whole bunch of clothes. I was down on money and he loaned me money. The guy is just a million bucks. He had a tough time. He’s lucky to even come back to racing…I guess he had an amoeba or something in him. And the thing about it was that even back then the doping thing was pretty bad. He was real adamant about being clean, doing it straight up. He didn’t bend over for any soigneur in town, he wasn’t that kind of guy. His racing results weren’t as great as some of the other guys, but you have a lot of respect that you don’t normally get.

We had some good times there [Ghent, 1977]. We lived in the student area where the University of Ghent was located. I’ve got some pictures of these girls throwing water out the window. There was just a lot of friskiness back then. We used to go out all night and race, go out all night again and race. We used to eat beans on toast with rice, anything we could find we would fix it, cook it, eat it, and thought it was great.

Were you in the house in Ghent for just one year? Did you go back other years?

I was only going to go a month. It was a big deal, I was only 19 and going for a month. Actually, I had some pretty good races. You always remember the first race where you crack the top-20. It felt like you won a stage of the Tour de France. The racing was just bone knuckling hard. I had bruises on my forearms from banging the handlebars from being down in the drops. The bars are more anatomical now so you can’t do that, but the old days with those old bars with the funky bend…It was just hard. You’re going so hard in a 12…I remember a couple of times you’re closing your eyes because you’re trying to go as hard as you can go. Crazy. It’s just absolutely insane.

But then after a while you figure it out and start placing. Then you get asked to race. We did a 5-day stage race down in France. I went with this other Australian, Ian Chandler, who ended up winning. So it was Ian Chandler, John Eustice was on our team–back when he raced, Rory O’Reilly–the guy from California who was a good kilo rider, a couple of other Southern California kids, me…just a composite team of English-speaking riders. There was a team from Cuba there…they had everything. And of course you have all these French teams. But we ended up winning. I always felt good because Ian had a flat once and I went back and gave him my wheel. Support hadn’t gotten there. Jackie, our team guy, couldn’t get to him in time and I gave him my wheel and sent him on. Ian ended up winning the race by 15 seconds and I always felt proud that I had something to do with that 15 seconds. You just never know how things will pan out down the stretch so I always felt good about that.

Then, I did Circuit Franco-Belge and the Tour of Liege. Both of those now are pro races. Those were amateur races, then. Well, they were called amateur races but they were so hard. So I did the Belgian races first, had 2 or 3 days rest, then the French race, then I got god-awful sick eating something down there. Waking up with the shakes and sweats. I was supposed to do the Tour of Luxembourg but I said ‘No, I’m done…I’m going home’. I did this criterium, I won a prime, and then I just puked after winning the prime. I think I pulled out of the race. I was just 145 lbs…crazy light…just a skinny ass kid. Good fun.

Then I went in 1980 for 9 months and I lived with a family. That’s when I took John Patterson over there. Then I went back there in 1989 for the track thing. They tried to get me to stay, but I just went back to Florida. I just said ‘I’m out of here’.

Were you still based in Ghent for your 1980 and 1989 trips?

I stayed three months that year with Allan [1977]. I was only going to stay a month but stayed three. I came back with $500 in my pocket. Back then that was good money…usually you come back broke. To come back with $500 in your pocket, you did damn good. That was nice. In 1980 I stayed with a family. I went back to Ghent and then John [Patterson] and I split up. I went with a family looking for a rider and went to live near Ninove[?] where Allan actually lived. I worked in a bike shop in Ninove, but the guy kept terrible books. He had creditors up his ass, he was too nice and just gave everybody everything. He had two complete Campy took kits just sitting on his bench. He was a great guy but unorganized as hell. That’s when I learned to speak the language [Flemish] real well because I was changing tires and generator lights for these old ladies that came in while shopping. Practically everybody there, you know, they all ride bikes. They busted a tube or needed a generator light and you’d fix it. There was an old potbelly stove cooking back there and you’d just learn to speak, learn the language.

I stayed there for nine months and did the road and the first part of the track season. After the road season ended they asked me, ‘Do you want to do track or cyclocross?’. You know cyclocross is big now, but I did the first couple of cyclocross races and said ‘Noooooooo’. I couldn’t do it. I said, ‘Look…I’ve been cleaning my damn bike all summer. I’m out of here.’ It rained everyday in June that summer, so I decided to ride track. I rode that little Ghent track…50-degree banking, baby! 165-meter track with real high banking. Then, Noel Dejonckheere’s brother Richard came up. I’ve known him, he set up a lot of races for us, and he said ‘I can get you on a team’. It was Fangio, which became ADR, which was LeMond’s team when he won the [1989] Tour. But I said ‘I’ve had enough…I’m going home. I don’t want to be bending over for some soigneur who I don’t know. I’m going to turn that contract down.’ Plus, I wanted to go back to school at State. I thought it could be me, but at that point I knew that I’d always be a kermesse pro and I just didn’t want to do it. So I politely turned him down. So that was probably the end of bigger and better things for me as cycling goes, but not as life goes.

What was the North Carolina and southeastern racing scene like back in the 1970s?

Well…it was a lot of key races and small stuff. It wasn’t as organized as it is now. I don’t know…I’ll give you a case in point. When we were Juniors, with guys like me, Ronnie Hinson, Randy Parker and some of these other guys, back then results were in the newspapers and we looked at other Junior state championships numbers. And you know how Juniors are ‘What’s their average speed? What’s their time?’ Hell, we had the fastest average speeds of any races in the whole country in North Carolina, back when there were 50 man junior fields. We were running some damn hot races. It was good. The Senior racing was good. Some of the big boys would come in, like John Howard. These guys would come in and spank us. We thought it was great. You’d just try to hang on…you never could. You had the Tour of Tallahassee in Florida; some other races in Miami; a couple of stud things in Georgia; the Tour de Moore and the Carolina Cup; a couple of key races in Charlotte—Dilworth; the DC area and Maryland was always a hotbed of cycling; Virginia Beach; the Tidewater area. You had plenty of racing. Back then to fill it up even more we’d race both track and road. We’d drive up and do 4th of July races [in the Northeast], go across New York and catch a couple of races in Buffalo, maybe race in Canada, then come into Superweek and do Superweek. And not just Superweek…we’d race Tuesday nights on the track in Kenosha. That’s back when the guys promoting the races were all 6-day riders. Then we’d race Thursday nights at Northbrook in Chicago. They had some tough Madisons…90 minutes at 50km/hr. They would just light it up, just HARD. Roger Young, Danny van Haute, [Tom] Schuler, a few of those other guys, some Belgians would show up. You’d come out of there just wide-eyed. You couldn’t get to sleep until 3 or 4 in the morning. And Belgian spectators would come up and say ‘You guys did great’, shake your hand, give you $20/$30/$40 wadded up in your hand. Just give it to you. Did you ever hear of that these days? Hell no! The supporters were just different…more European. And then you’d come back down here [North Carolina] and you’re tired but you’re so much fitter than everybody else so you’d kick ass.

Of course things got going in Colorado Springs. You hear stories about that 1980 group, well I was in that group out there: LeMond, Phinney, Kiefel, Mark Gorski, Andy Hampsten, Carmichael. Carmichael was my roommate, for god sakes! We’re old buddies from way back. I knew him when he was skinny. We called him ‘The Kid’. Eddie B. came in and changed the way we trained. Some East German ideas and that kind of thing. Things were never the same after that. You still went to Europe and raced, but with the development in Colorado Springs it started branching out a little bit more. Things were getting better at home for training.

How did you get into cycling?

I came along in the 1970s amidst the bike boom. At that point it was kind of a counterculture sport. But you were getting guys who were track runners who had damaged their knees, or somebody who wanted to do something different, someone who wasn’t your typical jock football player. Well, maybe up north where there were tracks it wasn’t as true, but road racing was a mainly a skinny hippie sport. Dale [Brown] put on the first race I ever went to. We got up there, and I shit you not, he had a race where I think first place was a six-pack of beer and a watermelon. Maybe it was for each of the first three places. Just a little thing Dale threw together at the last minute on the weekend, some road race out in the country. Back then you didn’t tell the police anything. It was very strange. That’s what started it there for me. You started racing in gym shorts, then got some shoes with cleats.

Where did you get your equipment?

I got smart and got a tax license and opened my own pocket bike shop, Mac Cycles or something like that. I never made any money, but I had it and I used to order stuff wholesale from up North: tubular tires, wool shorts and jerseys. Clean Machine had a big team and I rode for them so we had some shorts and jerseys to race in, but we had to have stuff to train in. It was kind of an underground thing. Most of the real choice bikes were up in the Philly and New York City area. Guys were getting bikes from some of the old shops up there. Dale [Brown] had some stuff. There was some other stuff down here: Skip Flythe in Raleigh and Higgins in Greensboro. I had a local guy who was a Schwinn dealer, one of the last ones that was an appliance dealer and Schwinn dealer. I used to work for him in Albemarle and do anything, fix everything when I was a kid. I got him to order me a Paramount. I raced on it and it was really nice. Those never broke in Belgium. There’s always bikes breaking over there, but none of those boys ever broke one over in Belgium. Later I went to an Italian bike…I can’t think of the name. I rode a few of those. Fiorelli or something like that. It’s kind of hard to remember. It was a typical Italian bike: a little cleaner in the lugs and a tad lighter for that day in time. Yeah, equipment was kind of hard to come by. Now, of course, with the internet it’s off the hook. Back then it was word of mouth…acquire here and sell there…wheeling and dealing…buying stuff out of someone’s car trunk at races. That’s kind of the way it went.

So I dropped the bomb that I’ll be in Ghent, Belgium during Thanksgiving week—which means I’ll be there for the 6-Days of Ghent as well as the World Cup cyclocross at Koksijde…Here’s what Mac had to say about that:

[The Ghent velodrome is] Rock ‘n’ roll central. Get inside the center of the track and drink some beer. You’ll get to see that track…it’s so steep and it’s so beautiful. What you need to look at is the blue line down at the bottom. It’s got a curve down at the bottom so if you ever got a flat you could glide it down and fall into that little dish at the bottom. I was training one time in there with Johan Lammerts. You know, he helped LeMond win that Tour that one year. We were doing exchanges behind a derny at like 30-something mph. Insane…and it was a blast. He wasn’t in good shape at the time, but we hung out and talked a lot. He had a shoe sponsorship with Time. And the next thing you know, I trained with him a few times and one day he said, ‘I got these, can you wear them?’ He gave me a pair of Time shoes and Equipe pedals. They were nice…I said I’d wear the hell out of these things. You just can’t put a price on stuff like that.

I never rode the 6 in Ghent, I rode the little 3-day. I tried but never could get a partner…couldn’t get in. I rode the 6-day at Bremen, I rode Paris with a Belgian. Then he went back home that winter and I did a whole bunch of track racing in Belgium that winter. I rode and worked in a bakery. A buddy of mine’s dad owned a bakery so I hung out with them. So I rode Bremen, a bunch of stuff in Ghent. Bremen is like Oktoberfest …that’s where Beck’s beer is made…that’s insane, that race. This is back when Danny Clark was kicking it pretty hard. I was hanging out with him a little bit, riding with him some. Then I think there were two sixes going on at once: some German city and then there was Bordeaux which was a new track at the time. It was like 200 or 250 meters and it felt huge. It was great. I rode with a British guy and we’d ride with the Stars & Stripes one night and a Union Jack the next night. This was all going on when the [Berlin] Wall came down. The East Germans were just going nuts, drinking vodka every night and just killing us. All the amateurs did is race one hour just flat out….an 88” gear with a 30mph average. I think we hung in there and got 5th or 6th. Anyway…that’s the extent of the 6-day thing.

Did you get acquainted with all the roads in Flanders, like the roads used in the Tour of Flanders?

After the 6-days are over at the beginning of the year guys start training for the Classics. So you go out on these big group rides. So I rode with a couple of different teams. I rode for the KVC-Diamant team, and I was trying out some other teams and I’d go out on their big team rides. Everyone rides just a two-up paceline with a follow car. It might be raining, it doesn’t matter what the weather is, you’re going to make this ride. You may go out and ride the Het Volk loop or something like that. So you’re out there dying going over these big hills and the team director is counting who did what, who’s getting dropped. So you’re out there in a paceline in the damn 12, not really even a paceline, just two-up and pulling off. They were just loving it. They were saying, ‘You’ve got to stay, we’re going to have a good season.’ They were just all into it. That’s another one where I thought I should have stayed, to be honest. And just when you felt like cracking out comes the tea and coffee and these Belgian pastries out the window of the team car. Crazy. It was always right at the point where you were ready to quit and crawl in a ditch they’d bring out the goodies. They’d just train like crazy, but they had a good time. Belgium is a country that takes it’s cycling serious. When you ride, there’s a guy down in the ground digging a ditch and he’s checking you out. And he’s digging a ditch decked out in an expensive team jacket, the equivalent of a Team Discovery jacket today.

Thanks again, Mac, for spending a Saturday afternoon speaking with me. I owe you a beer or two. Or three.

“Tell me about the rabbits, George”

Very early in the DVD The Six-Day Bicycle Races, it’s revealed that one of the earliest 6-day champions, a certain William “Senator” Morgan, hailed from North Carolina. Further inquiries on my part cast a shadow on the claim that Morgan hailed from North Carolina, but his life trajectory proves to be rather fascinating. Morgan won the 1886 Minneapolis 6-Day event in an era when the races were solo affairs and truly an exercise in sleep deprivation. As far as I can tell, this is his only significant victory. He appeared in other events in 1887 and then seems to have simply disappeared from the world of competitive cycling.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw quite a confluence of interests between the cycling and the internal combustion engine realms. Of course, a pair of bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio incorporated mechanical expertise gleened from cycling into their maiden flight at Kill Devil Hills, NC. Albert Champion, 1899 Paris-Roubaix victor, moved to the United States and started the Albert Champion Company (later known as the AC Spark Plug Company) to further his own motorcycle racing career having abandoned his cycling endeavors. Soon, Champion’s company’s spark plugs graced the engines on high-performance race cars and airplanes before ultimately being absorbed into the General Motors conglomeration. Similarly, William “Senator” Morgan re-emerged in the early 1900s as an avid car-racing advocate while employed as a writer for the highly influential magazine The Automobile. Morgan can be credited with promoting the Speed Carnivals, annual wintertime auto time trials held on Daytona Beach starting in 1903. Over the next 10-odd years the fastest cars from Europe and the U.S., piloted by members of the European and American aristocracy, convened in Florida each winter. Amazingly (at least to me, I know next to nothing about performance autos) a Mercedes roared through the 1 mile speed trap on the beach at 141.732mph in 1911, a world land speed record for any ground transportation medium.

While William Morgan may have long-since abandoned cycling as a competitor, he still appeared to be involved with cycling’s governing body in an editorial capacity. A humorous story appeared in the New York Times in September, 1911…a story told by Morgan talking about the insanity of the rulebook governing competitive cycling. It seems that our sport has had “Stupid” as its middle name for more than 100 years:

“The other day we were talking about reminiscences, which pertained to those pioneers in the automobile industry, who graduated from the bicycle field. All were entertaining, but the one they liked best was told us about a prize given by a Connecticut club at a bicycle tournament, which was won by C.S. Henshaw, now manager of the Metropolitan Thomas Motor Branch. It seems that Mr. Henshaw, who was a member of the Riverside, Kings County, and Greenwich Wheelmen, won a pair of rabbits as a prize. According to the League of American Wheelmen rules, if he disposed of those rabbits he would professionalize himself. So the rabbits grew and multiplied as only rabbits can, and Mr. Henshaw, getting alarmed, sought our advice. He asked if in our opinion he could sell, dispose of, or get rid of these rabbits without inviting George D. Gideon, who was the best advertisement the Quaker City ever had, to jump on him. We quote from an article in the American Wheelman, of which I was editor, published at the time of this controversy:

‘We waded through the L.A.W. racing rules and can find nothing that meets this rabbit case. Gold and silver medals do not breed, otherwise there would have been something in the rules forbidding the disposition of their offspring, neither was there anything which said that livestock won as prizes could not be boiled or roasted. We know that Welsh rabbit is good, if well cooked, with a bottle of Bass on the side. Rabbits are often used as peacemakers, for we have had them many a time without their consent with old dog “Bogle” who has been sleeping under a plum tree on the old farm for twenty-three years. The Racing Board must let our Riverside Wheelmen friend out of this awful predicament, or else we shall have a regular Australian rabbit plague on Manhattan Island.

‘Chairman Gideon has been written to for his opinion inasmuch as he lives in the country and is, no doubt, well up in rabbitology. One gentleman from Chicago offered his advice: “The rule involved reads as follows: Anyone selling, trading, realizing money on prizes won. Now, what is the matter with selling the offsprings as fast as they come to pay for the feed of the old lady and gentleman? This would not be selling the original prizes or realizing cash on same”.

‘Another gentleman from Indianapolis said: “L.A.W rules are like a basket of speckled peaches, luscious and sound to look upon but rotten to the core.[emphasis mine, too funny…] Perhaps on those productive trees, the minds of the Racing Board, sound fruit is ripening. One man was not expelled for accepting a check as a prize because it was not money until cashed, so Mr. Henshaw is exempt from the charge of racing for a divisible prize until their families commenced to arrive. Amateurs are not allowed to realize on their prizes, so the prizes should not be allowed to realize on amateurs. We can appreciate the owner’s feeling because rabbits have long ears, you know, and you also know what that means”.

It was not known whether Mr. Henshaw was considering the advisability of taking the poor debtor’s oath, which was sure to have been forced upon him, if he had not been allowed to dispose of the ill-advised prize. George Gideon finally owned up that he was not up in rabbitology, but he pleaded guilty to knowing a rule when he saw it, so he wrote: “The owner can dispose of the product of his original prize in any way or manner he pleases, but he must at all times be prepared to show me those two old rabbits.” That settled and closed the case. Mr. Henshaw was allowed to enjoy and employ his rabbits of the second and other generations with safety. It was not long thereafter that he discontinued cycle racing and embarked in the automobile trade and whether this complexing rabbit case hastened his decision to make the change is not known. Mr. Henshaw won the Greater New York bicycle championship during the nineties and the world’s motor pacing tandem championship at the Pan-American Exposition in 1902. He was the first to use motor pacing machines on the Metropolitan tracks, including Madison Square Garden.”

A relative of mine on my mother’s side of the family was a professional cyclist in Newark, NJ at about this time, and I recall reading that his progression from amateur to professional was due to an infraction of the amateur code…no doubt something akin to this rabbit silliness.

Cyril Praet: International Man of Mystery

Fact #1…1981: Jonathan Boyer finishes 32nd overall in his Tour de France debut, riding in support of Renault-Elf-Gitane teammate Bernard Hinault. Boyer cements his place in cycling history by becoming the first American to compete in the Grand Boucle.

Fact #2…1988: Joe Parkin and Andy Bishop share the honor of being the first Americans to compete in the Tour of Belgium, finishing 10th and 31st overall respectively.

But check this out…

Cyril Praet bio, published in 1932 Milwaukee Six-Day Bike Race program

Just in case the type is too small, here’s the text of Cyril Praet’s bio as published in Milwaukee’s Second International Six-Day Bike Race (Dec. 13-19, 1932) program:

22 White Number. CYRIL PRAET, American road rider, is probably the strongest rider in the race. Praet was born in Detroit, Michigan, September 12, 1904. After the war was over, at the age of 15, he went to Europe and entered the road races around Belgium, and in two years became one of the sensations of the year. He has ridden in the tour of Belgium and the Tour de France, which is a real test of strength and endurance. This race lasts for ten days over the mountains, up into the snow, and through the hottest of climates. Praet came to America two years ago, and has never been given a chance to show his worth in a six-day race.

Approximately 48 1/2 years after this program appeared, Jonathan Boyer rode his first Tour de France. And about 55 1/2 years later, Joe Parkin and Andy Bishop make America’s debut in the Tour of Belgium. So why has history forgotten Cyril Praet, an American who apparently preceeded Boyer, Parkin, and Bishop by about half a century? Good question…and my answer invariably vacillates from a cautious “I don’t really know” to “The dude’s a fraud.”

Here’s what little I do know about Cyril Praet’s career as a professional cyclist: Praet competed in four American six-day races (1931-Minneapolis; 1932-Milwaukee, 1933-Detroit, and 1934-Detroit). Newspaper accounts shed extremely sparse light on Cyril Praet, which seemed surprising considering the palmares he claimed. Even accounts of the races in his home town of Detroit were nearly devoid of any mention of Praet, usually just the bare bones daily box score info about points won and laps taken. Here’s how Praet was described:

  • 1931-Minneapolis: “Cyril Praet (USA)”
  • 1932-Milwaukee: “Bollaert and Praet, the famous Belgium road team and holders of many foreign records, form another powerful combination who are expected to be heard from plenty during the race.”
  • 1932-Milwaukee: “Praet, who rides with Archie Bollaert, is a famous Belgian road racer and is tough in the sprints.”
  • 1932-Milwaukee: “…Cyril Praet, Belgian road champion.”
  • 1933-Detroit: “…the Detroit team of Freddie Ottevaere and Cyril Praet…”

Praet was teamed with a different partner for each of his 4 six-day events: Pete Smessart (1931), Archie Bollaert (1932), Freddie Ottevaere (1933), and Reggie Fielding (1934). He and his partners usually ended up as pack filler, although Praet did put his speed to work on occasion to win primes. Praet and his partners finished 4th in 1931, 6th in 1932, 6th in 1933, and 6th in 1934. Chicago and New York were the big leagues of six-day racing, and it appears that Cyril never made an appearance at the sport’s premier venues. The only inkling of how Praet was perceived by fellow cyclists was offered by the legendary Canadian Torchy Peden who crapped on Praet while singing the praises of Praet’s partner Freddie Ottevaere during the 1933 Detroit race:

“We riders know something good when we see it, and we know how tough Ottevaere is”, Peden said. “He has been out of the headlines because his partners haven’t been so hot. But he has the ability. Keep an eye on him.” Peden picked the slender and unassuming Ottevaere to surpass the feats of Belgian bicycle star Gerald Debaets.

Ouch. Not exactly kind words from Peden.

I’ve spent quite some time weeding through the immense amount of data collected at the French site Memoire du cyclisme, and besides the previously mentioned six-day races I could find not one other instance of Praet competing either in the United States or Europe. Memoire du cyclisme has probably the definitive rundown of start lists and results from all major road and track events of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, and I could find no mention of Cyril Praet (or even a name close to that spelling) in road events such as the Tour de France, the Tour of Belgium, the world championships, various national championships, and various Euro road events between 1919-1930. That’s right, I can’t find any official record of Cyril Praet competing in the Tour de France or the Tour of Belgium. Likewise, Praet was AWOL from all other six-day races which took place between 1919-1930 anywhere on the planet. And it also appeared that Praet simply dropped off the face of the Earth after 1934. There’s no mention of Cyril Praet in any race, road or track, in the US or Europe through the onset of World War II. Did he remain in the United States? Return to Europe? I don’t know. Various genealogical resources have been coming up empty, so at this point I don’t know if he died in the US or overseas (in Belgium?).

At this point in time, I’m leaning towards Praet perhaps playing a bit fast and loose with his palmares to gain employment as a pro in the United States. After all, it’s probably no easy venture for a race promoter in the US in the 1930s to verify someone’s Euro credentials. If someone who’s lived in Belgium for about 10 years shows up in the Midwest with a bike, looking pretty fit, and with tales of Euro grandeur, then, hell, why not give the guy a shot on the six-day circuit? Perhaps I’ve uncovered the cycling version of Kid McCoy.

So for now Jonathan Boyer’s, Joe Parkin’s, and Andy Bishop’s places in American cycling history as Euro pioneers are still firm, but maybe at some point in the not so distant future I’ll have some corroborating evidence to definitively place Cyril Praet in the Tour as well as the Tour of Belgium.

Random six-day racing factoids uncovered in historic newspapers
1. Unlike any other six-day race I’ve ever read about, the 1933 Detroit six-day race put the riders on an outdoor velodrome at the mercy of mother Nature.
2. Detoit prosecutor Harry S. Toy tried to bring fraud charges against the promoters of the 1933 six-day race. Evidently, a spectator tried to watch the racing action at 3am and was denied entry. He told Toy that the velodrome was dark and as best he could tell, there was no racing taking place. Toy tried (unsuccessfully) to bring charges against the promoters since in Toy’s opinion a six-day race implies 6 non-stop days of racing. “It appears that the race was a race only when there were cash customers about and a sleeping match the remainder of the time.”
3. Diet of champions. Here’s Torchy Peden talking about what tasty food and beverages are ingested during the 1933 Detroit six-day event, “Most of our food consists of broth, vegetables, fruit and an occasional piece of meat, usually rare. We drink practically no water. But we do take gallons and gallons of unpasteurized milk and plenty of ginger ale. Water is considered heavy stuff.”

Livin’ Large

Ok, all you children of the 70s, quick question…

If you spent as much time as I did during the pre-teen years poring over the Guinness Book of World Records, what single image is still burned into your brain?

$100 says it’s this one:

Benny and Billy McCrary on their motorcycles
Image source:

Here are some interesting facts about Benny and Billy McCrary, the World’s Largest Twins (source material: here and here, more photos here):

  • Benny maxed out at 814 lbs. Billy never crossed the 800 lb. barrier, opting instead to keep his weight at a svelte 784 lbs.
  • Backed by Honda and Holiday Inn, Benny and Billy rode Honda mini-bikes cross-country. They took 30 days to ride from New York to Los Angeles.
  • During the cross-country mini-bike odyssey, Benny and Billy met professional wrestler Gory Guerrero in El Paso, Tx.
  • Once their mini-bike trip concluded, Benny and Billy embarked on a career as professional tag-team wrestlers, initially under the tutelage of said Gory Guerrero.
  • They trained about two months in Mexico and began wrestling there, often in bullrings.
  • From there, they went to work with Dory Funk Sr. in Amarillo, Texas.
  • Later, they worked for Leroy McGuirk in Oklahoma City and in Nashville.
  • After that, they were pretty seasoned and hit the road.
  • In Japan, they switched from being the McCrary Twins to the McGuire Twins. “The announcers would have trouble with it. They would pronounce it Queary and we’d say, ‘We ain’t no queers.’
  • One of Benny and Billy’s signature wrestling moves, “The Big Splash”, had an occasional unsavory result. Benny would pin an opponent, and then, according to Benny, “…then Billy would come sit on top of me. I’ve had wrestlers poo-poo in their pants from the weight.” (Wow, too much information)
  • Benny and Billy appeared in Vegas where they played trumpets and told jokes with 400-pound go-go dancers.
  • Billy died of injuries after a mini-bike stunt gone wrong in Niagara Falls.
  • After Billy died in 1979, Benny teamed up with other wrestlers, including Andre the Giant, before retiring from the sport.
  • Benny later opened up a pawn shop.
  • Another random tidbit of information is that Benny and Billy McCrary are natives of Hendersonville, NC, where I just happened to be last weekend for day 1 of the Southeast’s only UCI sanctioned cyclocross races. The less that is said of my performance in the 35+ event the better. Suffice it to say that 5 hours of sleep, a 20 minute warmup, and training one day a week for the entire year are not conducive to podium appearances. More along the order of “please don’t lap me”. But regardless of my form, I do love racing.

    Anyway, between the finish of my race and the start of the Elite Men’s event was an approximate 2 hour window which I dutifully spent riding to Benny’s and Billy’s final resting spot (Crab Creek Baptist Church Cemetery: 72 Jeter Mountain Road - about 9 miles southwest of downtown Hendersonville) where I paid my respects.

    Even in death, they’ve set yet another world record: the world record for the largest granite tombstone, weighing in at about 3 tons:

Imagine for a moment an alternate universe. A parallel dimension where instead of meeting Gory Guerrero in El Paso, Benny and Billy ran into a certain legendary six-day pro/promoter Patrick Sercu:

Sercu: Listen, Gory Guerrero’s got nothin’ to offer. NOTHING. This so called ‘Rasslin’ is not a sport. It’s fake. On the other hand, professional six-day bike races are honest athletic endeavors devoid of any illusion of fraud or scripted outcome…
Billy: That’s not what I heard.
Sercu: Now where did you rubes get that idea? Hear me out…How would you like an eternal diet of complimentary beer and frites…
Benny: Wait, I know all about beer, but what the hell are freets?
Sercu: Uh, gloriously fried, golden, crispy, salted potatoes. I believe you call them of all things “French Fries” here. But we use mayo, not ketchup.
Benny: Ooh, that sounds good. Me and Billy can’t live on beer alone.
Billy: At least not for extended periods of time.
Sercu: Right…Anyway, as I was saying, you’ll have a chance to race your mini-bikes - umm…actually we call them dernies…but no matter - all over Europe, ogle oodles of show girls, take in a non-stop disco music soundtrack each night, and most importantly, you’ll be guaranteed a place in six-day lore and legend. I can’t seem to find any Yanks who can cut it in Europe indoors on track bikes. Instead, this land has an uncanny knack for producing men larger than anyplace on the planet. But Benny and Billy, you two win the fat-ass crown hands-down.
Benny and Billy: Amen to that, brother!
Sercu: Damn, I’ve got about 20 Euro speedsters itching to draft such a doughy dynamic duo like you two. And my-oh-my, draft they will. Why don’t you both sign right here on the dotted line…And then we leave for Belgium.

Feast your eyes on what may have transpired in hallowed indoor velodrome venues such as Dortumund or Copenhagen or Zurich or Munich or Grenoble or Ghent. Benny and Billy…you missed your true calling.

Time Warp

Derny racing, circa 1920s:
French motor pacing poster, circa 1920s.

Derny racing, Dortmund 2005:
Motor paced racing at Dortmund, Germany in 2005. Photo URL:
Photographer: Gerhard Ramme
Image source:

I envy Edmond Hood. Whether he’s providing insight into the first salvo of Belgian semi-classics from bergs and bars, detailing his runner duties amidst recent winter 6 day events at Copenhagen, Berlin, or Ghent, or shedding light on the truly hoopty technology proliferation of derny racing, this man has an uncanny knack for illuminating the details or the side stories noticeable only to seasoned Euro pro tifosi.

Those derny bikes have a freak-in-the-basement-with-a-welding-torch quality that would make Graeme Obree proud. It also seems interesting to me that the design of the bikes as well as the dernys hasn’t changed all that much over the years (at least to my untrained eye).

I’m Too Sexy for This Six Day

6 Days of Rotterdam banner

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).