Day Four – Afternoon Session.
The cat and I are hanging out, waiting for the brown rice to cook. It’s taking forever, but at least while we’re waiting we get some quality time. I haven’t been home much over the past four days, and when I have I’ve generally been asleep, so it’s nice to hang out. It flops on its side, shows me its belly, offers headbutts and affection.
Eventually the rice is done and I wolf it down. I’m riding my bike to the track again today, and it’s a little less fun this time around. There’s a stiff southerly blowing, my bag is as heavy as hell, and the twelve hour days at Hisense are beginning to take their toll. Still, scooting around the MCG is fun, and it’s considerably better than taking the train.
When I swan in the pursuits are already underway. Thanks for making me late, cat! Geraint Thomas is first up, and he catches his opposition within the first two kilometres. It’s satisfying to catch someone in a pursuit, and you probably push a little harder in order to do so, but I wonder how much time is lost in deviating that far from the black line.
I go talk to Team GB’s press officer. The folks at fixed.org.au are, like everyone else, a bit obsessed with Victoria Pendleton, and have given me a list of questions. She’s pretty nice to deal with, and asks me who I’m writing for. I tell her I write for The New Timer, and describe it as a hipster blog, trying to explain why all of my questions are about tattoos and music. She tells me that Pendleton will be taking questions after the keirin final later tonight. It’s not really the answer I’m after, because I know that after the keirin she’ll be mobbed by the legitimate media, especially if she wins, and I need a quiet, questions over coffee vibe. But she’s a bit of a superstar and all, so I have to play by the rules.
The male pursuiters are here, and they’re all skinny enduro types, but the women’s keirin heats are on immediately afterwards, which means that the female sprinter types are also hanging around. It’s unusual to see all of these strong, powerful women around all of these scrawny and emaciated men. I walk past the Australian camp and notice that Bobridge and Dennis both have their noses stuffed with tissues. I chat to one of the team doctors, and he – in a display of transparency as yet unseen in team Australia – tells me that the tissues are soaked in Eucalyptus, in an attempt to open up the airways. “And for a touch of patriotism,” I offer, but he doesn’t laugh.
Jacky Bobby showing excellent form on the rollers, as well as his eucalyptus flavoured snot blockers.
It’s a little cooler today, and no one is expecting any records to fall. Jack Bobridge is up against Michael Hepburn in their individual pursuit heats, and the two Australian teammates have been trashtalking each other all week, using twitter to try to psych each other out. It’s hard to look past Bobridge in this discipline – he is the world record holder – but he’s been riding a lot of road lately, and there’s a slim chance he may fail to make the transition. A very slim chance. Alright, next to no chance. But hey, I’m trying to make things interesting here.
Actually, perhaps there is a chance. I’m standing in front of Scott McGrory in the line for coffee. This is where most of the business and analysis takes place in the media centre, and today is no exception. McGrory is saying that Hepburn is a real chance today – apparently the boy is flying. At this point I tell him that I’m eavesdropping, and he doesn’t seem to mind. I want to also tell him that I really enjoy his commentary work, but I think it’s probably better to save the gushing fanboy stuff for tomorrow.
This woman hears more inside gossip about cycling than anyone else here.
When the race begins in earnest Bobridge is up, and – the race seeming like a mere formality – I start to look up Ricky Bobby quotes, in order to make better Jacky Bobby jokes. When you write a blog, that’s called research. But the crowd is getting noisier, and when I look up Hepburn is in front. He ends up soundly beating Bobridge, and setting the second fastest time in regular position ever. Not bad, not bad at all.
The women’s keirin heats are up next. I love the keirins. They’re fast and rough and rad. In the first Germany’s Katrina Vogel – totes one of my favourites – leads it out, It’s a smart move, but she has Anna Meares behind her, and Meares has the horses to get around. Vogel holds on for second though, and goes straight through to the final. NZ’s Natasha Hansen, spotted earlier doing her homework, came home fourth. My other new favourite, Miriam Welte, is in the next, and also grabs the first position behind Craig Neiwand on the derny. She has Kaarle McCulloch behind her though, and Pendleton two back, so this is going to be a damn tough heat. McCulloch, France’s Clara Sanchez and Welte form a wall, and Pendleton is having a tough time getting around it. She’s got a much smaller gear on than the others, which probably gives her the jump, but not the top end speed. Welte dies hard and Sanchez takes it from McCulloch. The next heat is a little easier, but still includes Shuang Guo from China and Lithuania’s Simona Krupeckaite. Guo leads it out, but Krupeckaite has to go around France’s Sandy Clair, and the distance is just a little too much. The next heat has ‘local’ girl Fatehah Mustapa, as well as Cuba’s Lisandra Guerra, with Guerra not keen to go to the front, leaving a lot of space behind the Russian rider behind the bike. Mustapa, though, seems to have taken a leaf out of her teammate Awang’s book, finding an impossible gap to clutch second place out of nowhere.
What I look like when I'm watching the racing. I've nearly chewed a hole in my media pass. Photo c/o Leanne Cole.
Keen to follow up this “Pendleton runs small gears” theory, I wander over to team GB’s mechanic. “Don’t suppose you can tell me what gear she was running in that last one, could you?” I ask, knowing full well that a cheesy grin is the only thing that’s going to get me an answer here. He laughs at me. “As if mate! You know I’m not going to tell! That’s a stupid question.” I laugh back, telling him that I had to try. “Can I take a photo and try to count the teeth myself?” I offer, but he continues laughing and shaking his head.
The women’s omnium individual pursuit is up next, and I disturb Sarah Hammer’s warm-up in order to get a photo. She’s so tough she makes orphanages look like holiday camps. The photographers in particular are a bit bored by the event, as it’s not exactly a glamour sport, and instead get chatting about the Stawell Easter Gift, which is also on this weekend. “Hey, you blokes be careful,” I tell them, “I’m Stawell born and bred!” One of them gives me a quizzical look. “What’s your name?” He asks. It turns out he is Mark Dadswell, who used to live two houses down from me when I was growing up. Freaking small world after all, eh? I totally text my dad about it.
The Japanese Omnium rider. I only wanted a photo of her bike, but she was so rad I decided I needed one of her too.
Eventually the women get through their omnium IPs. They always run the leaders last, which builds the tension nicely. Sarah Hammer, who is so tough she takes her protein powder straight, is up against Tara Whitten, who is also pretty tough. Both women get off to an average start, but as the laps tick over their placings rise and rise. Whitten has the early lead, but Hammer to too legit to quit, and with five to go is clearly in the lead. There’s not much in it though, and Whitten claws it back, then finishes the three kilometres a nose in front. She has done the fastest ever 3k pursuit by a woman on Australian soil, and will take some beating in this event.
Sarah Hammer had to pray just to make it today.
Trott v Edmondson up next. Both of them are only 19 years old. Being young is no real advantage for a pursuiter – generally age helps with endurance, rather than hinders. The two of them sit in third and forth for the whole race, deferring to their North American elders. Trott takes it from Edmondson, which puts her in the omnium lead.
The keirin repechage rounds are up next, offering the vanquished a chance to make it through to the final. Gnidenko from Russia gets through just as I finally figure out how to use the Tissot timing website. Live results! Correct spelling! Pendleton is in the next one, and the fewer riders in this round – three, that’s the magic number – should work in her favour. She’s got Canada’s Monique Sullivan in front of her though, and the Canadians are not to be discounted at this meet. Tell her there’s a Tim Horton’s somewhere nearby and she’ll be sure to attack. Pendleton takes it out pretty easily though – she’s in a different class to the others in this heat. Welte is in the next one, up against Krupeckaite, with Willy Kanis from the Netherlands thrown in for good measure. The Dutchwoman is going to need a whole lot of courage to get through here though – perhaps three or four pints. She holds off on the sprint, letting the Belarussian take a flyer. An Australian crowd is always going to back an underdog, and the crowd is momentarily on its feet, but Krupeckaite is too strong, and rolls her at the end. There’s one more heat, and Natasha “Gangsta Gangsta” Hansen from NZ is in it, but she’s boxed in by Cuba’s Guerra, and no amount of hip and shoulders will get her out of there. Tsos from the Ukraine goes through.
The session ends and folks start spilling out. Collingwood are playing at the MCG tonight, so the whole neighbourhood is going to be packed out. Folks have been texting me all day, asking if there are still tickets for tonight. I have no idea, of course, but understand their eagerness. With the Individual Pursuit finals, the Men’s Sprint finals and the Women’s Keirin finals all on the program, tonight is going to be off the hook.
FOA asked me for a closeup of this bike, referring to it as a hipster's dream.
The biggest disappointment of the day - I thought these were the Dark Chocolate variety.
Hey Nonie Carr, there are female coaches! Like this one from South Korea!
Leanne Cole took some photos for me yesterday, and here they are. This is the view from the bleachers.
These two suckers have work to do. C/o Leanne Cole.
Perko's race face before his sprint heat. He lost, but the other guy - Bourgain? - got relegated, so Perko is still in the running. C/o Leanne Cole
It was another late night. C/o Leanne Cole.