Saturday, April 7, 2012

If You're Running To Hide, Trust Me I Don't Mind, It's Ok.

Day Four – Evening Session

There’s a Collingwood game on at the MCG tonight, and the crowds are gathering. I’d kill for a game of kick-to-kick right now – too much sitting and typing has meant that I finish every night mentally wrecked but physically firing. Plus, doing something non-cycling related has significant appeal right now. Gene and I wander around and eventually bump into Nath and Paulie. Paulie has been working the gates, and has featured at length on the SBS coverage of the Worlds. He’s been noticing everything about the riders – their socks, whether they did a good job of shaving their legs, if they’re a total babe – and is a wealth of mostly hilarious information. We sit and we talk shit about the racing we’ve just seen. These are the World Championships, and for the most part they’re pretty serious business, but sitting around with these blokes is a pleasant antidote. 

Kick to kick.

There’s a big break between the two sessions – the individual pursuit qualifiers have taken half as long as anticipated, due to the commissaire’s decision to run them two at a time. We’ve got about two hours to kill, but I figure I’ll get a headstart on the report and head back in early. It’s a good thing that I do, because on the way in I run into Sir Chris Hoy and Jason Kenny – probably the two best sprinters in the world. Athletes feared by their opposition. Dudes who could snap me in half, and then in half again. I ask for a photo, knowing full well I’m pressing my luck again, but they’re very obliging. 

Chris Hoy and Jason Kenny.

Further inside there are a bunch of madison teams out on the track, practicing slings. They won’t want to do to much before the race tomorrow night, so they’re here to get a feel for the track. Like I’ve said before, the track is a bit wider than DISC, but also a bit shallower, so there’s less run off the banks to be had. The madison is probably the most tactical of races, so it’s interesting to see the thinking actually take place.

Kristina Vogel is warming up on the rollers with a huge pair of headphones on. I wander over and ask her what she’s listening to. “LMFAO!” she answers. One of the benefits of working with fourteen year old boys is that I actually know who this band is. I do, however, resist the temptation to quote the lyrics and ask her if she’s sexy and she knows it. We have a pretty good chat – she tells me that she wasn’t selected to race the women’s TT tomorrow night, so tonight’s keirin is her last event. “What are you going to do after,” I ask her. “Well, I want to do two things,” she tells me, “I want to have a drink, and I want to go dancing. But my teammates tell me that Melbourne is not good for dancing, just for drinking!” I do my best to convince her otherwise, but I’m no expert on either subject, and she remains skeptical. I do, however, give her a flyer for the Fyxomatosis Roubaix party. She’s probably sick of cycling by this point, but she’s polite, and later I see her showing it to a teammate (who was sadly not Miriam Welte).

Party girl, LMFAO fan and world record holder Kristina Vogel.

My second job of the evening I delegate to Gene. Blakey has been in a lot of contact with Joe Cosgrove of Frezoni frames fame, and got the impression that Joe was a little disappointed to not be in Melbourne this weekend. So he asked me to get something signed for him. I hand Gene the USB man that came in the media gift back and ask him to get someone famous’ name on it. “You know,” I tell him, “like Sir Chris, or Pendleton, or Meyer and Howard.” He doesn’t seem too psyched about the mission – I don’t think he’s too keen on playing fanboy either. But he takes USB man and a black texta regardless.

It’s a huge night ahead, with men’s sprint finals, women’s keirin finals, men’s individual pursuit finals and the men’s points race. The only rest I look like getting is during the few omnium events. I may also have to get Gene to take some photos. I can’t see myself tweeting much, either – the events will be too exciting to type about. 

I also realize I’m running out of random things to photograph. I mean, I’m not really here to provide mainstream media coverage – if you want to see sweet pictures of folks actually racing, go see Cycling News. But there’s only so many behind the scenes photos to be taken. Only one day to go though.

The men’s sprint semis are up next, and first up it’s Perkins V Bauge. Bauge is looking so strong this meet, but Perko too has been looking the goods. It’s an unfortunate draw eitherway – I had these two picked as the finalists. Bauge is too fast for Perko, however, and Shane sits up before hitting the finishing straight. He’ll have to try something different next time. Sir Chris is up against Jason Kenny next. There’s a real undercurrent of necessity on this one – whoever wins will likely go on to represent GB in the Olympics, thanks to the IOC’s one event – one competitor policy. Kenny takes the first, but I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some talk between the two of them. Call me skeptical, if you will.

The women’s omnium scratch race is next, and really, the GC is all between GB’s Laura Trott and Australia’s Nettie Edmondson. There’s only one point between the two, with Tara Whitten a further seven points back. And Trott and Edmondson have proven themselves superior in the mass start races. No one in the lineup will be treating it like a two-horse race, however. There are some problems at the start, however – the Cuban girl Mejias is having trouble with her handlebars, which have come loose. They dick around for what seem like ages, which gives the rest of us a chance to take a breath. When eventually the race gets going a break goes away, but it doesn’t have any of the hitters in it – again, the omnium is like a stage race, and by this stage only the GC competition gets chased down. The final sprint is still exciting, however, because both Trott and Edmondson know that the placings are important. They jostle for position, shoulder to shoulder all the way down the final straight, but Trott has the greater turn of speed, and eventually beats Edmondson, drawing two points ahead of her in the omnium. Given that Trott does seem to have a strong sprint, it will be difficult for Edmondson to take the rainbows away from her – Nettie will have to finish at least two places higher than the diminutive Brit. 

Nettie Edmondson takes some advice from Monique Hanley.

There’s a women’s keirin up next, and both Anna Meares and Kaarle McCulloch are in it. Folks have been writing off Sandy Clair, however, and they do so at their peril, because I reckon she’ll cause some trouble in this heat. She takes Meares’ wheel, but can’t hold it when Meares goes. It’s like Anna has realized that she’s the flying 200 world record holder, and can beat the pants off anyone in the sprint. Her win is a giant “screw you guys” to the rest of the field, who don’t even worry her.

The next heat is a bit harder, however, with Pendleton, Krupeckaite, Guo, Sanchez and Vogel, with Mustapa a roughie. Craig Neiwand is on the derny, and he keeps the pace nice and low in the first four laps. Pendleton leads it out, but Sanchez and Vogel come flying over the top of her. It’s a strangely lackluster performance from Pendleton, who perhaps spent too many biscuits – both physical and emotional – in the sprints last night. The crowd lets rip a cheer, but Monique suggests that isn’t for Sanchez, who took it out, but rather for Pendleton not making the cut.

Sprint heats again. Bauge v Perkins round two. They stuff around for ages, waiting each other out, not willing to start the sprint. Eventually Bauge turns it up, throwing a few feints at Perko until he goes. Perko holds him off for a second, but when the big French bloke goes past Perko is as good as gone. It’s a serious display of force, and whichever Brit makes it through should be concerned. And in the end it’s Kenny over Hoy, the elder statesman seeming to let Kenny have it coming into turn three.

The omnium TT is up next. I know I said earlier that this would be an exciting event, with the final outcome decided by the last two riders, but there’s a lot of middling riders before that, so I go for a wander. Hot Brad is here and he has some Sesame Snaps for me. It’s a long way up to the top of the venue, and it’s stinking hot up there. I get a good photo of him and Jess, and will totally put it on Facebook in return for their generosity. On the way back, however, I finally bump into Pendleton. I know I’m not supposed to ask her questions until after the keirin final, but given she’s not in the keirin final, I decide to risk it. “Hey Victoria!” I ask, “What does your tattoo say?” She starts to say, “Today is the greatest / day I’ve ever known,” and I recognize the Smashing Pumpkins song it’s from. She goes on to say that music is one of the first thing she and her fiancé bonded over, and I suggest that it’s nice to not talk about cycling once in a while. We talk a while longer before I tell her it’s time for me to deliver some sesame snaps. She oohs and ahhs and tells me they’re healthy, what with the anti-oxidants and sesame seeds and stuff. What a charmer.

The bringers of snaps. Those rays of light always follow them around. It's not my shitty camera phone, definitely not.

The women’s omnium TT is happening, but I’m too busy trying to catch up on typing. Laura Trott wins it and Nettie Edmondson comes second, which will be how they also finish up in the Omnium. Make no mistake, the next wave of athletes is already here. Those two are so young!

The women’s keirin is next – Christ almighty, the radness just doesn’t stop tonight! I barely have a chance to think. The minor placings race is up first, and, perhaps distracted from our chat about tattoos and delicious vegan treats, Pendleton falls out the back and doesn’t seem too concerned. McCulloch tries to race it the Meares way and does ok for the most part, but gets rolled by Sandy Clair and Simona Krupeckaite on the final straight.

The race for the Rainbows is, of course, thick with hitters. Meares is surely the favourite in this, and has been racing well all night. In a repeat of their heat, she ends up at fourth wheel, with Vogel taking the motorbike. Guo hits it early, and Meares lets her go. The entire population of Hisense Arena is as nervous as hell right now. Meares seems to be falling off the back. Sanchez hits it. Vogel hits it. Meares waits. And waits. With a lap and fifty to go she moves up the track. It’s a damn smart move – Vogel and Guo are dying in front of her, and the race is bunching up. She rolls into the bell lap and starts moving around the outside, pushing down and squeezing out Guo. She and Vogel are neck and neck all the way down the back straight, and through turn three and four they look like one amorphous bunch, writhing and pulsating together. Meares is two wide and gets enough roll off the bank. She’s edging forward, then pushing forward, then she has a wheel on Vogel. This is in the bag! She takes a hand off the bars as she crosses the line and throws her fist in the air. Hell Yeah! Her first rainbow for the weekend, and the crowd is on its feet yelling and screaming and losing their brains altogether.

But that’s not enough – next up is the Individual Pursuit finals. In the bronze medal ride off it’s NZ’s Westley Gough v Australia’s Rohan Dennis, but in the final it’s all Australia – Bobridge v Hepburn. There’s another Rainbow jersey on the way, it’s just a matter of whose shoulders it ends up on. In the first battle it’s neck and neck until half way, when Dennis starts to gain ascendency. The boy is getting a huge cheer, as if he were racing for gold. With one kilometer to go he has a second and a half on Gough, and is only getting further ahead. It looks like the Individual Pursuit is going to be 1-2-3 Australia. I ain’t patriotic, but that’s pretty cool. But Gough has other plans – in the last kilometer he starts pegging Dennis back. You’re just not supposed to ride a pursuit like this, but Gough is doing it. Dennis is dying and Gough has it! The trans-Tasman rivalry is alive and well.

In the final it’s all Australia, and the crowd seems a little torn. The cheers definitely aren’t as loud now that nothing can be stolen from our collective consciousness. Both coaches are walking the line on a pretty hot schedule – Hepburn’s bloke keeps stepping back as he falls one and a half second behind Bobridge. As the race goes on the splits get smaller, however, and the crowd gets behind the underdog. Is there enough distance left? Hell yes! Hepburn has it! It’s a victory for the Underdog! Does he know how it feels to expect to get a fair shake? When you ride like that, you shake it out of people.

Sprint finals up next. Oh man, this night is off the hook! There’s still a points race to go!

First up is the 3 v 4 final, and it’s Perko V Sir Chris. Hoy uses a lot of the track, and eventually a bit too much – he throws a huge hook at Perkins in the final term, and has a slightly guilty look about him as he rolls around. Perko sits up and does what he’s supposed to do, eventually watching the replay on the big screen with the rest of us. There’s no question about the relegation, and … . Next up is Bauge v Kenny, France v GB, and the two are not known to be best of friends. Bauge has had his last rainbow jersey stripped from him for missing doping controls, and Kenny was the one who inherited it. Bauge wants it back, Kenny wants one without a footnote. It’s a drag race, and Bauge looks a little troubled in the back straight, but by turn four he has it in the bag.

There’s another presentation occurring, so we all have a bit of time to think about the points race. I haven’t seen Cam Meyer around, but I’m assuming he’s here somewhere. Last year he was marked out of the race and Avila Alcibiades from Colombia was able to take a sneaky lap and the race. With so many folks needing to be marked in this race, it’ll be interesting to see whether or not Meyer can get away. If he does, the noise will be nothing short of deafening.

Ben Swift wins the first couple of sprints, and this seems to be his strategy. Meyer seems to be lacking a little zip in the sprints, and gets rolled for the third. He’ll definitely be looking to take laps in the latter part of the race. With 123 of 160 to go New Zealand and France shoot of the front, and they quickly gain half a lap. Ben Swift finds himself in a decent position to grab some minor points, and takes a convincing lead. There’s a long way to go, however. Meyer keeps chipping away, picking up minor points here and there. I like the way he’s racing – he’s not spending too many bikkies, but he’s moving up in the standings, if gradually. Eventually he’s sitting pretty on second, but Swift is seven points clear of him and looking strong. Half way there.

Meyer needs the rest of the field to tire so he can take the lap, so he throws a few fake attacks in there. A while back I asked his madison partner, Leigh Howard, the difference between a fake attack and a real attack. “A real attack,” he answered, “is one that works.” This one is pulled back right away, so it was obviously fake. The next one, however, is launched with 66 to go, and as predicted, folks go nuts. Meyer keeps looking behind him, but folks aren’t organized. They’re moving all around the track, trying to shake the wheelsuckers and get across solo. Eventually, though, they pull him back, mostly thanks to the work of the Dutch bloke, who did some ruddy hard work. As soon as he’s back Ben Swift wins the sprint. It’s going to be hard to take Swift out of this race with a mere fifty laps to go.

Although Meyer ain’t going to stop trying. He launches again, this time with an Austrian. Swift and Italy’s Ciccone try to chase, then the Dutch guy tries to bridge. If they pull together it’ll be hard to bring them back, but eventually that’s how it goes down. They’re all bunched up with 40 to go. Surely there’s not enough time for a lap now?

Meyer keeps hitting and hitting. It’s like watching George Foreman battle Mohammad Ali. He keeps punching and punching, in the desperate need for one of his punches to be the knockout blow. He’s running out of time though, and like Ali, all the bunch need to do is survive. They mark him and he doesn’t go anywhere. He sits at the back of the bunch, knowing that a lap would still win it, but knowing there’s no way anyone will let him get away. It’s mostly Ciccone chasing, perhaps thanks to his Youth.

With 20 to go the bunch sits up and lets the New Zealander Gate get away. Meyer goes after him, and it looks pretty good, but Swift chases once again. Meyer shakes him off, Gate jumps on and they’re hitting it again, This looks like the move! Ben Swift chases, then swings up. He can’t do it alone. The crowd are yelling, screaming, begging for more laps, more time, more something. The bell goes for ten laps left and Meyer takes the five points. It’s not enough. They need the lap, they get the lap! But Ben Swift is within striking distance – if he wins this sprint, he’ll win the race. There’s a guy off the front. Can Swift catch him? No! Meyer has it! Unbelievable! Foreman wins! Meyer wins! The crowd is louder than it’s been all night! I don’t want to use multiple exclamation points, but I will!!!

The dude looks stoked. I’m sure he’s roaring as loud as he can right now, but no one can hear him over the crowd. He doesn’t look like he can believe it. He too is climbing into the crowd – it looks like his grandparents are there. He slides down back down the track to the infield, dragging his bike in one hand, crashing into his coach and hugging him like crazy with the other.

The sprints come up quickly, which seems unfair, because the rest of us need a damn rest. There has been no relegation from the first 3 v 4 heat, so Hoy is up one over Perkins, and he takes the next pretty easily, guaranteeing his spot on the podium. Bauge has also been looking pretty good over Kenny, but Kenny seems confident, going on the whistle. It’s a ballsy move, and it looks like it won’t come off, but he flicks out a little bit through turn three and it throws Bauge off his game. Surely there’ll be a relegation this time. The commissaires are talking, but the scoreboard says one all. Everyone waits for the announcement, watches the big screen. No one wants to see a win by default, like last night. The crowd falls quiet.

And stays quiet.


And stays quiet.

Eventually the decision comes through. Bauge has it. There are some boos, but generally there is quiet applause. He looks wrecked, relieved.

Cam Meyer steps up the podium and Advance Australia Fair plays again. There’s a quick interview, then La Marseillaise plays for Gregory Bauge. I’m buzzing, psyched, doubting that I’ll be able to sleep tonight. I’ve sent Kristina Vogel out to some nightclub in the city, on the recommendation of Facebook, and I’m tempted to go join her, but I'm way too old for nightclubbing. Home is probably where I should be right now. So I upload some photos, tap out some more words, then pack up.

Gene. Today he was wearing pants that apparently showed his buttcrack when he leaned over. I hope they got to see that on the TV coverage.

All the riders had their road bikes to warm up and cool down on, and most of them had time trial bars. Interesting...

I told you guys that if you can't afford a five spoke, a Shamal is the next best thing.

Dutch rider ignoring a sign. You can't tell me what to do, sign! I'm ruddy Dutch!

No comments: