Sunday, April 8, 2012

Run To Paradise!

The Nexus

Day Five – Evening Session.

Apparently I’m the young hipster here – folks keep approaching me, asking me where is good to go out in Melbourne. I have no idea – I’m a schoolteacher in my thirties, for god’s sake. This is the price I pay for having bodgy tattoos and turning up in a Tribe Called Quest t-shirt. I mostly tell them to go to 161, because I remember having some good times there in the early 2000s. I hope it’s still the same.

There’s a patch of grass just outside the loading bay doors that Nath has started referring to as The Nexus. I don’t think it’s an allusion to the magazine – nothing conspiratorial is going on here. It just tends to be where we end up between sessions, sipping on free coffee and talking shit about the session previous. When I finish filing my article for the day I head out there, and true to form, there’s everyone else. Again, we sit around and talk shit until the sun goes down and it’s time to go back inside.

These guys think I'm a doofus, and they may have a point.

The guys at the entrance to the media centre have been giving me shit all week, mostly due to my inability to scan my pass without assistance. They, like everyone else, are a bit more relaxed by this session, and just wave me through without scanning. Once in, I check my computer, post on Twitter, admire some photos that the photographers insist on showing me, then leave again. Wandering around the infield the volunteers are lounging around on the steps, talking amongst themselves. Even though this coming session is probably the biggest of the whole weekend, folks have started to turn off. The German team are seen signing autographs in their pit. I want to ask for one, but am scared that one of the officials will materialize out of nowhere and frog march me out of the venue. 

Volunteers lounging.

This is generally how the photographers roll. The one on the left used to be a pretty good bike rider too. 

Gene and I stop to admire a bike belonging to one of Team USA’s mechanics. He points out the couplings and I ask if I can take a photo “for my mate Blakey, who loves that kind of shit.” For once I do the right thing and introduce myself, but he stops me, and says, “Yeah, I know who you are. You can have a photo if you put it up on the blog.” “Done and done,” I tell him. We talk a bit about the lies we’ve told customs, but I’m so freaking stoked that someone has recognized me from the blog that I can barely speak. 

Ok Blakey, this one is for you. Steel with couplings - cable couplings too.

With no omnium tonight I have no idea when I’m going to be able to go to the toilet. The venue is filling quickly, and there’s about a million people I know here. Even the teams with no participants left are lingering around to watch. Everyone loves a madison, and those who don’t definitely love keirins. Sure, there’s a few timed events thrown in – Women’s 500m Time Trial is absolutely code for ‘toilet break’ – but for the most part tonight is going to be pretty intense. Last night it took me a good two hours to calm down after racing had finished, and when I finally lay down to bed, my heart was still thumping away in E3. Adrenaline is a hell of a drug.

The women’s pursuit finals are up first, which is kind of nice. Nath has given me explicit instructions to talk to Amy Cure if I get the chance – apparently you can take the girl out of Tasmania, but you can’t take the Tasmania out of the girl. I don’t know if I’ll get the chance – I’ll have to ask the Australian staff, and asking permission isn’t really my style. Ash Ankudinoff leads for the whole race, and Cure starts coming back at her in the last 3 laps, but she just doesn’t have enough track. Ankudinoff takes the bronze. In the final is New Zealand’s Alison Shanks V Team GB’s Wendy Houvenaghel. The crowd has definitely sided with Shanks, as when there’s no Australian in the race, Australians will always barrack for our siblings across the Tasman. And Shanks has it in the bag from lap one – Houvenaghel starts from behind and stays there, the lead blowing out so much it almost looks like Shanks is going for the catch. It’s NZ’s first medal for the meet, and the crowd gives her a standing ovation. 

Next up are the Keirin semis, and with no Perko this parochial Melbourne crowd is confused about who they should barrack for. In the first heat I recommend Malaysia’s Azizul Awang. Hell, he lives in Parkville, trains in Thornbury, is coached by John Beazley – he’s as good as local. It’s a tough heat, though, with Japan’s Watanabe firing, and Germany’s Levy always difficult to get around. In the first twenty metres NZ’s Van Velthoven is forced onto the apron, however, and slips off, so there’s a restart. When they get rolling SVV doesn’t fool around again – he goes straight on to the bike. Azi moves up by his side and starts a rush. It’s an interesting plan by the little guy – usually he waits, then finds his way through the bunch – and it doesn’t come off, Levy hitting it with a lap to go, then pulling away with ease. Australia’s Sunderland is in the next heat, but he has his work cut out – only the top three go through, and he has Sir Chris and Jason Kenny in his heat, as well as Matt Crampton – that’s three Brits in one heat. Sunderland settles into the front position – he’s also a kilo rider, so won’t be afraid to launch from afar. He lets the Spaniard Mazquiaran in front of him, however, and he’s forced out the back as Sir Chris comes flying through, dragging France’s Bourgain and Kenny with him. With no Australians in the final, I get the impression that Sir Chris will be the sentimental favourite. 

Big Max Levy on the rollers.

Next up are the women’s 500m time trials. Both Meares and McCulloch are in this despite the fact that it’s not an Olympic event. There seems to be a sense of “it’s the last day, so what the hell,” but this doesn’t mean that they won’t be super competitive. With the cooler weather the track isn’t super fast, so no one expects to see any world records tumbling down, but there will definitely be twenty three women going very, very fast.

The sprinters, however, are generally done for the day, and some very bulky individuals are making their way to the exit. The enduros, however, are on their way in. The enduros seem to ride their bikes everywhere, even through the infield, which is so tightly packed that it’s difficult to even walk through. The sprinters, however, don’t even throw a leg over their bikes unless they totally, definitely have to. It’s a very different mentality – specialization to this extent is a strange thing.

I stop to talk to Bethany Keats from the bike radio show out of Geelong. We’re making chit chat, not really paying attention until Meares steps up. Then we, like everyone else, fall silent. As soon as the starting beeps finish the crowd is electric. Sixteen seconds in Meares is up. I say to Bethany that it’s too cold for a world record tonight, but Meares isn’t slowing down. The splits look pretty good, but when she finishes she’s once again lowered the mark. Two world records in five days. It’s time for capslock again. YEAH! I feel pretty good about all of my predictions being wrong. 

Meares wording up the venue commentator. 

Rider after rider come through, but none of them can take Meares’ time. I go for a little wander and try to catch up with everyone I know. I’m psyched to see that some of the folks who were in the ACMC events earlier today have come down to watch – I love it when worlds collide like that. They’ve all arrived in time to see Meares set the new mark, and then to see her be named the victor. Two rainbow jerseys over one long weekend. She’s not as surprised by this one, but she’s still stoked, you can tell. She rides along the top of the track, high fiving spectators and generally being rad. I was already a bit of a fan of her before this weekend, but now I’m even more. From the world record in the flying 200, to the disappointment in the sprints, to the exhilaration of her keirin win, to this, the icing on the cake, she’s been nothing but a decent human being. I like her, I like her a lot. 

Jelmer, fresh from the Australian Cycle Messenger Champs, reppin' MDMA - that's Melbourne District Messenger Association, not the party drug. 

The keirin finals are up next, but we have to wait for the adbreak, or something. I go talk to Nath. We mostly talk about the heat in here. This afternoon it was relatively cool, but right now it’s pretty warm – I even have some sweatpatches going on. “You watch,” he says, “now that the timed events are done, they’ll turn the aircon back on.” Hot track equals hot times, after all.

The first keirin final is for places 7-12. Scott Sunderland has made it through, and once again leads it out. This time he hits it as Crampton comes around, however. It’s a damn good move – not only does he burn off Crampton, the pace is now too hot for Azi. But next is the battle for the Keirin rainbow jersey. The smart money is on Hoy, but keirin racing is notoriously unpredictable. Indeed, with the motorbike on he’s all the way at the back. He moves up with three to go, but Kenny ups the pace a little bit and holds him off. With two to go Max Levy is off the front, and he’s got the big kiwi Simon Van Velthooven with him. They’re starting to look like they might stay away. With one to go Hoy looks like he’s going to launch an attack around the outside, but coming into turn four he swings back down to the bottom of the track. What the hell is he doing? He’s going to get boxed, for sure. But some how he doesn’t. He splits the New Zealander and the German like a surgeon splitting conjoined twins, precise, smooth, opening that gap up like it’s his daily routine. Then he has it, and is pumping the air and screaming for the angry pressure-release joy of it.

The Madison is up next, and after a race like that, I’m not sure if I can handle it. If the madison is too exciting I may start ranting like a madman. Fortunately, the start is a pretty sedate affair, and I get a chance to calm down a little. Sure, there’s a few attacks here and there, but generally speaking the first forty laps go by without too much trouble. GB are changing a half a lap before Australia, perhaps trying to put themselves in a better position to win sprints from the possibly slower but definitely stronger Australians. By no means is this a two horse race though – the Germans are currently in front, with 130 laps to go. It’s been pretty relaxed. The Kazakhstan team crash while changing and lose a lap down. With 118 to go the Czech Republic have a crack, but the ruddy Dutch and Australia work to bring it back. Whoever is in front is generally riding in the sphinx position, with the exception of team GB, who refuse to pick up trends when everyone else is doing it. With 111 to go the Australians try for their first lap. They have the ruddy Dutch with them, and Italy working hard to bridge. It looks like Ciccone again, who has the benefit of youth, and he eventually latches on. But the field are turning themselves inside out to bring it back, and eventually Geraint Thomas does the job.

They have another crack with 87 to go, but again it’s Geraint Thomas chasing them down. He better get used to bringing back breakaways, as that’s probably the job he’ll have to do for Mark Cavendish all year. I know we said this last night, but time is running out. They start contesting some sprints, putting some points in the bank. Germany have obviously spent too many biscuits in the sprints and drop a lap. With 68 to go Belgium launches and Meyer decides to chase, taking Switzerland with him. It’s Swift chasing for GB this time, and he brings back team Australia just as they change. GB’s Thomas seems to be tiring a little though, and finally goes into the sphinx to save some energy. Team Australia change on the line and open a huge gap on GB and Spain. The crowd roars and they’re on top of Belgium in no time. Belgium is popping though, so they go it alone. Dutch, Czech and GB teams chase as Belgium and Australia bring it together. GB sit up. The break is now Dutch, Belgian, Czech and Australian. The break takes a lap and now it’s down to points, Australia v Belgium. But the boys go again and Belgium isn’t with them. The Dutch, however, bring it back again. I take a break from typing – there’s only 39 to go. There’s a pause and team GB take their lap back. In another few laps the Dutch team goes off the front, and though they’re not in the running, it’s enough to take the necessary points away from the Australians and condemn them to third.

It’s been a hell of a night. Paris-Roubaix is underway and there promises to be rain. Already there has been a crash that split the group. I’m keen to go see Royal Headache, however, with the likelihood of ending up where I’d promised – Andy’s Roubaix party – getting thinner as the night goes on. This being said, I have just had my “afternoon” cold and flu tablet, and the banned substances will no doubt keep me buzzing for some time yet. 

It is, however, the last one. I'm going to regret handing in my pass, walking out that final time. In the next couple of days I'll write a best and worst, but for now, well, this is it. Thanks.

Perhaps these guys need some cold n flu tablets too.


Kate said...

Great work Brendan. I have thoroughly enjoyed your updates.

Kate said...
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