Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What Dreams Are Made Of.

 Jacky Bobby's sweet ink. I think it's a dragon.

Day One – Evening Session

In the time between sessions Gene and I wander around some more. We spot the US team mechanic and I ask if we can take his photo, because, “He looks like every other Bike Mechanic I’ve ever seen.” He seems to enjoy that and gets chatting. “What’re you up to?” I ask, and he shows us – taping wrenches into a seatpost in order to get the weight above the prerequisite 6.8kg. He also tells us he’s running 22mm tyres, and quotes the recent research. At this point I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d started a sentence with, “and my mate Blakey told me…”

Team USA's bike mechanic / Shifter Dan's long lost brother?

I also head over to the Australian camp for the first time. I figure I’ve seen these guys around a bit, and even raced some of them, so they won’t be up to much. On closer inspection, however, it appears that their BTs have been modified, so I ask to take a picture. The head mechanic umms and ahhhs a little bit, and then turns me down. “If someone has a close look at the photo they might see what we’ve done,” he tells me. It’s the first time I’ve been knocked back, even when I asked Clara Sanchez to wink at me.

Clara Sanchez winking at me.

The sprinters are gradually rolling in for the Team Sprints tonight. I notice their bikes first – all of a sudden there are beefy stems and sprint bars everywhere. Pretty soon afterwards there are beefy women and men to match. They’re all out on the track between the sessions, doing flying entries and starts. I have orders to take a photo comparing Gene’s legs to Robert Forstermann’s, but I’m yet to see the distinctive German anywhere.

I do, however, bump into “local” boy, hipster favourite and occasional roller racer Josiah Ng, who has been called in at the last moment to ride the Team Sprint for Malaysia. He seems pretty relaxed. “It’s not really my event, so there’s no real pressure. It’s fun!” He tells me. Apparently he’s not generally one of those guys who uses the terror look, preferring to keep it nice and relaxed, saving the energy for the race.

Ted Ballieu opens proceedings, but no one – and I mean no one – is listening. I’ve heard rumour that the Melbourne World Cup has lost its state government funding, so Ballieu is wanting for friends in this crowd. And I thought the Liberals only cut funding from schools and hospitals. Cycling Australia’s – and formerly Brunswick’s – Klaus Mueller speaks next, and even fewer people listen to him.

Shane Archbold is heading for the toilet at the same time as I am, so I stop him for a chat. It seems like all of my interviews are going to be held either in the men’s room or on the way there. He’s heading home after only a couple of laps, “just a taste of the track, to see if I can get the legs moving again.” He ask me what channel the champs are on, and looks relieved to be heading home. The New Zealand team are fairly dominating the cool stakes this year, as evidenced by this bike.

Fully sick fixie seen in the New Zealand Pits.

Would you look at these...

The team sprint qualifiers are up first, and no one seems to be paying much attention to them either. I’m sure this will change when Meares and McCulloch are up, however. The arena is filling quickly, the post-work, post-dinner crowd swarming in, loosening their ties as they step over each other on the way to their seats.

Hisense Crowd Mk II

In the midst of the quiet hubbub, the German team shaves a couple of hundredths off the world record. Minutes earlier I’d taken a photo of Miriam Welte when she was on the rollers, daring her to ride with no hands. She wobbled a bit, then straightened up. Imagine if she had binned it! No Guinness Book for her!

Miriam Welte, minutes after nearly falling off the rollers, minutes before setting one world record, then an hour or so before setting yet another.

Meares and McCulloch come out and there’s a huge cheer. Not so much for the Brits in the back straight. It seems a fast heat, and the naked eye can’t tell who has got up. In the end the scoreboard tells us that Australia has gone through to the final, but team GB will be relegated to bronze at best. France could do no better than fifth. So much for my dark horse.

Men’s TP finals are up next, first Russia V New Zealand. They come out of the gates evenly matched, but Russia quickly gains ascendency. The pace seems to much for them though, and they lose a rider early on. Perhaps smelling the blood in the water, the New Zealanders step it up, and the crowd loves it. When Team NZ final gets up, with three laps to go, the crowd loses its collective shit. Bronze to New Zealand, but the main event is up next.

I’ve really tried to avoid getting sucked into all this Ashes bullshit between Team GB and Team Australia (who I refuse to call the Cyclones, due to crimes against punnery), but the fact remains that these are the two best pursuit teams in the world. And they live up to their reputations. The lead swaps lap for lap, first GB are up by 0.3, then Australia are up by 0.2. One split even reveals the difference is 0.002 seconds. That’s tight. But early on Australia loses Edmondson (later revealed to be O'Shea), and from there Team GB’s lead blows out. Eventually there’s only a second in it, and Team GB have taken back the world record. I literally have goosebumps, and am shaking while I type. I couldn’t have been more excited if Jack Bobridge had been wearing an Essendon jumper.

Every Harry, Dick and Mike Tomolaris has swarmed the Australian team, but Team GB are left to cool down on their rollers. I walk over to Geraint Thomas and congratulate him, leaving the Dictaphone (aka My Phone) in my pocket. This, plus a few four-letter-words early in the chat seems to relax him, and he’s surprisingly candid. He reveals their strategy – that Steven Burke perhaps wasn’t as strong as the rest of them, so when it came to the end he would only do a half lap, then drop out of the race. But he also revealed what went wrong – that when Burkey came to do that last half lap, he booted it so hard that the other three struggled to stay on. I tell him that I thought they looked a little shaggy, and I just compared their form to their hair on twitter. It gets a laugh, and so I ask him about the media, who are still thronged around Bobridge and Dennis. It’s all good, he tells me. “We don’t do it for the glory. We do it for the ladies.” I tell him he should’ve taken up soccer.

Men’s Team Sprint qualifiers are up next, and despite the appearance of Chris Hoy, I’m not paying much attention. On the speakers someone is blasting Empire State of Mind, and it’s kind of fitting. The French team, including recently returned drug test avoider Gregory Bauge, sets a fast time and wins a prize for looking totally hot. The New Zealanders give them a run for their money, however – apparently their all black kit looks a lot like the Hell Krew kit – Gene keeps getting waved into the athlete areas. It seems to work for them, and they set a hot time. The Australian team also manage to sneak into the top two, but their position seems precarious with Team GB on the start line. Sir Chris looks the goods, but they’re up against the Germans, famous for their gigantically disproportionate calves. The Germans bring it home and qualify second and will be riding against France for gold, with the Australians and the Brits battling it out for the minor placings.

Women’s team sprint finals next, and first it’s GB v China – the loser’s race. Sorry. Vicky Pendleton is in this with Jess Varnish, and it seems the crowd is favouring them over the Chinese. Racism? Probably. But the Chinese don’t care, and they take it out by 0.3 of a second. It’s not the main game, though, and the announcer starts to hype up the crowd for the Meares and McCulloch show. Up against the new world record holders, they’ll have their work cut out for them. One of the German journalists tells me the women were a bit of a surprise. And they continue to surprise all comers – despite looking as rough as guts on the bike, they set a new world record, and blast Australia out of the water. Anna Meares and Kristina Vogel are later seen hugging. I am once again happy I didn’t mock Miriam Welte into falling off the rollers.

Victoria Pendleton Pin-Up!

The medal presentations start up, which gives me time to be annoying. I grab Gene and head over to the German pit area. They don’t seem happy. Forstemann says that he’ll take the aforementioned calf picture later, and their PR guy insistently asks us to leave their box. We do so, and make fun of his Teutonic sense of humour. Later we discover the German men have been relegated. Which sucks for them, but is kinda good, because when their national anthem plays for the women it’s an affront to the ears.

The scratch race final is up next. I’d spoken to Nath about this race earlier in the evening, and he’d suggested that all the teams were a bit Meh about the scratch race. Which is weird, you know? A rainbow jersey is a rainbow jersey. But Australia seem to have followed the rule, using the race to further blood young guy Alex Edmondson, who perhaps wasn’t in the men’s pursuit team earlier after all. He looks pretty fresh. Swiss charmer Franco Marvulli is also there. Of course he is. He’s been in every track race happening in Melbourne since he arrived here in November. It’s a good race, with lots of attacks, but not much sticks, and the racing is pretty tight and a little messy. Some guy from Austria hits it, and team Italy does the chasing, but GB’s Ben Swift is in the mix, and eventually takes it out. That’ll ease the pain of being left out of the world record setting pursuit team earlier this evening.

You would've started the sprint too if you'd had this bloke yelling at you.

The Men’s Team Sprint finals are up next, and once again it’s the loser’s race first. I mean no disrespect  by that – I’d kill to be in one of these races. There has been some serious controversy here, however – both the German team and I believe the GB team have been relegated in qualifying. Which leaves NZ to take on Japan for the bronze, and against the coolest team here Japan never had a chance. I even hear the NZ team getting wolfwhistled afterwards. People, these are cyclists! The relegation also leaves Australia to battle the dominant French team. They’re definitely outsiders here, but I’m sure the glory of God will help Matthew Glaetzer bring it home. 

Gregory Bauge, who I still think is a mad-dog.

Some knob in the crowd tries to start up the moronic Aussie Aussie Aussie chant, but no one is having a bar of it. Perko leads off and within half a lap the French are in front. One lap and the French are still up. Sunderland takes over and the French are still in front, the gap not narrowing. Glaetzer takes over and the margin immediately begins to fall. He’s all of 19, he’s some mad Christian who probably believes in creationism and that women have no right to choose, he’s obviously a massive dork, but right now I’m cheering for him like mad. At half a lap to go the French are still up, but only by 0.023. One inch off the black line, one tiny deviation from the shortest possible route could mean the difference here.

And it does. Glaetzer steps it up and throws his bike to the line. There’s a pause, but when the times hit the scoreboard Hisense Arena erupts. No, seriously. The noise is like an explosion.They've got it.

Shane Perkins, the former rough nut, hit by a car earlier this week, is the first of the Australians to veer up into the crowd. A couple of seconds later he emerges with his youngest child. They’re both helmetless, but show little concern for the opinions of Herald-Sun readers. And nor does the crowd, who give him the biggest cheer of the night.

It’s all of 9.30, and I’m due here again at one o’clock tomorrow arvo. So I’m packing up a little early, trying to avoid having to stand for Advance Australia Fair.

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