Day 1 – Afternoon Session.
Romance be damned. It took me about three hours to get home on the tram last night, so this afternoon I drive down to Clifton Hill and take the train into the city. Sitting on the platform is my friend Lidia. She’s a naturopath, heading into her clinic in the city. I resist the temptation to ask her advice about getting to sleep.
Melbourne has turned on another pearler of a day, and I’m almost annoyed that I’ll be spending the whole day inside. As I walk down the Flinders St steps I pick my way over emos, goths, ravers. The more things change…
I’ve caught the number 70 tram down to the sports precinct when the footy is on, and there’s always a good sense of solidarity with other passengers – anyone with a matching scarf is your best friend. I look around for similar markers today – dudes with shaved legs, or cycling logos on their shirts, or that slightly gaunt look, but I see nothing, and consequently don’t strike up conversations with anyone.
They’ve already given me my pass, and seen me around yesterday, so I don’t have to spruce myself up and pretend to be reputable today. No one even looks at me twice as I walk in. I know the way, flash my pass at security, and also Kathy Watt, who I didn’t recognize until a considerable time afterwards. She’s here taking photos, and possibly has more gear now than she did in her cycling days.
Gene "GZA" Mills.
I wander around and get some more photos for Hurley. Gene is volunteering today, mostly as a holder, and he wanders around with me. I tell him that today he may play a part in a world record. He seems nonchalant about the opportunity, but that’s pretty much par for the course. Hurley wants shots of pedals, for some reason, and I’m happy to oblige. Today’s hottest bike, however, is the stealthy looking BMC, customized for the Swiss team. It’s a track version of Cadel’s TT bike – all they seem to have done is changed the dropouts – but they look ridiculously good.
There’s considerably more media here today too. The SBS folks are squirrelled away in their own little corner, Matty Keenan frantically taking notes, hopefully on pronunciation. Tomolaris is also here, and I make a silent pledge to myself to take a photo of the erection I know he gets when he interviews Jack Bobridge.
For the first time this weekend the commissaire’s whistle blows and the track is cleared in anticipation of competition starting in earnest. An impressive line starts to form at the Tech Regs area, where bikes are checked for their saddle angles and riders are checked to ensure their forearms are parallel to the ground. I talk briefly to Karen O’Callahan, who tells me they are being pretty strict on it, unless there are exceptions for morphological reasons, like if they’re tall. Morphological is a good word. I write it down.
I believe this is known as The Commissaire's Pout of Disapproval. That's Karen on the left.
The line for approval.
The venue is filling slowly – there are still a lot of tickets available to this session, as it starts late and only involves the Team Pursuit qualifying. That didn’t sound like the most interesting of propositions, and I wasn’t going to come down here either, but midway through doing the dishes I remembered that last year at the Nationals it was in qualifying that Jack Bobridge set his Individual Pursuit world record. While the fancied teams may well be racing again tonight, the opportunity to see that time get lowered again is too tempting to resist.
Totally some seats vacant.
In the press pack there were vouchers for free coffee, so I cash mine in as the pursuits start. I figure it’s not really my job to keep track of results – for that see Cycling News – so I just hang out and watch the coaches walk the line. The theatrics involved would put the campest mime to shame, but as well as gesticulating wildly these old men, who are generally unkempt and usually overweight, yell at their riders, and beg them to go just that little bit faster. Some of them plead, some of them yell, some of them issue orders.
I have a quick chat to Geraint Thomas, mostly about crank length. Apparently he runs 172.5s on the track and 175s on the road, mostly because the longer cranks on the track feel a bit funny. It’s my first real interview, unless you count talking to Nath, and it goes ok. He’s on his way to the toilet, and looks like it’s a little urgent, but it still counts. I resolve to do more as the weekend goes by.
The New Zealand team are out on the track and the crowd gives them a huge reaction – they’ve obviously brought their first and second cousins with them. The cheering comes in waves – when they go past the front straight there’s a cheer, then a pause, then another cheer when they hit the back straight. It’s a little strange. There’s some big raps on this team – almost as big as their gears – and they’re holding up to the pressure well. They set the fastest time of the day so far, and are the first team to break four minutes.
Great Britain are up next and the crowd is strangely silent. You can hear the sounds of them riding across the boards, tires a smooth rumbling. I think I can hear Pete Kennaugh panting. Halfway through they’re already a second up on New Zealand. These blokes don’t even seem to be trying, but they’re still one second off the world record.
The Australian team finally step up and even their appearance gets a cheer. Halfway through their pursuit they’re a second up on the Brits, and the crowd starts to get worked up. The excitement is palpable. They’re a bit slower in the last three laps, but a bit of yelling from the crowd and they step it up. It’s all down to hundredths of a second, but they haven’t stepped it up enough. In the end they’re .2 of a second slower than the British team. Much as I’m annoyed by the constant “Us vs Them”, Australia vs England false dichotomy that has been raging in the media, it seems like this will be the case this evening. It’ll be damn fine watching, as will New Zealand and Russia battling for third.
Things start to wind down a little bit, and Monique brings me some kind of pumpkin roll thing for dinner. She’s here working for the Canadian team, doing their press for them. Seems like if you know someone in cycling, you got a pass. It’s good to have her here – that’s one more person to stop me from doing something stupid. The crowd trickles out and the cleaning crew trickles in.
And I thought my stem was slammed. Team China.
The New Zealand team were rocking these huge, custom made chainrings.
Team Belgium warms up. I'm sure I'm not the only one who was disappointed they weren't riding Merckx'.
The German team had regular Dura Ace drive side cranks, but these on the non-drive side. Crazy.
A big Look. Their website says they don't make them this big. I believe this one is Gregory Bauge's.
It took all of my elementary French to discover that their team was running FMBs, and that they were 22mm. A bunch of teams were running 22mm tyres, actually. This means, as much as I hate to admit it, that Blakey was right.