This evening, Nigel returns from his after-work ride to find Clifford sampling Eurosport’s coverage of the Six Day London.
N: Oh, this is Six Day London! I heard about that! It’s the latest thing, right?
C: Ha! Ha! Ha! Not exactly. The first ever six-day was in London in the late nineteenth century. And in those days they actually raced non-stop for six whole days. That’s the spirit that won us the Empire!
N: OK, so it’s a longstanding British tradition then?
C: Er, well . . . no. We Brits never really took to it. It was very popular in the US until World War II and since then it has been huge on the continent. But we haven’t had one in the UK since 1980. Until now.
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N: OK . . . so what are we watching? Do they still race non-stop for six days?
C: Of course not. There’s about 20 teams of two riders who compete in six formats in various permutations over six evenings of racing. The madison is the main event: they ride that twice a day, and the winner is the team with the most laps over the week.
N: Oh, I get it! It’s a stage race! Like the Tour de France – but indoors!
C [choking on his tea]: What? Certainly not!
N: Well, what then? I’m going to look up the programme online [whips out his iPad].
C: Oh, it’s all a lot of silly nonsense. Indoor cycling is nothing like the real thing. It leaves me cold.
N: Rubbish! Remember how excited you got about the Olympics? And those were the races British Cycling loves and you hate, like the team pursuit and the team sprint. You know, all that passionless “racing-by-numbers” you always complain about. But the events here are totally chaotic. Look at the programme: besides the madison, there’s Derny racing, individual sprints, keirin, elimination races . . . . all of it proper, wheel-to-wheel, elbow-bashing racing, the sort you are always telling me proper cyclists do, and that I should do instead of riding sportives all the time! It should be right up your street.
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C [relighting his pipe]: Don’t get carried away, Nige. Track cycling is, at best, a bit of fun for the winter, while we wait for the weather to improve.
N [Googling]: Funnily enough, that’s exactly what the BBC website says. They go on to describe it as “at worst, fixed racing on fixed-wheel bikes, featuring guys on speed, roared on by drunks”. But that sounds brilliant! And why have you got the sound off?
O [sighing]: They’ve got . . . a DJ. He keeps playing this awful loud pop music. And the crowd keep giving these terrible bullfight cheers. And there are all these horrible flashing disco lights. What does all that razzmatazz have to do with cycling?
N: Well, the BBC says that, in the olden days, when they raced in New York “Hollywood celebrities mixed with gangsters at track centre and the biggest jazz bands of the day provided the soundtrack.” And now in continental Europe they have jet-powered go-karts, laser shows, and circus acts, and after the racing they turn the velodrome into a nightclub. So the razzmatazz is all part of the show. Actually, this looks relatively sedate by comparison.
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C: Hmph. Maybe. But how come you’re so excited about it? It’s not exactly a moody monochrome Rapha ad, is it? Look at those grotesque psychedelic jerseys, and that American sprinter flexing his muscles and wiggling his behind! What happened to the Art of Suffering?
N: Fair comment. But Rapha are one of the sponsors, so it must be good. And who cares anyway? It looks like fun, Clifford! Fun! Remember that?
C: I tried it once. It’s overrated.[powr-image-slider label="Clifford Nigel Six Day Slider 4"]
[Both watch for several minutes, in silence.]
N: OK, so . . . it was invented by the Victorians, but never took off here. It was massive in America in the Jazz Age, and in Europe after World War II. It’s on track, but it’s proper racing. It’s serious, but it’s showbiz. It’s a closed, secretive and slightly shady world, but anyone can buy a ticket and enjoy it over a few beers, or even with their family - look at all the kids there!
C: So what?
N: So – is it Old Cycling, or is it New Cycling?
[Long pause. Clifford does not take his eyes from the screen.]
C: Er . . . I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t approve of it.
N: It can’t be that bad. You’ve been watching it for hours. Who’s winning, anyway?
[Another long pause. Clifford still does not take his eyes from the screen.]
C: I have absolutely no idea.
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