"Sure, you can take a photo, just don't get too close. If you get too close, he might punch you."
Day Three – Afternoon Session.
It’s Good Friday, aka “Fish and Chips Day”, and nothing but fish and chip shops are open. Food was a real issue yesterday, and I don’t know that I can handle anything else fried. We swing by 7-11 and grab the key ingredients to make Peanut Butter and Jam Sandwiches. There were three weeks when I lived on these things back in 2002, convincing myself that I was both covering three of the food groups and also staving off scurvy. Casey also pulls together a care package full of snacks, but I know that if I don’t get something substantial I’m going to be cranky again. Could you tell last night? Reading back, I kinda can.
Dennis Station. Sounds like a guy's name.
But then, as I’m on the train to Jolimont, Gene texts and asks if I want a falafel. It’s like asking if a nymphomaniac would like to come inside for a coffee. I know I’ll eat it the minute it’s in my hot little hand, but I don’t care. I want it all, and I want it now.
It’s another spectacular day. I get off the train and walk through the MCG carpark towards the ground. There’s a bridge just over the other side that leads to Hisense, but it’s a nice day, so I walk around the long way, listening to My Disco and feeling pretty good about things.
Inside I find Gene and my falafel. I am instantly the most popular man in the media centre. Everyone wants to know where I have managed to procure something resembling real food. I tell them that they should go see my friend Gene, who will no doubt appreciate the attention.
Brunswick member and former euro pro Casey Munro is wrenching for The Netherlands, so I stop in his pit and have a chat. We talk crap about local cyclocross for a while before I get down to the nitty gritty – the tech. He’s in the middle of wiping down some wheels with vinegar to take the dust off. I ask him how big the tyres are, because it seems like things are changing in this regard. He tells me that they’re all running 22mm tyres at the back, but the front generally depends on the wheel. If they’re running a front disc, they’ll put on a 20. If they’re running a five spoke, they’ll put on a 22. Apparently the five spokes are harder to control. If anyone wants to send me one in order for me to do some subjective testing, please get in touch. I also comment on the massive chainrings the Dutch – and a lot of others – are riding. He tells me they’re 54s, and they all have 14 tooth sprockets on the back. 50 / 14 is 96 gear inches, so roughly a 54 / 14 would equal a 104. That’s a big gear, even for sprinters.
I also get chatting to the organizer from the Canadian team. She’s from Ottawa, and starts telling me where that is. I interrupt her, tell her that I lived in Montreal, and then throw in that the Habs had a win against the Sens the other day – ice hockey talk. She rolls her eyes and tells me she hasn’t heard the end of it since. She’s in need of a chair, for some reason – apparently the division between the riders and the media is skewed in favour of the media. In order to address this imbalance I offer to steal her one from the media centre. She gets a mischievous glint in her eye and we go about being sneaky. Mission accomplished, I give her a flyer for the Fyxomatosis Roubaix party, telling her to bring the team along. “My friend who’s party it is, his wife is Canadian too, so you’ll probably know her,” I tell her. I don’t think she’s going to come.
Hey Andy Fyxo, if this girl turns up to your Roubaix party, it's cool, I sent her!
I’m pretty sure they still have the heaters on inside, because it’s freaking boiling. The sprint qualifiers are on first, which means about an hour’s worth of big dudes going really, really fast. Matthew Glaetzer is the first to break the ten second mark, convincing amateur cyclists everywhere to convert to Christianity. Fortunately Gregory Bauge goes one better soon afterwards, convincing amateur cyclists everywhere that even better than converting to Christianity would be dodging doping controls.
The legitimate media don’t really stroll around the pits like I do, talking to folks and hanging out. They tend to just sit in their seats, get the official times from the Tissot website, and update their twitter feeds from there. When they do interview riders they always wait until they’ve just come off the track, then pounce. This means that none of them walk more than fifty metres at a time, and rarely more than three or four times a session. For the most part they chat to each other, catch up, talk shop. They’re pretty distant from the riders, that’s for sure.
The media centre.
Sprint heats are up next. The format is skewed towards the best riders, of course – the guy who qualified first is up against the guy who qualified sixteenth, and so on. While this seems unfair, it does make the slower rider (and I use that term sparingly – everyone here is as fast as all hell) try different things, try to win on tactics rather than speed. Team GB’s Matt Crampton, for example, hits out at Germany’s Robert Forstemann with two laps to go, hoping that he’ll have more endurance than Mr Calves. It very nearly comes off, but Forstemann takes it at the line. NZ’s Ethan Mitchell tries the same against Sir Chris Hoy, and quickly gains thirty metres on the oversized Scot. The crowd goes nuts as Hoy chases hard, gasping for air, before catching Mitchell on the final straight.
Maybe I’ve just got more energy today, but these sprint heats are ruling so hard. Jason Kenny, the current world champ, throws feints at NZ’s Sam Webster before launching at him with one to go. Webster doesn’t give in though, and nearly rolls Kenny on the line. Michael Blatchford throws a huge hook at Eddie Dawkins from team NZ, but Dawkins doesn’t throw the hand up in protest – he just keeps on rolling past. Perko’s heat is relatively benign by contrast, but immediately after Germany’s Rene Enders goes on the whistle, and forces Bourgain to chase too. The Venezuelans Canelon shoulders Germany’s Boetticher, and they bump their way along the back straight, Boetticher eventually taking it. I’m out of the seat every other race, hands on head, Leanne Cole laughing at my theatrics.
I’m still not really supposed to be taking photos, but Leanne has somehow scored a bib, and goes for a wander on my behalf. The men’s omnium individual pursuits are on, and – according to my friends in the peanut gallery – this seems like a good time to go get a beer. While they’re exploring the top level, however, they see Forstemann sprawled out on the infield ground, shirt off, not moving. I’m sent to talk to the German guys about him. They shrug their shoulders with the same frosty German nonchalance. “It’s normal. He is ok.” They say, and the conversation is over. The Germans have been pretty pleasant, and tolerant of my poor attempts at their language, but they’re not into histrionics. Or, you know, caring.
The story of last night was Caroline Ryan coming third in the women’s points, apparently Ireland’s second ever medal at a Track World Championships. My mate Dermott is working for them, and he gives me the lowdown: the whole team has a budget of only forty thousand dollars a year, which probably wouldn’t even cover Anna Meares’ ice baths. Apparently their cyclists still have jobs. Caroline wasn’t even supposed to be riding in the points – it was supposed to just be a warm-up for Sunday.
Marty Irvine's custom painted Dolan. That custom paint was half the Irish team's budget this year.
The next round of sprint heats starts up, and with the riders more evenly matched, some of the fun has gone out of it. There are a few dramatic moves, but no one is keen to try anything outlandish – with the possibility that one of them might win, the stakes is too high. Yes, that was a deliberate grammatical error. Sir Chris gets knocked out and has to go into the repechage, Perko takes care of Glaetzer. Erle Pavlis resists the temptation to ask Glaetzer where his god is now. The reigning world champ Jason Kenny goes through.
The women’s omnium flying lap is up next. I don’t want to be unenthusiastic, but I am. Timed events aren’t my favourites, as you know, and timed events that are only a small part of a larger event are even less so. But this even marks the first appearance of the reigning world individual pursuit champion, Sarah Hammer. She’s so tough her regular name is a nickname. She’s so tough she puts up with my jokes about MC Hammer being her brother. She’s so tough her parents didn’t tuck her into bed, they used nails. She’s so tough she qualifies 4th, even though she’s not a sprinter. Nettie Edmondson wins the event and is currently leading the omnium. That’s cool. I like her, and have done so ever since I gave her a push in the Ballarat Women’s Handicap early last year.
That brings the afternoon session to a close. There's a cold front coming in, and with it a storm. Finally, a night without sweat.
Matty Keenan was also sad about Andy Fyxo's absence. "Best cycling photographer in Australia," he said. No kidding!
Gene was told to wear smart pants, and these were all he could muster.