A new Sixdays in London. The event is nothing short of a sensation, a promising sign of things to come. In velodromes across Europe, this type of race has been in a steady decline for the past years, with the last Sixdays in the capital held in 1981. The message to the enthusiastic UK audience is clear: “Cycling is coming home.” For the riders, it essentially means the chance for an additional contract, a sense of perspective.
“When I first started taking part, the sixday season consisted of twelve races“, Christian Grasmann remembers. Riders, together with their soigneurs and mechanics, spent the months between October and February travelling from event to event – usually with only a 48 hour gap between individual races. There were some big names in track cycling back in those days: Bruno Risi and Kurt Betschart, Silvio Martinello, Matthew Gilmore, Erik Zabel, Robert Bartko, Stam and Slippens from the Netherlands. „Sixdays racing blew me away – I didn’t want to stop!”
Once you´re in, you´re in
Fast-forward to 2016, and Grasmann still hasn’t stopped. Sixdays races might be compared to individual journeys with their own, unpredictable character. They also mirror daily life with its ups and downs, wonder and disillusion, exhaustion lows and adrenaline highs, successes and defeat. These extremes might be at the core of what is the strong appeal of the Sixdays – together with the spectacle that surrounds the events: the live bands, the beer, the athletic accomplishments, the mix of sporting traditions and innovations. Sixdays have a habit of drawing in both riders and spectators. “People say they are addictive,” Grasmann sums up, “once you’re in, you’re in.”
The invitation to the London race marked the beginning of the Sixdays season for the Maloja Pushbikers. All in all, they participated in six Sixdays this winter. As they load the camper van for the 1,000 kilometer road trip, their excitement and anticipation grow. Two days later, they finally arrive at the London Velodrome which, in 2012, was at the very heart of the Olympic Games and since then has become a symbol for the cycling boom in England. When the Pushbikers first set foot inside the iconic building, it is completely empty, but the small, wooden cubicles have already been erected in the centre of the track. They face the spectator seating area, allowing the audience to catch glimpses of the riders as they try to catch a moment’s rest between races – having their jerseys changed, their torsos washed, their legs massaged. There is no such thing as privacy or personal space for a Sixdays rider.
Each Sixdays has its own rhythm, its own groove. As a newcomer on the scene, the London event needed to find its particular character during the first few days of racing. While the spectators were, no doubt, curious and enthusiastic about track cycling, the majority had never attended a Sixdays before and their experience of the buzz and thrill of the race was overwhelming. For the riders, however, the competition for laps and points starts from the very first minute. The Sixdays routine works like clockwork: race, sleep, massage, eat, recover and race again. Everything is planned with great precision: the soigneurs, the mechanics and the riders – all are highly skilled and attuned to one another.
The riders get onto their bikes again and again – warming up, racing, cooling down. In the end, it all comes down to the final lap. The initial atmosphere of relaxed excitement makes way for exhilaration defined by a sense of exertion and exhaustion, with riders relying on their team partners and the spectators’ support to get them across the finishing line.
What keeps the men going, lap after lap? Sixdays are irrational affairs that defy all categories. They present the opportunity for a rider to add another chapter to his personal story - whether he is victorious or not. They confirm that the weeks of training have been worth the immense efforts. They give a sense of purpose to the riders listening to the chanting of the spectators: move on, move up, move forward.
To find out, why Maloja Pushbikers can not renounce on proper sports nutrition, come back next week!