Uproar in the Olympic velodrome as the Keirin is stopped for a second time after riders overlap the derny’s back wheel. Jason Kenny, already having cycled around the inside of the track at a snail’s pace for ten minutes while officials worked out whether or not to disqualify him, gets off his bike and sits down.
“This is unprecedented, never seen before in all my days,” say the commentators, one of whom is Chris Boardman. He should know.
The Keirin has always been a highlight of a track meeting, a cacophony of sound from the motorbikes as they drone around the track, deafening spectators, making conversation nigh on impossible, two-stroke fumes hanging thick in the air.
It is a weird, wonderful and totally eccentric aspect of track cycling that evokes nostalgia and excitement in equal measure. The first dernys were introduced to six-day and keirin racing in 1938 and they were built specifically for cycling. There are modifications that ensure the engine doesn’t seize if it cuts out and the rider can pedal a bit to get the bike up to the top speed of a massive 31mph. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that without dernys, track cycling wouldn't exist.
So what happens? Someone decides they are far too environmentally unfriendly and brings out a derny powered by a battery. An electric derny. First seen in the UK at the UCI Track World Cup in London in 2014, these German monstrosities have an appearance somewhere between a mountain bike and an invalid scooter. Which wouldn’t necessarily matter if they sounded remotely like a derny. If they sounded of anything.
They didn’t get a good reception, because frankly there are some things you don’t mess around with, like the Coke recipe and Cadbury’s chocolate. By the following February, the petrol derny was back and the velodrome smelled like a lawnmower again.
So what do the Rio Olympics 2016 organisers do? They plug in that electric derny. You might think it couldn’t get any worse, but you underestimate the levels of ineptitude at Rio. Rather than have one of the older, more experienced and infinitely cooler derny riders zipping around in their black outfits, they decided on something far more jolly. They stuck some poor lanky streak of polo-shirted intern on it instead, and to add insult to injury they made him wear a cycle helmet. On an electric bike! If ever there was a poster boy for bike doping, this is most definitely not it.
So off he went, this bloke on his moped thing, with Kenny and crew in hot pursuit and you can see they’re struggling, right from the beginning. Not to keep up, they are struggling not to overtake him. This derny rider is going so slow in his silent machinations that he might as well not be there. If you closed your eyes he wouldn’t, because you couldn’t hear a thing.
And then, at the point where he is supposed to leave the track, this derny rider takes such a long-winded and gradual exit that the racers can contain themselves no longer. Cue “never seen before” infraction. Then it happens again. Eyebrows are duly raised.
I have a theory about this, and it boils down to embarrassment. Cycling behind this poor berk on an electric bike is about as humiliating an experience as you can expect an Olympic athlete to undertake. You wouldn’t see Olympic yachtsmen being led out by a pedalo. Tradition has to have a hand here and feet need to be put down through the track cycling community.
There is no place on the track for an electric moped masquerading as a derny because it’s not a derny and never will be a derny. What we need is a proper petrol driven bike, belching fumes and making such a racket that the boards rattle.
Apparently one of the biggest issues in actually deciding if any rules had been broken in the Keirin was that a camera wasn’t even in the correct position to record such an infringement, presumably because no one expected one to take place.
What a palaver, not that it did anything to stop Jason Kenny roaring to gold.
No word on the derny rider as yet. But then it’s not as if anyone would have heard him leaving.