The man walking towards me is wearing a skinsuit, has thighs the size of zeppelins and looks like he wants to kill me. He’s also pushing a bike.
To be fair, Germany’s Robert Forstemann looks like he wants to kill everyone in equal measure, and if you were him you’d probably feel the same. First he’s been called ‘thunder thighs’ by the commentator and then he’s gone on to lose his race, to an opponent with a far more modest, but not inconsiderable pair of pistons. A gross indignity, compounded.
Robert is of course a lovely chap in reality and his outwardly gruff demeanour is soon alleviated by a bottle of post-race beer. Meanwhile, a bunch of pensioners are speeding around on mopeds.
Welcome to the crazy world of Six Day track racing, a week of high octane, fast-paced cycling around the Olympic Park Velodrome in Stratford. It’s loud, it’s dark, it’s uplifting and intense and there’s a DJ in the middle laying down tunes.
“It’s just mental really, like a party with a bike race in the middle,” explains former National Road Race champ Adam Blythe, who along with John Dibben from Team Sky, Andy Tennant and Chris Latham makes up the GB contingent at the event. “The best way to describe it is like going to a concert, but instead of Lady Gaga you get us dickheads riding around.”
Six Day track racing is nothing new - you can trace its roots back to 1923 and between 1936 and 1980 the London event was held at Wembley Arena. At the beginning the crowds were huge and the atmosphere electric, but as cycle racing became more of a niche pursuit, the taste for Six Day diminished. Then in 2015 it was game on again - a revitalised image and full-on party vibe brought the crowds back.
Just like the riders slinging each other around the track in the Madison, the revival of Six Day is showing no sign of slowing down, even if most of the spectators probably haven’t got a clue about the type of racing they are watching. This is understandable given the mind-bogglingly bizarre variety of races in front of them. There’s the Madison, which is a kind of relay race but can also have a time trial element thrown in, then there’s the elimination, where a rider at the back gets booted out every two laps. The 200m time trial is a kind of wind-up-and-go sprint, where riders get two-and-a-half laps to get up to speed before the bell rings and they go hell for leather for the win.
Mopeds, or in track racing lingo, dernies, get fired up for the keirin, where riders draft the derny for five and a half laps before sprinting for the win, and the derny race itself is a riot of noise and two-stroke petrol, where each rider gets his own derny rider to pace him up to 50kph until two-and-a-half laps to go when the race is on big time.
Those derny riders are stars in their own right and qualify for their own prizes. Winner on Wednesday was The Beast, so named because “my woman calls me a beast.” Just like the other winners on the night, he got an empty magnum of champagne, presumably designed to prevent anyone getting carried away and ejaculating it over everyone.
It can be easy to get carried away when you have a velodrome full of spectators cheering your every move. Which is why the riders make a big deal of working the crowd up into a frenzy.
“It’s more fun when you get the crowd behind you,” explains Adam Blythe.
And that, for the riders and the crowds is what Six Day Racing is all about. There is of course the competition, but even that becomes less serious when you have blistering tunes banging out of the sound system and disco lights sweeping the arena.
Just ask Robert Forstemann.
The Phynova Six Day London event runs until Sunday October 28. Visit https://sixday.com/ for more details.