‘Can I have some tickets for friends, please?’ says Michael Morkov to the official.
‘No, tickets are for riders only,’ comes the reply.
Michael warming up the day before the race kicked off.
‘But I am a rider!’ says Michael, trying to keep calm.
‘I won the race last year!’
Michael grabs the race programme and points to his picture.
The smell of frying burgers is as strong as ever as I take the flasks down to the track centre, the boards of the opening section of the track rumble as the under 23’s do battle above us.
The Saxo Bank stickers have been applied to the jerseys and our T-shirts; we’ve got the big cabin to a palatial standard – well, as good as you can get a steel container; the track cabin is set up and we’re ready to go.
We have four riders – current most successful rider on the six day circuit, Franco Marvulli (he rides with countryman Alexander Aeschbach), Danish former world team pursuit champion, Jens-Erik Madsen (he rides with fellow Dane, Marc Hester) and the number one team – as 2009 winners – Michael Morkov and Alex Rasmussen (Saxo Bank & Denmark).
The teams are presented one by one – gifts, photo opportunities, applause and pretty girls; one of whom is Lien, Martijn Maaskant’s girlfriend, who has featured on PEZ before.
Rivalling the guys in our cabins in the coolness stakes is, Danilo Hondo (Lampre & Germany) a man with 83 road wins to his credit plus a near miss in the Primavera; he looks amazing on a track bike – if only his socks were just a little shorter.
He rides with ‘The Terminator’ Robert Bartko – that’s a strong team.
Iljo Keisse is nervous before the presentation, he carries the weight of expectation of his home city – walk in to the bakers and the guy behind the counter will says; ‘Ah, you are from the six day? How does Iljo do?’
Eventually it’s time to stop posing and start pedalling – the pistol cracks, Bob Sinclar pumps, cut legs stamp hard on gleaming cranks and the 70th Six Days of Gent is off and running.
First up is a series of six sprints, with ten laps between each sprint – despite it being night one, the crowd is good and every night except tonight is sold out.
The guys do three sprints each; Alex and Franco are in first; they wave me away when I go to change their jerseys – they’ll spoil me.
Alex isn’t happy with his front wheel and Dirk has to effect a quick change, meanwhile, Michael takes up where Alex left off and we have our first flowers – the boys lob them into the crowd.
There’s no time to savour the victory; straight into the team devil, Alex is second, Van Bon jumps early and Alex can’t get up to him.
There are no gaps in the programme, flying lap time – Dirk fits the discs.
Franco and Alexander go as ‘No parle Americano’ throbs – fastest!
I go to push Michael off but his front tyre is flat – our mechanic, Dirk is on the other side of the track, but Eddy the German spanner man does the honours and a new Zipp slots in.
Iljo and Peter Schep are next, that really annoying ‘Barbara Streisand’ thing hammers out as Iljo nails the timing strip in 8.85.
The crowd loves it, Iljo milks it.
Alex and Michael blast it, fastest! – what happened to the crowd?
I trot up with their hats, no time for pictures but we have more flowers.
The Beatles, ‘Let it be’ eases us into the 45 minute chase, it starts in pretty relaxed fashion – that was a hectic spell of racing.
Marc Hester has to come in – puncture, but he’s straight back out.
The young Belgian rider, Tosh Van Der Sande looks as if he’s a victim of the Spanish inquisition – we’re only half way through the first night, son.
Home Boy De Ketele and his classy German team mate, Leif Lampater take a late lap but Bartko and Hondo come up to join them on the zero lap – it’s Gent on the first night, who would you expect to win? Hondo, with all those road wins or ‘Kenee Dee Ke-tel-ee!’
No flowers for the Germans, then.
Derny time, roaring, smelly beasts – when I first worked the sixes I used to get so excited about pushing guys off in the Deny heats but not now; I guess I’m getting old?
De Ketele wins that too; then Iljo wins the devil – all good for beer sales.
Empty the drier, change the guys, rub the water off Michael’s legs, dry the crash hats, keep on top of the guys’ drinks – it was never like this at Grenoble.
The 500 metre time trial and Marvulli & Aeschbach lead; Schep and Iljo look great but the watch doesn’t think so – just the Danes to go; but Alex is on a softening rear tyre and it’s not to be.
Franco gives us his Lou Ferigno impression; for a non-Belgian he’s popular with the crowd.
The Derny final, De Ketele wins – jeez, that’s a surprise!
Another sprint series; time for me to take the swag down to the cabin; wine, chocolates, cheese, ham, cakes – and a Stanley tool kit?
Chase time, as I come back from emptying the’ you know what’ pails it’s Ike and Tina with ‘Nutbush City Limits,’ – ‘salt pork and molasses is all you get in jail!’ sounds like being a runner.
The last chase is an altogether more conservative affair; even Tosh looks like he might not die after all – Belgian/Dutch duo, Tim Mertens and Pim Ligthart take it.
Night one is done, if we rush, we might be in bed for three – easy life.
It’s almost 01:30 am and riders are scurrying around outside the shower cabin with towels wrapped around them whilst weary runners lug the last bags back to the cabins
A vision appears through the chaos, a man is strolling casually towards the showers as Cary Grant might amble onto a yacht in Monaco harbour.
He’s clad from neck to calf in a white dressing gown.
That man Hondo is cool.
My body is almost into the swing now, bed at 03:00 am and rise at 10:00 am – Kris tucked me in on the first night; that was nice.
The sprint series is first up; Mr. Sercu strolls out on to the slow running board and points surreptitiously up the track – he wants the string higher, up nearer the fence; that looks more spectacular for the fans, but is a hell of a lot harder on the legs.
We need another marker pen for Michael to sign autographs with, and I have to cross the track centre to get to Dirk, our mechanic on the other side of the track.
It’s heaving; only the second night and it’s sold out.
Franco is quiet before the flying lap but pops an 8.77.
I’ve been nobbled to push off in the Derny, later.
Iljo and Peter Schep can’t best Franco and Aeschi – neither can Michael & Alex; for a ’32 year old who relied on Risi to win,’ he’s not going too bad.
The chase is subdued early but tough late – young Van Der Sande is really suffering as are Steven De Neef and Steve Schets who lose a lap in less time than it takes to write this sentence.
There are spells when it’s so savage that riders can’t hold the string; they swing up, try to breathe deep relax, ease the legs – but they know the pain will start again as soon as they drop into that peloton.
Michael takes it on the line from Iljo; if they were play acting then it was Oscars standard.
It’s entertainment time – ‘Lindsay’ gives it big licks, Alex pushes me aside from changing his jersey to get a better look at her.
Dernys next and I’m pushing off Jens-Erik; Dirk is in front of me and worries that I’ll run into the back of him – so he jumps the gun, the monkey.
Leon Van Bon wins the devil, again – Hondo is the victim tonight.
More Dernys and Dirk is even earlier off his mark this time; I’m pushing off Franco, who takes to unclipping and clipping his shoes from his pedals as the Denys roar past with one lap to go – just to wind me up.
Not much time for pictures tonight, it’s hectic.
The 500 time trial and Iljo is spectacular, Alex punctures, re-runs but it’s that big Swiss guy again 28.16 – what’s his name?
He distributes his flowers to the ladies in the crowd, one by one – they love him.
There’s a famous face in the crowd tonight; Etienne De Wilde, his Gent stats are pretty impressive – nine wins, six second places, two third places, one fourth and one fifth.
Only Patrick Sercu is better, 11 wins, five second places and two third places.
Iljo wins the Derny final, the crowd are in raptures.
The last sprint series and then the final chase – it’s very nippy in parts, by no means a ‘potato chase.’
The organisers save the worst music for the last chase; it’s savage – but not as bad as the jazz at Grenoble.
Jens-Erik and Marc take it.
And then it’s chaos time – but Mr. Hondo did make me smile.
Two down, four to go.