The setting is awe inspiring; from the outside, there’s not much to see – it looks like nothing so much as an old fashioned gas storage tank.
The legend is that this was the site of the old Stasi (East German Secret Police) HQ and when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 the building was blown up and the site turned into a sports centre with velodrome and swim hall.
The track is actually well below ground level and if you look up as you walk in, it’s an awesome piece of engineering – the largest unsupported steel roof in Europe.
A fitting venue.
If you have to rate the racing on noise level, then the sprinters win, hands down. When Max Levy broke the track record the other evening, the noise was deafening.
And Levy is on what is maybe the ultimate sprinter’s weapon – the new Look. The head and extension are redesigned, to cleave the air more smoothly, as is the seat cluster and the cranks are a complete, solid, one piece assembly.
To remove them, take off the left hand pedal, remove the bracket lock ring and the whole thing is then eased out through the bottom bracket. But speed doesn’t come cheap – with double discs in place, you’re talking 10,000 Euros plus.
If I had the money, I’d buy one then just sit and look at it.
Continuing on a hi-tech theme, there’s also a bike show in the foyer and in the high level passages around the stadium. Colnago had their latest “C59 disc” on show. The lines take a bit of getting used to and as with all innovations there are question marks; some say that the fluid will boil up on long mountain descents and that the adopted disc size of 140mm is too small and that manufacturers will have to go to the size adopted by the mountain bike world – 160mm. And five mm has to be added to the rear end width to accommodate the disc.
Time will tell if they catch on.
But not everything is hi-tech, there’s still a bell to ring and a lap marker board held in the old fashioned way by the grumpy old commissaire.
He re-started a Derny race the other night because Dirk started pushing a little too early.
And despite all the scientific advances, there’s still only one way to stick tubulars on. Contact adhesive, a brush and a steady hand – as demonstrated by the aforementioned Mr. Dekeyser.
But there’s even more ‘Star Wars’ kit on view with the sprinters. German carbon company FES have got the front ends just right – they look super-quick without turning a wheel.
The bottom section of the bars is coated with ‘gripper’ material so your hands won’t slip or displace the tape.
Back at the bike show, even Colnago’s ‘fixies’ are nice – and won’t break the bank at under 800 Euros.
If you want real exotica then check out the ‘stayer’ bikes – motor paced, where speeds go up to 80 kph on the Berlin boards and close 100 kph on the big, concrete outdoor tracks, designed for the beasts.
The trick is to get as close to the back of the pace bike as possible.
The leather-clad drivers of the 650 cc BMW pace bikes ‘stand’ upright with their feet in cowls and their backside on a large saddle – the aim being to provide as much shelter as possible.
The riders sit as far forward as possible on the bike, the UCI regulations state that the nose of the saddle must not be in front of the bracket centre line; but a 600mm front wheel is used with reversed forks to tuck the rider tight behind the pacer – it’s not for the faint hearted.
The drivers of the big bikes also pilot the Dernys – with a capital ‘D’ because ‘Derny & son’ were the original manufacturers.
You have to have a different licence for each – and you’re subject to the same doping controls as your rider.
When it comes to tyres, even the most expensive need to be regularly wiped with spirit to take off the ‘track film’ which can build up on them from dust and paint on the track making the tread slippery.
Here, Jorg wipes down Roger Kluge’s Continentals before a chase.
The old met the new when Argos professional John Degenkolb came to call – he’s no longer a ‘coming man,’ not with five Vuelta stage wins. He chatted to big Robert Bartko who was double Olympic champion – individual and team pursuit – back in 2000.
As well as his two Olympic golds, Bob is a four times world track champion, Three Days of West Flanders winner, Vuelta finisher and winner of 19 six days off 73 starts. At 37 he’s in the twilight of his career now, but still a beast of a man in the chase.
To commemorate his double Olympic triumph, he has his spare bike beautifully air brushed with Olympic ribbons – nice.
And on the basis of, ‘no show without Punch’ Didi was there – ‘Auld Nick’ as we call him in Scotland – complete with a special ‘velodrom’ trident. Apparently it’s not possible to use a Grand Tour trident at an indoor track.
He looked a bit sad, probably pondering the days when he was the craziest man on the mountain. But in an age of ‘mankinis,’ human bottles, angels and giant syringes, he’s become a common or garden ‘crazy.’
As well as the Devil, there are other strange creatures abroad in the stadium. A giant albatross – best not hurt it, remember what happened to that Ancient Mariner dude ?
Mention of ‘dudes’ leads me to our man behind the big motors; ex-cycle courier and reigning US Omnium Champion, Zach Kovalcik.
Zach has a Ramstein meets The Ramones thing going on – but instead of eating road kill as you may expect, he’s actually a vegan. Here he is with a tin of coconut milk . . .
Continuing with the musical theme; the shows at Berlin usually range from bad to – really bad. But this year we had the ELO and ‘Mr. Joe,’ who made a reasonable fist of his role as a Joe Cocker impersonator.
As I trotted round to take a photo, grown men cried into their beer; ‘Love lift us up where we belong . . .
At the start of the Sunday session they have a group photo session. I couldn’t help but observe that our super slim rider, Guy East was sitting between two German sprinters who made our man look like he really needed a good feed.
Berlin is famous for it’s night life and liberal attitudes to certain aspects of life. This is apparent at the six, where some of the publicity girls wear outfits which make your eyes pop.
But what it was all about was the coronation of the new King of Berlin; Dutchman Schep had a hand in the battle, but when all’s said and done, there’s only one ruler – all hail to King Roger.