Heidelberg Homeboy: Inside the Stuttgart Six Days
6 Day Racing, what a brilliant device to thwart Nature’s evil winter torture of short days — take advantage of the long nights! A mere month ago I had never even seen a track – then after a 3 day mini camp on the Stuttgart boards, (and way too many hours going in circles), I swore I never wanted to see another one. But a return to the Stuttgart Track for the recent Stuttgart 6-Day, saw a magnificent change in my opinion, as I witnessed 6-Day racing at its most human, dramatic, entertaining, and bleary-eyed best.
Mr. Bean Goes To Stuttgart
Three hours after departing from Heidelberg, I arrived at the home of the Stuttgart 6-Day, the Schleyer Halle. The same journey the next day, took me a mere 70 minutes. How is this possible you might wonder? See, anything is possible when you have the directional acumen of an ostrich. In my rush to get to the track, I briskly walked myself into the realm of the “completely lost” a good four times, somehow got cornered by a vicious dog on a chain (I swear, the wicked thing came out of nowhere), and finally ended up climbing a large fence to right my wrongs, and FINALLY came across a long line of people waiting impatiently in front of a barred entrance, eureka!
At last I came to the press office and picked up my Pass — I stopped for a moment to marvel at this laminated piece of paper with MY name on it. There was another guy picking up his press credentials next to me, he was from a big magazine in suit and tie, and here I was in jeans, camera slung to the side, and backpack permanently in tow. I looked again at my press pass as if to confirm my previous suspicions, and then the pure joy of realization struck; I stepped lightly and eagerly into the arena with these new powers, which had so generously been bestowed upon me by the omniscient PEZ. I set off for the inner part of the track to see what my new badge might get me.
I hoped madly for VIP treatment like Dave & Dave (read about Ghent 6 Days: PEZ-Style here) got in Ghent, but alas, in Germany, you need a different pass for VIP access (and probably another to sit down). What CAN I do with this pass? The stern security guard pointed to a small gate and curtly replied: “The riders’ area.”
Off to the rider’s area. I was disappointed for a second (above all, my stomach), but a reporter has to be flexible. I walked up to the next guard and showed him my badge, he nodded his approval, the clouds parted, and the sun shone upon me as I entered the realm of the professional six day racer. I walked in awe through the crowds of heroes, trying not to look like a stunned schoolboy. That’s Giovanni Lombardi! Ivan Quaranta! Marty Nothstein! Bruno Risi! Kurt Betschart!
I pulled out my camera and started making up for one of the few moments (next to my Zabel encounter) in my life where I was completely unable to speak accept in a long string of hushed mutterings: oh my god, holy sh*t, this is not possible, oh yeah, thank you Pez, oh wow…
Soon, the riders took to the track and started racing, giving me more of an excuse to play with my camera and try to play photographer. I wandered toward the middle of the track during my quest for pictures, but this is, “NOT ALLOWED!” The middle area was only for photographers who had a bib that said FOTO. An even sterner official told me this and bodily escorted me to the nearest exit from the track area.
Look Ma! I’m A VIP
About to launch into a vicious diatribe, I looked around, and once again my jaw fell to my chest. Ahhhh, THIS is where I belong! Seems our dutiful security guard had ushered me directly into the VIP area. I took a quick look at my surroundings, and headed directly to the Promised Land of the deluxe buffet. After a good 5 pounds of medium rare filet mignon, cake, fajitas, oysters on the half shell, salmon, quail, pudding, and a lot of other stuff that my eating induced drunkenness will never allow me to remember — I headed back out into the fray.
And smack into Marty Nothstein, who had just been eliminated from the elimination race because of a mechanical, he stood there talking to some other people. Feeling confident from my excellent meal on the house, I saw an excellent opportunity…
PEZ: Hi Marty!”
Marty: “Hi?” [an odd furrowing of the brow, I don’t think he recognized me.]
PEZ: “My name is Jered Gruber, and I write for PezCycling News. Do you know about Pez? [he still didn’t recognize me.]
Marty: Oh yeah, I met some of you guys in Ghent, good site.
[Ahh, Pez love, that’s good, the warm and fuzzies washed over me and I seemed to forget what to say to Marty…]
– I stepped back, oh man, this is just too much, and my gift of gab once again left me lonely and forlorn. He looked at me oddly and continued on with his conversation with someone else.
Realizing once again, that I have some serious work to do in finding a voice when it comes to talking to professional cyclists, I immersed myself in the action on the track and thankfully lost myself for a fifth time on the day in some incredible racing. There is very little in cycling that is so incredible, as a perfectly executed relay in the Madison. It’s a work of moving art, so smooth, yet so powerful — and nobody does it better than Risi and Betschart.
The affable Swiss, Risi, and his two compatriots Betschart and Marvulli led after the first night. They looked to be headed for their 34th 6-Day victory, but in the end, the top German team of Kappes, Beikirch, and Doerich prevailed, for a very popular victory.
As the night drew to a close around 1 AM, I looked up just in time to avoid ramming headlong into none other than Bruno Risi, arguably the greatest track rider of this generation, if not ever. I muttered a faint Hallo, and was met by a broad smile and friendly Hallo in return. He walked on by, and I stood utterly dumbfounded.
Jered Gruber is a young aspiring pro racer, living in Heidelberg Germany. As his confidence on the bike grows, so does his confidence in talking to the heroes of cycling – read his 2-part story and interview with Erik Zabel here.
You can reach jered at [email protected]
If you are interested in seeing some more of my pictures, go here: https://www.imagestation.com/members/jered311
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