48 hours earlier I was a 6 Days virgin. I’d read about it. I’d seen video clips on the internet – even some live streaming. But I’d never been. I was genuinely excited and absolutely sure I would love every second of it.
And don’t get me wrong – I had a good time. I did enjoy it. But I walked away on Sunday evening feeling strangely unsatisfied. Slightly disappointed. A bit flat. And not a little guilty about it. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.
It took me until late on Sunday night to realise why it failed to move me. Modern 6 Day racing is, first and foremost, entertainment, not sport. Arguably, it always was. The racing is fast, furious and, as far as I could tell, largely genuine. And it wasn’t that I didn’t care about the riders. I know several of them reasonably well from the UCI World Cups and World Championships, so it would have been nice to see Grassman or Marvulli or Kluge do well (the crowd would certainly have enjoyed seeing Roger win) and I was reasonably satisfied when Luke Roberts (the first pro rider to use one of my pictures on his website) and Kenny de Ketele (who I know, vaguely, from his exploits in Belgium’s famous sky blue skinsuit) won a couple of the Madisons and topped the leaderboard after Saturday and Sunday night. And I’m a fan of Max Levy’s, so I was happy that he won. Sort of. A bit.
What I was left with, though, was not so much the thought that I didn’t care who won – although I didn’t, particularly – it was more fundamental than that. It was that it didn’t matter who won. And, to me, that’s the point of sport. It has to matter – to the rider, to the team, to the fans… to someone.
Perhaps, in the ‘old days’ when the same riders rode the whole Six Day circus and fans followed them around Northern Europe it was different. Perhaps people cared who won at each event and assessed how they’d done across the whole season. Now most riders do their home event and maybe a couple of others so – although people do look back and say ‘Ah yes, Marvulli is on form – he won Bremen with Bengsch – the interest seems almost academic.
Perhaps it was different if you were from Berlin. This is their race, after all – and the commentators certainly make sure they know who their local riders are (even if they’re Austrian…) and make sure no attack goes unnoticed – and they respond with a cacophony of cheers and whistles. And then they go back to their (excellent) beer and currywurst.
It’s a long evening, but even so the trade displays – and food and drink stands – in the concourse are always busy. It’s a bit like cricket in that, while the racing is why people go, they don’t feel in any way compelled to watch all of it. In much the same way that I felt compelled to run back to the press room every time one of the (truly awful) musical interludes began. Sera Lee? Ulf and Zwulf? Nein, danke.
Chatting with Stephen Penny in the press room about another problem we both had with Berlin – that there wasn’t much actual racing – we wondered whether the 6 Days format could ever work in the UK or whether we are just too cynical. Maybe the Revolution format has it just about right. Four days of three and a half hours of non-stop action, spread over four months.
Partly it was my own fault. I’d gone determined not to work and just to attend as a spectator. I didn’t take my normal sports photography equipment and I was just going to take a few ‘reportage’ photos as I wandered around the spectator areas. But I couldn’t do it. I arrived, went to the press office, picked up some accreditation and a photo bib and decided to see what I could do with a glorified compact camera, which probably didn’t help.
I’ve not entirely given up on the 6. I will go to Gent – and maybe I’ll go with some mates and leave my press card behind. And if I ever happen to be in Berlin again at the right time, I’d go again. But maybe just for the one night.