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January 24/01 8:59 am - Canadian Six-Day Team Preview


Posted by Editor on 01/24/01
 

Athens via Berlin

Kris Westwood is working with Canadian riders Glen Rendall and Alexandre Cloutier to help them enter the world of Six-Day racing. Here is a pre-race report for the Berlin event they will be participating in, which begins tomorrow.

Picture a German traveling to the U.S. to play on a AAA ball team, or a Spaniard who shows up to try out for the Hull Olympiques. Imagine them traveling to North America at their own expense and initiative to try to make the big time in their chosen sport. That is precisely what Canadian cyclists Glen Rendall and Alexandre Cloutier are doing by traveling to Germany to compete in the Berlin six-day bicycle race, which runs from January 25 to 30.

Six-day racing is one of the oldest forms of bicycle racing, and it has a curious history. It was invented in North America but has since faded into obscurity on this continent, leaving the stage to Europe.

There is debate as to when and where the first six-day race was held, but certainly the first popular event was the New York six-day, first held about 1896. The event was conceived as the ultimate test of cycling endurance: cyclists rode continuously for six full days around a wooden track built in Madison Square Garden. The winner was the one who completed the most laps. It was the longest, most grueling race that could be organized, as racing on a Sunday was not allowed. Spectators flocked to see the sleep-deprived, hallucinating cyclists weaving about the track trying to stay awake.

The appeal of this annual event faded over time, however, and New York politicians, disgusted by the inhumane spectacle, banned any cyclist from racing over 12 hours in a day. Undeterred, the organizers decided to form teams of two cyclists, only one of whom would be racing at any given time. The new format boosted the event's popularity, and six-days have been competed by teams of two (or sometimes three) cyclists ever since. Riders soon found that, if both team members remained on the track and relayed each other into the race every few laps, they could ride even faster. Relay racing of this type is still known as the "madison" (or "course a l'americaine" in French) and is now an Olympic discipline.

The heyday of six-day racing in North America was the 1920's and 30's. Events were held in New York, Boston, Chicago, Montreal, Vancouver and other major centres, and European cities followed suit. Six-days were frequented by famous actors and socialites, and the racers were the highest-paid athletes in the world. Some of the best were Canadians: Torchy Peden of Vancouver and Jules Audy of Montreal are just two of the almost-forgotten stars of that era. In North America, the popularity of these events declined in the face of the depression, and the war years didn't help either. Only a few events persevered after the war, though there was a revival in the late 50's and early 60's: races were held in Toronto as recently as 1964 and in Montreal in the late 70's.

Six-days are still as popular as ever in Europe. Over the years the events have evolved from a 144-hour marathon to a compact, crowd-pleasing program of several different types of events, mostly madisons, held over six evenings. In Berlin, there are separate six-days for professionals and amateurs, and it is in the amateur event that Glen and Alex are going to compete. They are the first Canadians to compete as a team in a European six-day since before the war.

Glen Rendall is a native of Orleans, near Ottawa, and Alex Cloutier comes from Ste-Foy. Both are well-known cyclists in domestic circles, and both have some international experience. Glen spends much of his racing season competing south of the border, and he has ventured overseas to race in Belgium. For the last two years, Alex has been involved in the Paralympic cycling program as the tandem pilot for blind athlete Julie Cournoyer. At the Paralympics in Sydney they won silver and bronze medals.

Together, Glen and Alex have found a new direction in cycling: they have teamed up to form the most successful Canadian madison team in recent history. They tasted their first success in a major event in Pennsylvania last summer. In November they traveled to Europe to cut their teeth at the international level. Though they finished dead last in their first race, by the end of their trip they had scored a second place finish. Armed with this experience, they are traveling to Germany to compete in the Berlin six-day.

The reason Alex and Glen are traveling to Berlin is because they want to qualify Canada for the madison in the 2004 Olympics. The 60 km madison became an Olympic event at the Sydney Games but Canada did not qualify to enter a team. Historically, aside from a few standout athletes, such as Jocelyn Lovell and Brian Walton, the majority of successful Canadian track cyclists have been sprinters. As a result, there has been little money or effort spent towards developing athletes in the madison or other track endurance events.

After the poor showing of the Canadian team in Sydney, Ottawa cyclist and coach Kris Westwood, who was part of the 2000 Olympic cycling delegation as team mechanic, decided it was time to take some initiative. Because Canada has not concentrated on track endurance, the potential exists for quick improvement with relatively little investment. There is a pool of experienced road and mountain bike cyclists to draw from. By honing the skills of two athletes now, we should be in a position to perform well at the Olympic qualification events in three years time. Kris took advantage of his old racing contacts in Switzerland to enter two Canadians in the Zurich six-day and another event in Geneva. Glen and Alex were the obvious choice because of their success in the summer. The three paid their own way to Switzerland and the trip was a great learning experience, culminating in a podium finish in the final race.

For the Berlin trip, Glen has, at short notice, secured backing from Ottawa companies BMR Direct and Open Road Media, to cover a portion of the cost of the trip. With luck, this investment will open a new chapter in Canadian cycling history. The first installment begins January 25th. . .

 


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