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1972 - The Race Story

SKOL 6 CYCLE RACE
by Mal Rees, International Cycle Sport, November 1972

1972KarstensDuyndamWHEN the local rider, SKOL'S own professional, Tony Gowland. finished the SKOL '6' at Empire Pool, Wembley in September, proudly sharing the plaudits of a fanatical 8,000 (plus) audience with Belgium's former world sprint champion Patrick Sercu, joint winners of the 14th of the modern edition of London '6s' he set up an enviable record. Tony Gowland became the first Briton to notch more than one win in a six-day race, with first's in Montreal and now London.
In 1934, Syd Cozens, partnered by the great Dutch six-day -meister' of his day (the Peter Post of his generation) Piet van Kempen won the London '6' and many years later Tommy Simpson joined Cozens as a six-day winner.
Gowland has served a tough apprenticeship, riding in all the SKOL sponsored 'sixes' finishing second in 1970 with Sigi Renz and again a runner-up in company with Alain Van Lancker in 1971 when the pair were robbed of victory in the final 20 minutes when Gowland - at full tift - crashed heavily failing to avoid a banking pile-up ahead of him. On that occasion Peter Post and Patrick Sercu were able to snatch a vitally necessary 'eleventh hour' lap from a 'punch-drunk' Gowland, Post/Sercu being greatly aided by the rest of the field who sat in and dared not take the stint at the front in the last desperate chase as they would normally do.
Gowland’s injuries were superficial and he soon recovered, making amends by scoring his first six-day win a month later, October 1971 in the Canadian city of Montreal. Now at the age of 27 he starts the 1972 winter season with two wins to his credit a useful bargaining 'reference' when negotiating future contracts.
If this story of the '72 SKOL '6' reads as though only Gowland was in it, forgive the bias of those opening paragraphs, but I would justify my starting in this fashion by stating that those who were lucky enough to be present at Wembley (a vast number attending several sessions) all felt alike.
Having got that off my chest, now let us get down to earth. Capably, courageously and spectacularly as Tony Gowland performed it was the speed and competence of his partner that ensured this most popular home victory.
Still only 28 years of age, Patrick Sercu was having, not his second win like Tony, but his 25th six-day win. In the four preceding SKOL promotions Sercu had been the partner (always second billing) to Peter Post. During those four years I used to wonder how a man of 38 whose build and bulk showed signs of the ravages of time could play the master showman at every session, dominate every Derny-paced race, sprint or play the Devil until bored with it and yet come through the chases, jams madisons, call them what you will, sufficiently well to finish up with first place and the major share of the spoils. Great he was without doubt, 65 wins, 38 seconds and 22 thirds out of a total of 152 'sixes'. Many of these wins were against second-rate fields but the opposition assembled for the SKOL promotions by that board-track impresario, Australian born Ron Webb, over the past six years has been of the highest calibre. The men behind Allied Breweries would hardly be expected to stage a penny-pinching 'Roman Circus', they'd expect value for money. The contests were all 'needle' affairs and yet he came out on top. In '68, '69, '70 and '71 he was partnered by Patrick Sercu. I saw every session of this most recent Wembley 'six' and witnessed bursts of speed from Sercu, aptly dubbed 'The Flemish Arrow', that left me aghast and his rivals impotent, for it is the sheer speed of this fellow that takes the laps, gains the points and plugs the gaps when the occasion demands.
Seldom, if ever, spectacular and yet at the ideal psychological moment he would flash around the flat inner edge of the 160 metre board track, obscured from all except those in the cheaper, near roof-top seating and drop the rest of the field by half a lap (80 metres) while the bunch covered one lap. I am well aware that this sounds a wild exaggeration but with a journalistic colleague whose knowledge of world class sprinting is probably unrivalled we checked this seemingly impossible and frequently repeated feat.
Once the gap was achieved, Gowland, cheered on by the screaming fans, only had to hold as much of the advantage as he could while doing his stint until the undemonstrative Sercu would drop down for the relay-throw from the mouse-like Gowland and shoot away again as if propelled by a silent rocket.
The pair started the week as they obviously intended to continue it. Going for the points, they amassed 100 by the end of the first session, their nearest rivals being Australian Graeme Gilmore and Cees Stam (Netherlands) with 84 points but 2 laps in arrears. Gowland and Sercu were ahead in both divisions, the only team with no lap lost and a lead on points for safety.

1972PorterThe second session, a Saturday afternoon affair to which cyclist fathers brought their children, contributed little to their indoctrination or to embellish this article. However, when it was over and we journalists had hastily phoned the current positions to our various papers (all hoping to beat the spate of football news that would soon flood the teleprinters and the sports pages) I had finished my dictation first and said cheerio to my colleagues in the upstairs pressroom.
"Think I'll nip home!"
"Oh, yes!" was the reply that greeted me. "Look out of that window'. As far as the eye could see there was the most fantastic traffic jam, coaches and cars all stationary and at crazy angles. They were locked solid and nothing moved an inch during the 15 minutes I watched. This was but the prologue, for the Speedway Championships were to be held at the adjoining Wembley Stadium that evening. The date clashing of these two crowd-pulling sports meetings had a most unfortunate result for two of our seasons heroes, half of our Olympic bronze medal winning quartet Willi Moore and Ian Hallam, top of the bill in the 30 minute amateur madison (or chase) that was a feature of each session. Staying as guests of Mr. & Mrs. Phil Liggett a short distance from the track, their car journey landed them in the thick of this five square mile traffic jam and failing to arrive at the start in time they just HAD to be eliminated. Though not able to qualify for the event proper, they chose to ride, like good sportsmen, with all hope of the main glory gone and then proceeded to win the next evening session. At this point it would be well to remember that it was as one of the winning pair in the amateur Madison, part of the London 'Six' of 1967 that Tony Gowland's potential was realised. It was as a result that he turned professional and set off along the hard way to the top, getting a 10th place with Van der Lans in 1968 and 6th with the same partner the following season. I'd like to return to this topic of the amateur facet of the six later but this was a professional affair with probably the finest and most expensive field ever gathered together for one event. How can I convey better the wealth of experience or better point out the trackman-ship displayed, than highlight the almost complete absence of those stack-ups which in the past have meant such disconcerting retirements and shuffling of the programme to provide rides for the lucky ones left. Only in the final hour was there a retirement, Piet de Wit who had spent an undistinguished week with Carlo Rancati (Italy) withdrawing when they were hopelessly in arrears.
Chronologically, the second day, the Saturday night with Speedway rosettes much in evidence, found the eventual winners way ahead on points but with Sigi Renz & Wolfgang Schulze (West Germany) and the French pair Alain van Lancker & Jacky Mourioux occupying the same zero lap with the Dutch pair, Gerben Karstens & Leo Duyndam just one lap down.
After Graeme Gilmore had won the first of the two Honda motor cars in the final of the Devil-take-the-hindmost on Sunday evening, the race pattern began to look very different. Gowland / Sercu were going through a bad time, only increasing their points total by 39 to 273, and even more serious for them they finished the evening a lap down on Karstens / Duyndam whose points had shot up to 255, just one point more than the total of their rivals and co-occupiers of the leading zero lap, Renz and Schulze (254 points). Hugh Porter, thrice and current World Pursuit champion and now possessing complete mastery of the intricacies of small-track six-day madison techniques was riding splendidly but patently handicapped with a last minute substitute. His selected partner should have been our old friend Klaus Bugdahl, with 35 wins from his 169 six-day races to his credit. An injury (after the programmes had been printed) meant a rake around for a replacement and regretably Albert Fritz (W.G.) lacked the pre-race physical preparation necessary and fell far short of Porter's peak condition.
The pack of aces had a good shuffle during the fourth session (Monday night) with Sigi Renz and Wolfgang Schulze turned up on top of the deck. As I rode home that night I weighed up the odds, like some sort of cycle-minded Ladbrokes and would have made the West Germans, Renz/ Schulze favourites, odds on, if only for their beautifully matched, wasteless chasing, reminiscent of Gustav Kilian and Heinz Vopel.
At evens I would have bracketed Gowland/ Sercu, the Gallic, Van Lancker / Mourioux and the Orangemen, Karstens / Duyndam who were all at one lap. The Dutch had equal points with the leaders, Renz/Schulze (319 points each) but the French team and Gowland / Sercu showed better figures. Outsiders at long odds (three laps would take a lot of work to regain) would have been Hoban / Kemper, Gilmore / Stam and the Belgian pair, Ferdi Bracke and Julien Stevens. The Swiss pair Pfenninger / Spahn were but a shadow of their former Wembley selves and were at five laps with the luckless Porter left to raise the excitement of his fans with personal feats of 'derrin do' in his Arc-en-Ciel, World Champions jersey but with no hope of reducing 9 laps arrears. I would have quoted something astronomic in the way of odds for our Barnett / Smith combination, but would have given short odds that they would finish - in itself a great triumph for them, if they could pull it off.
The following (5th) evening was a Gowland fair-day. He must have had all his personal friends in the audience to have put on such a show. In every facet, sprints, devil, the chases and especially the motor-paced he was outstandingly entertaining - riding like the devil. I got the feeling that he was determined to show us that he was not being 'carried' by his speedy teammate. Still having the highest total of points they ended the penultimate session holding the lead but with Renz/Schulze occupying the same zero lap.
So to the sold-out finale of the last night, with all 8,000 seats occupied and many a hundred extras thronging the centre of the arena where the bar was breaking all records.
This was a night when one would have forgiven (nay - expected) Gowland to save himself for the inevitable assault by the West Germans, French and Dutch teams who were 'snapping at their heels'. He just could not resist the roof-raising applause that rose in ever increasing crescendo whenever he was in the action.
He played to the gallery in the motor-paced race with the abandon of a cocksure Mohammed Ali and for my part I had already decided that Sigi Renz and Wolfgang Schulze (who were quietly getting on with things in their own efficient way) would come out of the final long chase with a lap to spare but I am pleased, so pleased to be able to report that my judgement was unsound.

A gallant last night stand by Barry Hoban and Dieter Kemper brought them up to join the leading quartet and they had been building up the points at the same time but the heroes of the final fight for the top honours were the Dutch pair Karstens / Duyndam. They attacked and counter-attacked like dogs fighting in the street. They just would not let go. It was obvious that they were imbued with the confidence that success was assured as they took every opportunity to catch their closest rivals napping. The extra prize money poured in from the clubs and business houses (it exceeded a £1,000). A well spent Tony Gowland had to call on all his reserves of courage (and ambition) as Sercu’s speed countered attack after attack. His alertness and fantastic 'zip' saved the situation time and again. As the midnight end began to draw nearer so the Dutchmen tried the harder and very creditably finished up equal with Gowland / Sercu on the zero lap but the consistent point collecting of the Anglo / Belge duo throughout the whole six days now paid off for they had over 200 points to spare - to win on goal average, if we use a soccer term.
I have deliberately left frequent mention of our all British team until last, as I wish to pay them a special tribute. Compared to the class field that Ron Webb had gathered for our delectation, Barnett and Smith were almost novices but as the week progressed, so did their technique and they finished looking far more capable than many much-publicised six-day teams I have seen both here and abroad.
A final word about the amateurs who performed for 30 minutes of each session. This is a summary of my own observations and the outcome of a subsequent interview, perhaps 'review' would be a better word, with Ron Webb in his West End office. The Dutch winners, Klaas Balk and Roy Schuiten were always in command and it was obvious that they were familiar with bike-handling on board tracks as small as this one of 160 metres. I had expected (hoped perhaps) that Steve Heffernan and Alan Williams would shine, but from the outset they revealed lack of small-track, madison know-how. They never seemed to be in the right place for changes, at times they were so far apart (with other riders between them) that they couldn't have reached each other by telephone! Soon, very soon, they were laps down. I thought I knew our home amateurs pretty well but I was quite amazed at the competence of our British based Australian road/track men Murray Hall and the bespectacled Tom Moloney. They made a cracking team and it all seemed to be in the bike handling rather than beefy sprinting away (they were top of the points table - above the winners). Why the difference? "Regular training, under my direction, at Calshot" was Ron Webb's summing up for me. (Calshot is the home of the original SKOL wooden track from Olympia that wouldn't fit into the Empire Pool so SKOL gave it to the sport and built a new one for us). Ron Webb told me how little it cost a rider, £1 an hour and pointed out how much could be gained in contract money by pros (or amateurs anxious to make the grade) for so little outlay. Ten sessions for £10 could show a pro £290 profit as a minimum.
I was informed that Heffernan and Williams had only minimal coaching on Calshot track, enough to qualify, but after one week of experience at Wembley they had learned enough to win the final 30-minute chase before a bigger crowd than ever crowned Heff, 'King of Paddington' and they looked better than many a pro team.
Tony Gowland, has made it to the big-time, others can follow in his footsteps, Europe is ever ready to accept GOOD Britons as they took to Tommy Simpson, Barry Hoban and others of that ilk, but the youngsters must listen to those who know what indoor track racing is all about.

 

Original material from International Cycle Sport magazine

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