ARRIVAL OF THE FITTEST
So this time it was my turn to immerse myself in a cycle messenger event that’s the largest in Europe and was by all accounts the most well European Cycle Messenger Championships attended for quite a few years. [For this years World’s check out Seb’s experience at the CMWC in April]. I arrived into Milan at around the same time that the couriers were departing on the pre-ride from Basil. Pre-rides are pivotal in creating international friendships between couriers and cementing that strong sense of community these guys have internationally. Fueled by shared feelings of success and adventure, and experiencing some ridiculously tough climbs together it’s pretty easy to understand why these guys build such a strong bond (I heard some of the guys describing a 10k climb on fixed gear bikes.) It made me sincerely wish I was able to take part. Sadly I’m not sure I could even walk a 10k climb.
I spent a little time exploring the city before making my way over to the Welcome Party. I wandered up and down the Via Bergognone searching for any sign of cycle messengers (generally not hard to spot). I’d not bothered to get a data plan for abroad so after a lot of aimless walking and general confusion I stopped to make the most of a free wifi connection to try and find out where I needed to be. Still no joy. I was about to give up and head back to our digs only to turn around and see the first group of riders cruising in from Basil, ALLEZ! plastered across their matching tops. The first couriers had come as a team and clearly meant business.
Like the arrival of a flock of spandexed, two-wheeled birds the group started gathering and eventually numbered about 50, including some familiar faces from our own team here at Gophr. Some who hadn’t braved the ride from Basil came crawling out of a van that had evidently and visibly been on a headache-inducing 22 hour drive from London. A few minutes later still and the street was littered with bikes, bike parts and a mountainous pile of messenger bags. It took a few minutes to get all the necessary elements organised out of the chaos before locating and passing round the size 15 spanner everyone needed to get their rides together.
We eventually made our way into the party and stepped into the space at Ex-Spazio Ansaldo, basically a large concrete room built to party. Couriers from all over Europe and the rest of the world exchanged greetings as old friends, known ‘from when they worked in [insert major metropolitan city]’, or from the last international meet up they both attended together.
That night was probably my biggest, ending with all the guests eventually being gently ousted from the venue at whatever-time-it-was-I-honestly-don’t-remember.
The next morning was registration at Ex-Spazio Ansaldo the same venue. Some were punctual, but due to hangovers most arrived around 10-30 minutes after it was due to close. The first race took part late in the evening; the out of towner’s alley cat. An event that was eagerly anticipated by the band of London couriers that I was spending my time with. This is where the competition also began for me, jumping on the chrome Specialized I’d been kindly lent by a courier friend of mine. It was time for me to test myself against a group of couriers travelling across the city, which is akin to joining a training match of professional footballers and trying not to fuck up. It took about 30 seconds before I dropped unceremoniously to the back of the pack. Aided by us Londoners lack of familiarity with Milan and some confusion had around several junctions I managed to arrive at the Vigorelli velodrome somehow still with the pack (to be fair they were probably taking it easy). Although there was no hiding the sweaty mess I was in compared to a group of completely composed and still fresh couriers.
We felt it necessary to refuel, so made a trip to the local supermarket. This in itself was an amusing venture – the isles of an Italian supermarket filled with couriers, all looking for one thing: beer. The build up to the race had begun. Probably half the couriers present were taking part, and the Milan traffic in the surrounding area must have been fairly dumbfounded to see over a hundred people with bikes above their heads searching for some open tarmac to lay their bikes on. A sea of bikes plastered across the floor. Several false starts later the race was on.
On the subject of open tarmac: it can be a bit of a luxury in Milan. Cobblestones, trams, tram lines, and general road traffic and an inordinate amount of parked cars either opening their doors or waiting to have their doors opened combine to create some truly horrible cycling streets. One of the London riders got some pretty big cuts and bruises after becoming a victim of getting his bike wheel caught in a tram line during the race.
The events concluded later that evening with the awesome Oakley party back inside the Vigorelli velodrome, where we saw plenty of bad dance moves (most of them mine) fueled by good spirits! The day was followed by qualification for the main race. Lots went to bed early(ish), most did not. The London guys I was travelling with went on to a enjoy a communal goulash that by all accounts was pretty awesome.
The races started late (a common theme to be fair) on the hottest day of the weekend so the first entrants had to compete through the midday sun. As a result I spent most of my time track side watching the race and joining the chants of ALLEZ, ALLEZ!, and exchanging a brief greeting with Jordan who was lapping round the track furiously (he finished in 12th place at the CMWC in Melbourne and was London’s best hope here) after returning meekly to the shade to join the couriers who had spent the previous night partying til the early hours of the morning. Jordan later told of the 38 degree temperatures that they had endured in Australia a couple months earlier.
Later that night was the second Alley Cat that was also open to the home couriers, the ones who knew their way around the cobbled-and-tram-lined-puncture-inducing streets. With Alley Cats you don’t get to see a whole lot and with the main races approaching lots gave it a miss and headed straight for the forum to find out who the 2016 Championship hosts would be. The options were Vienna, Copenhagen and Prague. Copenhagen won. The fine purveyors of beer and furniture will now host cycle couriers. Hope I’m there to witness it.
To be honest I am not really sure what time the main race started on Sunday, and I don’t think many others did either as the their was a fraction of couriers hanging around compared with the previous morning. Emphasis on the word ‘hanging’.
The main race is a 3 hour slog and in the hot weather it looked like hard work, considering that a lot of couriers resolutely wear black all the time. A few hours in and the atmosphere had pretty much transformed, the couriers who weren’t racing that day gave all the support they had to those out on track.
The racers began to trickle into the finish and much like runners at a marathon were cheered on heartily. Austin Horse (who seems to pretty much everything) was named winner overall later that night. With form like that it’s hard not to back him. He won this years CMWC’s too.
Shortly after the race there it was a short walk to the skid and sprint competition where, since all the serious competition was complete, everyone was having a bit of fun. The skid competition was a insanity, riders chucking all their weight behind the handlebars and some managing distances of about 40 metres! Not everyone was so successful with it and there was A LOT of skin left behind, which might have helped a few riders during the sprints..
At this point everyone was just going for it, more madness then racing. Check out our instagram page for the highlights of the stupidity. Sadly I had to cut it short and but nonetheless made my way back to London with a smile on my face.
For anyone interested in checking out the festival atmosphere of these events, the next one is the W.I.S.E (Welsh, Irish, Scottish, English) bicycle messenger championships in Glasgow. August 28-31st 2015. Check out details here.