The marked man of South African track cycling, Nolan Hoffman, is looking forward to the intensity of the European six-day circuit in the second half of the season to “ease” the pressure.
“It’s never easy racing on home soil, especially since everyone is always watching what I’m doing,” says Hoffman, who is still able to ply is trade under the radar overseas.
He joined an exclusive club last year when he became only the second South African after JP van Zyl to receive invites to the lucrative six-dayers. “JP was a rider of high calibre, so for me it’s pretty big,” he says.
Hoffman grabbed the attention of several European organisers last April with an explosive performance in the 15km scratch race at the track world championships in Australia, where his powerful display earned him both the silver medal and a ticket into the six-day scene.
“The events are by invitation only and that medal really opened doors for me. Being South African, I bring a different dynamic to the racing, which is obviously dominated by the Europeans.”
While six-day racing is virtually unknown here, Hoffman explains that it is essentially “the tour racing of the track”.
The multi-day events, which first started in Britain, are held at velodromes throughout Europe and a typical nightly programme usually consists of scratch, elimination, team elimination, team sprint and motor-paced derny races.
“But the main event is the madison,” says the West Rand-based Tasol-GT rider.
“It’s very tactical and your partner needs to be good. You’re racing against 12 to 14 teams every night for six days, marking each other and trying not to lose any laps.”
Hoffman says the events are scored on the number of laps covered. “There is also a points system, but this only counts if riders end on an equal number of laps.
“You could have say 200 points and I’d have 100 points but if I’m two laps ahead of you, I’m still leading.”
Although the six-day races do not provide opportunities to earn UCI points, Hoffman says they have helped his career by pitting him against the world’s best.
Only the cream of the international crop is invited to attend and the line-up features two-man teams assembled from world champions, Olympic medallists and top-ranked riders from the host country.
“That’s why these races are such crowd-pullers. They come to see the best of the best.
“Speaking from personal experience, in terms of the level and intensity, the six-dayers are some of the hardest racing I’ve done.”
Although bars, funfairs and live bands create a carnival atmosphere at many of the venues, gone are the days of so-called “show racing” where events were fixed to entertain the crowd, says the 28-year-old.
“There are only one or two of the smaller events where some riders will ride at the top of the track or start a Mexican wave.
“Mostly, the guys are competing to win. If they don’t perform, they simply aren’t invited back the following year.”
Hoffman says the stars of the circuit race very selectively. “You can’t race to win everything – you’d get too tired.
“My goal was always to win one of the smaller events knowing I wouldn’t be as good in the madisons. I actually won a few scratch, elimination and points races.”
However, he says his biggest achievement was simply surviving an entire six-day season and learning the system. “The most important thing is not to expend too much energy and race clever every day.
“It’s really intense, so you have to have good staff with you. We employ excellent soigneurs who look after us.”
Although the events have moved away from the gruelling 24-hour schedule of the format’s early years, riders still race from 7pm to 2am each night. Only one team member has to be on the track at any given time.
“It’s very different to how we do things. The body clock gets quite confused when you’re having breakfast at 1pm, lunch at 6pm and going to sleep at 4am, but I’m lucky in that I adapt quite quickly.”
Hoffman says he clocked up half a dozen six-day events in five months of campaigning last season.
“On average I did about one a month. But I did one in Rotterdam and then in Bremen with just one day in between – that was hectic.”
At the time of writing, he was in discussions with organisers of a race in Fiorenzuola, Italy, in July which he hoped would be his first of the season. “It’s still too early to predict what starts I can get on the European winter six-day calendar.”
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