BLOG: A WEEK IN THE LIFE
Tuesday 29th May 2012, 14:18
SGP commentator and former rider Jan Staechmann runs through a week in the life of an international speedway rider – and what a week it is ...
If it’s Tuesday, this must be Sweden. There is a 1969 classic movie called “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium”, and with the schedule of modern day speedway riders, they could be forgiven for making a similar statement.
For a lot of 21st century speedway riders, the summer months, the height of the European speedway season, are spent living out of a suitcase.
A hectic schedule of league racing in four different countries – all within the same week – is quite the norm for a large group of the riders that are also competing in the FIM Speedway Grand Prix series every two weeks. Let’s take a breathtaking tour of a typical week for a top rider:
Monday – UK
The British Sky Sports Elite League has teams racing most days of the week. However, most Monday nights, speedway is showcased live on TV, covering tracks ranging from Poole in the south to Belle Vue in Manchester in the north.
Often the riders will travel to an airport hotel directly after the meeting - for instance Stansted or Luton - as they will be on early flights to Sweden the very next day.
Tuesday – Sweden
The Swedish Elitserien has one round per week with four league matches every Tuesday night, one of which is shown live on Canal + Sport.
The clubs will have drivers doing airport runs to collect their riders and, after a few hours’ precious rest and relaxation at a hotel, the rider is again collected and taken to the track.
After the meeting, the schedule is similar to that of competing in the UK, depending on where the rider goes to race the following day.
Wednesday – Denmark
The Danish Super League is perhaps the weakest of the four countries that are considered to be the main speedway nations (the others being Poland, Sweden, and the UK). The Danes normally have Wednesday as their race night.
Often the rider will be travelling from Sweden through the night in the back of a van, which carries the bikes and mechanics. As well as being kitted out to transport bikes and spares, the vans are also fitted with bunks, so the rider and mechanics can take it in turns to drive and to have a decent sleep whilst en route to the next race.
As is now the norm, the rider will go to the nearest airport after the race and stay at an airport hotel before flying out the next morning.
Thursday – UK
The UK is perhaps considered the busiest of the leagues, with its many Premier League clubs as well as the 10 Elite League teams, and racing goes on every night of the week in some parts of the country.
Friday – Grand Prix practice
For the GP rider, every other Friday is practice day for the Grand Prix and, with recent alterations to the timetable, changing to evening practice sessions, travelling has become a little less stressful when it comes to arriving at the circuit before sign-on deadlines.
There are 12 GP’s to the season in 8 different countries. The riders have allocated hotels near the venues, allowing them to have a nice meal at the hotel restaurant before relaxing and unwinding.
Saturday – Grand Prix
Saturday can turn out to be a long day for the rider as the GP is not until the evening.
Some local riders may have PR duties and will be entertaining sponsors, while others will go to the golf course to pass some time.
Come 5pm, you will find the rider at the circuit and he will be mentally preparing for the night ahead, while planning a strategy with mechanics and helpers.
After the GP it is business as usual; back to the hotel for some well-earned sleep because another flight beckons in what is often only a few hours time.
Sunday – Poland
There are three tiers of racing in Poland, all of which employ foreign riders and all of which race every Sunday. The main draw, however, is the ultra tough Ekstraliga where most of the SGP riders ply their craft on a Sunday afternoon.
Speedway in Poland is big business and follows football as the second biggest spectator sport in the country. This naturally attracts big sponsorship, and the clubs are able to pay the riders vast amounts of money for their services.
The lucrative paycheck goes hand in hand with huge amounts of pressure bestowed by the clubs on their riders to perform.
Sunday night, another city, another hotel room, another early-morning flight beckons to take the rider back to the UK for the next race.
Many riders have two sets of mechanics. One based in the UK with one set of vehicles, bikes and equipment purely for racing in the British Elite League; and one based in Poland with identical set of vehicles, bikes, and equipment, from where they will go to the venues where the rider is racing, be it Sweden, Denmark, or anywhere else.
This kind of program takes a lot of organizing, and often the travelling is like a giant jigsaw where a rider must coordinate to meet up with his bikes at any given track.
This kind of program also takes a lot of funding with service vehicles, bikes and other equipment needed as well as wages for the mechanics, and that in itself adds to the pressure to perform. And where do the wives, children and family relationships get squeezed in too?
We must keep in mind that the riders are elite athletes and, given that the schedule, diet, exercise and restitution are becoming ever more important, lest we forget the importance of correct medical assistance and advice if and when the rider parts company with his trusty steed.
League racing also takes place in several other countries, perhaps more notably in the Czech Republic, Germany and Italy, where foreign riders often are brought in to bolster a local side.
During the last few years Russia has emerged as the somewhat surprising frontrunner when it comes to paying out the large paychecks.
The riders were chasing staggering sums of money six to seven years ago and, after a two year recovery period, the Russian league seems to be rebuilding and gaining momentum to return to the big time speedway of earlier this decade.
With that, we get back to the jigsaw of coordinating the travelling schedule, as the vast distances of Russia, coupled with the time difference, present another set of headaches for the rider to deal with.
For instance, to get to a league match at “Vostok Vladivostok”, one could be forgiven for taking a flight to Japan, and then a short commute across the Sea of Japan to the Far East Russian harbour town.
As for how to get the bikes there, well that is yet another logistics puzzle!