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October 5, 2011
Danny Clark’s racing career started as a 13 year old in Launceston, with a win in a junior Thursday night race out of town and back. Pretty soon he was developing his handling skills and sprinter’s mad-dog attitude with regular training sessions sitting millimetres behind the rear wheels of a log truck at 80km/hr as they barrelled down the hills of Georgetown.
Aged 19 he won the Silver medal in the 4,000m Pursuit at the Commonwealth Games, and two years later he won the silver medal in the ‘Kilo’ at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Amazingly, the Australian Olympic riders’ sole preparation just prior consisted of a training camp in country NSW, sleeping on a straw mattress and riding on the road in the cold and wet. Makes you wonder what might have happened if he had prepared like the Europeans with months of hard racing and undoubtedly less Spartan accommodation?
His racing career continued for another 30 years, finally finishing at the age of 49, not far from where it all started when he took a stage win in the Tour of Tasmania. In between, and in what was probably double the racing life of most racing Pro’s, he became one of the greatest riders on the track with 74 wins in 6 Day Races, second only to the greatest ever 6 Dayer, Patrick Sercu. Along with his feats in 6 Day racing, Danny was 5 time Track Cycling World Champion, as well as winning 5 silver medals and 2 bronze medals.
The ‘Six Days’, as they were known, are a fascinating and unique part of cycling, but which sadly have dwindled in popularity and prestige over the years. In the ‘70’s and ‘80’s though, the six day season ran over the European winter from September to February, in front of crowds of 10,000 each night and attracting the best riders in cycling at the time.
In the early ‘70’s Danny was sponsored by local Tasmanians to travel to Denmark and raced a season there. Hit with homesickness, he returned and raced locally. One day out of the blue he just decided to go back to Belgium. Racing, but living in truly rugged conditions in a Ghent flat without a toilet, shower, hot water or even a proper kitchen, he got a phone call to come race in the 6 Day in Frankfurt when another rider had pulled out.
He borrowed some wheels from friend and Tour stage winner Barry Hoban, and begged to borrow a track bike as well, then got himself to the race. Winning most of the sprints, breaking Sercu’s track record and generally scrapping his way to the top there was a break-though moment. From there he was invited to the next 6 Day, and his track racing career had started.
Danny lived in Belgium for 20 years and raced the biggest 6 Days in some of the biggest cities, places like Ghent, Berlin, Copenhagen, London and Munich. His “Attack! Attack! Attack!” style was a big hit, especially with the fans, but not always with the other riders.
Patrick Sercu didn’t always see eye to eye with the fiery Aussie, who strongly felt the Euro-bias against him. Danny was more successful in the 6 Days than greats like Peter Post and Eddy Merckx, winning races with partners like Aussie legend Don Allan, Brit Tony Doyle, Etienne De Wilde, Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle and Rolf Aldag. Some of his more memorable races were when Merckx and Sercu combined (Merckx would only race with Sercu), with Danny joining Merckx’s then hated foe Freddy Maertens as they fought tooth and nail in grudge matches with a real competitive edge.
Starting at around 6pm, riders would be race for up to 13 hours each of the 6 days. After finishing “the Chase” (an exciting 70km Madison race with hand slinging between partners) about 2am, riders then slept in cabins under the grandstands. But at 2am Danny was just starting to fire up.
It all started when Elvis released his version of “My way” and Danny (a big Elvis fan, and a pretty good singer himself) was singing it as he changed after a race. The promoter at Copenhagen heard him and paid him 1,000 Kroner to perform. The crowd loved it too, and for nearly 15 years his Eric Clapton covers were a much-loved feature of the 6 Days, which often featured plenty of beer, strippers and casinos.
In the late ‘70’s Danny was also sponsored by the Danish ‘Adult’ magazine Rapport, with rumours that girls from the magazine had been given to Danny and his team mate as ‘chaperones’. The money was good and life was fun for Danny who was a non-drinker. In all, he won the big races – Ghent 8 times, Copenhagen 8 times, and Munich 6 times.
In 1981, Danny won gold in the World track championships and a year later he lined up with a crack field in the 1982 World Track Cycling Keiren final. The race was standard fare for track racing back then, flinging elbows and barging shoulders into each other while burning up the track. As Danny fought for position behind the Derny rider, the Canadian Singleton pulled the shorts of the German to sling himself off the bend and into what was a winning move. Every team protested, but with a mate on the appeals board and being a ‘Leicester local’, Singleton was always going to be declared the winner.
There is a little of the ‘bush footy legend’ about Danny Clark, someone who possessed all the skill but never pushed his own barrow. With no one to guide him, provide advice or exert influence on his behalf, Danny missed the chance to race on the road. This is still a regret, and although he still managed to race smaller road races like the Tour of Denmark and Tour of Germany, he feels he would have been a real shot at winning a Classic or Tour stage.
Catching up with Danny is not easy, because he rides every day for around 3 hours, in between trips overseas. Living at Mermaid Beach on the Gold Coast, Danny mixes up his solo training with hard group rides where he relishes the chance to shred the young blokes. Last year he won C grade in Grafton-Inverell aged 59.
Travelling overseas each year, Danny rides a Derny in the Copenhagen 6 Day as a way of catching up with his mates, and has just come back from a stint in Masters racing in Italy. I don’t doubt him when he says the 50 year olds racing over there would win A grade here, especially when he talks of the Thursday 50km/hr “full gas” sessions that he was riding.
Danny Clark loves the bike, loves racing. After talking with him, I am pretty sure it is a part of his DNA. Unlike some racers who walk away from the sport never to pedal again, riding is literally his oxygen and I can understand why he can’t explain his extreme longevity, it’s such an inherent part of him he’s never tried to even understand it.
Danny Clark – the eternal champion.
Head on over to PezCyclingNews for an excellent interview and photos with Danny Clark.