A year on from his win in the U23 competition at the Ghent Six-Day, Chris Lawless relished the challenge of making his elite debut at the Kuipke Velodrome in Belgium last week, even though the event was a bit of a culture shock.
“Just sitting in the wheels when it’s going flat out is different to anything I’ve done before,” Lawless told Cycling Weekly.
The 20-year-old won the U23 event in 2014 with Matt Gibson, but this year he was the only British rider entered into the elite competition.
Paired with Dutchman Roy Pieters the duo finished in 11th place, in what was only Lawless’s second elite six-day following last month’s inaugural London Six-Day inside the 2012 Olympic velodrome.
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“At London I felt quite comfortable, it was a track I’m familiar with and in my own country as well. It was a bit different going over to Belgium and changing to that really tight 166 [metre] track — it was all a bit manic to start with.”
Although Lawless moved from U23 to elite this year, he said he coped well with the step up.
“The racing is a lot safer which makes it easier in a way, but it’s a lot quicker than the U23 event. Everyone’s a bit more experienced,” he explained.
“A lot of time in the U23 it’s a rider’s first time on a small track — most of the guys in the pro race, quite a few of them have come through the U23 category like me.”
Lawless has enjoyed a successful 2015 season riding for Team Wiggins, with a win in the Tour Series in Barrow as well as victory in the Grand Prix of Wales. Yet he explained the atmosphere inside velodrome last week was incomparable to other events he’s competed in.
“The crowds are nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. At Ghent it was more like a party going on with a bike race around it, rather than fans going to watch a bike race,” Lawless said.
“Belgian fans are just so passionate about the sport it’s just completely different to anywhere else.
“In my eyes it’s the biggest six and I think it’s the same as a lot of other people. It was a cool experience to just be part of it.”
And being the sole representation for Britain did have its perks too.
“In the racing you don’t really think about being the only British rider, it’s more after it and before when you see the British fans shouting your name,” he said.
“They’d go regardless of whether there was a British rider or not, but it makes you feel good about yourself that they’re fans from your home country and you’re the only one there.”