The podium shot for the Bec Hill Climb of 2010 depicts a shy boy, all of 15 years old, flanked by two vastly experienced riders, one a professional. The men smile and face the camera, while the boy in the middle casts his eyes downward, seemingly unable to look the world in the eye.
You’d never think he had just pocketed a thousand pounds. The Rouleur cap the surprise winner had been handed to wear for the photo opportunity was jammed on his head backwards, while I, in race-sponsor mode, frantically waved behind the assembled cameras for him to turn it round. Podium etiquette is probably the first thing they teach at British Cycling’s Olympic Development Programme. It’s a useful skill if you are going to be part of the GB set-up.
Five years on and that painfully shy lad named Germain Burton who wouldn’t say boo to a goose is an extremely talkative young man, more than happy to chat about his progress on the track and the upcoming Six Day London in his hometown. And this despite the fact that I have called him in between qualifying for the final of the pursuit at the National Championships in Manchester and his silver medal ride against defending champion Andy Tennant.
The other surprise is that Germain’s voice is now several octaves lower than the last I heard it, somewhere deep in that south London sub-audible rumble range inhabited by his father Maurice, one of Britain’s finest ever Six Day riders.
And now Germain is shaping up on the track too. Having recorded a personal best that morning to reach the pursuit final, beating multi-national champion Tennant proved a tall order, but the 20-year-old gave it his best shot before blowing in the closing laps.
He’s actually starting to enjoy life in the velodrome, the measurable benefits of all the hard work on the track being quantifiable. “The individual pursuit, it’s just you and the black line,” Germain says, without mentioning the searing pain and the burning lungs…
Now in his second year with the British Cycling Academy set-up, his initial leaning towards life as a road racer is currently tipped towards the boards.
“I haven’t had as much success as I would have liked on the road this season. It has mostly been track riding. I need to find a bit more strength on the road. In under-23 races, in the third or fourth hour, you need to be able to follow the moves – that’s when it counts.
“But I’ve definitely started to feel I am making progress. We are doing team pursuit on an almost daily basis up here at the Academy in Manchester.
“We went to the World Cup round in January in Cali and we got the bronze medal there, which was great for our confidence, and we took that into the under-23 Euros in Athens in July and won it with a 3’58”.”
To put that team pursuit time from the youngsters in perspective, they were just over a second slower than the GB seniors silver medal ride in this year’s World Championships. Not too shabby at all.
Now it’s a leap from the quantifiables and controllables of the pursuit to the unpredictable hurly-burly of the Six Day. How is Germain going to cope?
“I haven’t had much experience of Six Day racing myself, but obviously I’ve heard all the stories from my Dad from his day, so I know all the big names from the ’70s and ’80s.
“My first Madison race was at Bremen with Chris Lawless a couple of years ago. It was a rude awakening – slapped off a couple of times over the three days. We won the last session though. We did all right.”
For non-UK readers, “slapped off” translates as “hit the deck”; “came a cropper”; “crashed” – but with no serious consequences. Germain’s got rather better at his handslings since then, you’ll be glad to hear.
And who is he paired with for the Six? “Mark Stewart, my housemate. We are a similar kind of rider. If we can hold our own and not make fools of ourselves in our first Six, then we’ll be happy. We are both really up for it. And London will be great because there is always such a brilliant atmosphere in that velodrome.”
With the inside track coming from father Maurice, tales from the Six Days of Europe indelibly imprinted in his son’s brain since childhood, I wondered if Dad’s counsel had been sought yet? It’s not always easy taking hints and tips from your nearest and dearest.
“I will try and pick his brain a bit more when I’m home next week. To have ridden as many Six Days as he has, I would never just brush off his advice. He’s got a wealth of knowledge that me and Mark can feed off. We know it’s going to be hard, but with a bit of help…”
Six Day London at the Lee Valley Velopark, 18th - 23rd October