December 6, 1908. It’s Sunday night, and everyone inside the Garden is in a state of suspense, waiting for the six-day race to begin. It’s almost midnight. When the sabbath ends, a signal will be given, allowing the starting cyclists to begin. When two laps are completed, a starting gun will go off, and the 142-hour marathon will have begun. Dorando Pietri, the Italian marathon runner, is on hand to officiate over the start.
This race is one of the best things about New York. The crowd is bigger than ever this year. All day people have been drifting into the Garden, mainly men and boys, those not too put off by the doubled admission price. You can’t see it from here, but a few kids are even hanging from the rafters. Black and white faces fill the risers—a sea of enthusiasts, some of whom will stay for days at a time, all through the nights. Smoke from their cigarettes and cigars hangs in the air.
As the riders pedal along in 12-hour shifts, employees will come around at six a.m. daily to clean out the stands; those using the place as a hotel will be told to move on. It’s nothing to see 5,000 people in here at four in the morning. As the hours drag on, people sleep in their seats, their feet propped up. Shoes of every description become the face of the crowd.
For now, every spectator is awake and aroused. The officials are posted. The fenced-off area inside the track is a ring of privilege: those inside it lean against the railing, facing out, close enough to touch the riders as they come around. The starters are lined up outside the railing to the right, while their partners stand with their bikes inside the enclosure, waiting in reserve, ready to jump in at once if a starter falls.
Will one of these teams break the record for the six-day that Miller and Waller set back in 1899? Without doubt, there will be deliberate upsets and other skullduggery, and probably more than a few riders carried off to the hospital, before the hourglass finally runs out next Saturday night.
Image from this source.
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