6 Day Racing Interview with Franco Marvulli

by Steve Penny
Watford, UK
30 November 2007 (interview held during the Gent 6 Day Race 2007)

Franco Marvulli at Gent 2007

Over the last two seasons Swiss track specialist Franco Marvulli has gone from being just one of the contenders to an undisputed star of Six Day racing. It has helped that he is now the regular partner with Bruno Risi but he had to be at the right level for Risi to agree to make the team permanent. Together they won the World Madison title in 2003 and repeated that feat earlier this year in Mallorca. They'd previously also taken silver at the 2004 Olympics and World Championships. Franco was also the World Scratch race champion in 2002 and 2003 and that first Worlds win was perhaps the one that initially put him on the map.

He has been on the Six day scene for 7 or 8 years, starting around 60 races. Before teaming regularly with Risi his best Six day results had been 4 wins in Grenoble with fellow Swiss Alexander Aeschbach. However he'd never really taken a big Six Day win but following the retirement of Kurt Betschart he joined Risi at the start of the 2006 / 2007 winter season. Risi and Betschart had won a record 37 Sixes together. In the 15 months since, the pairing has been on fire winning 8 Sixes, the 2007 Worlds plus the 2006 European title and will go into 2008 as the favourites for the Olympic Madison in Beijing.


    Major Championships:
  • 2002 Worlds Scratch Race Gold
  • 2003 Worlds Scratch Race Gold
  • 2003 Worlds Madison (with Risi) Gold
  • 2004 Worlds Madison (with Risi) Silver
  • 2004 Olympics Madison (with Risi) Silver
  • 2004 Europeans Madison (with Aeschbach)Gold
  • 2006 Europeans Madison (with Risi) Gold
  • 2007 Worlds Madison (with Risi) Gold
    Six Day Wins:
  1. 2001 Grenoble with Alexander Aeschbach (Switz)
  2. 2003 Moscow with Alexander Aeschbach (Switz)
  3. 2003 Grenoble with Alexander Aeschbach (Switz)
  4. 2004 Grenoble with Alexander Aeschbach (Switz)
  5. 2005 Stuttgart with Bruno Risi & Kurt Betschart (Switz)
  6. 2006 Mexico with Luis Fernando Maciaz (Mex)
  7. 2006 Fiorenzuola(It) with Marco Villa (Italy)
  8. 2006 Maastricht with Bruno Risi (Switz)
  9. 2006 Grenoble with Alexander Aeschbach (Switz)
  10. 2007 Zurich with Bruno Risi (Switz)
  11. 2007 Stuttgart with Bruno Risi & Alex Aeschbach (Switz)
  12. 2007 Copenhagen with Bruno Risi (Switz)
  13. 2007 Hasselt(Bel) with Bruno Risi (Switz)
  14. 2007 Fiorenzuola with Bruno Risi (Switz)
  15. 2007 Dortmund with Bruno Risi (Switz)
  16. 2007 Munich with Bruno Risi (Switz)

I spoke to Franco before racing began on the Saturday of the Gent Six Days (24 November 2007) about his partnership with Risi and the big year ahead:

Steve Penny (SP): After Kurt Betschart retired how did it feel stepping into his shoes at the end of what was a legendary partnership in Six day racing?

Franco Marvulli (FM): Well I don't know if I really stepped into his shoes. In 2003 I rode a one off Madison with Bruno (Risi) at the World Championships and our first change ever was in those Worlds not even in training. Anyway we won that World title but Bruno had told me already that he would carry on with Betschart in the Six Days after. But we also did the 2004 Olympics in Athens and won a silver medal together but still for Six Days he was teaming with Betschart. Sometimes for me this was a little bit hard, I really wanted to race with Bruno but he still had a contract that he'd continue with Betschart. Then in 2006 when Betschart stopped I got the chance to race with Risi and of course it was a big chance for me as you don't get that kind of opportunity every day.

But I never wanted to be the new Kurt Betschart, I still wanted to be me and I have my own style. You can't say that it is the same team either, Risi / Betschart was something very special and they are part of history. I'm trying to build up something new with Bruno and you can see that over these two seasons we've been together we've had success and made a new team.

Franco Marvulli and Bruno Risi sign in at Gent 2007 (foto z6sdaagse)

SP: So the success has maybe been better than expected, it's as if you've refreshed Risi and he has brought out the best in you?

FM: I think it is a bit like that. Bruno had told me he was getting older and didn't want to race at the Worlds anymore, in fact he'd actually retired from the National team after the Worlds in 2001, but now we are talking about Beijing 2008!!! So he came back to the National team after the Athens Olympics and I could somehow give him the motivation and inspire him again with my youth to go for big goals. It's great that he is putting all his energy into the Olympic Games and Bruno is a guy that if he wants something he is really focusing 100%.

He gave me some of his knowledge and experience and I also gave him a lot of new motivation and inspiration. I talked to him and said "hey Bruno you're getting older but you're also getting better" and I think I pushed the right buttons with him and have really motivated him. I saw that also he'd said to me that in the last few years with Betschart he'd just be like, ok, we'll do the Six Days and when I'm not good enough anymore I'll stop. But I can see now that in the races he still really wants it and he is really looking to get that pain in his legs. He's not just racing for money either, he really wants to win. I can see that in the (Six Day) Time Trials (TTs). Over the last 4 to 5 years he wasn't winning TTs anymore but I'll go to him before a Six Day and say, "lets go for the track record, lets do it full gas or just leave it". But he always says OK if we do it we do it at 100%. We have the right chemistry and I think that the 10 year age difference between us is also a good thing.

SP: I asked a Six Day DJ (Peter Traynor) who his favourite rider was and he said you (and Bruno of course) and noted that he'd never seen you in a bad mood. So how do you stay happy?

FM: (Laughs) I can say that I have been very lucky to have had a good career behind me already. Of course I've had a lot of good moments and some bad ones too but every time I go to work I can go on the track with a smile or I can go in a bad mood. But if I go with a smile I think it's easier to do my job well. I love my job. I do it because I have to live and I have to earn money but I really, really like it. I see that if I smile the crowd likes that and they smile back. I also like to flirt with the crowd and people say, "why are you flirting?" I tell them I'm not really flirting that's just me. If you have fun during your work its much easier.

SP: And it's a hard life being a Six Day rider / pro cyclist but many people would like to have that chance too.

FM: Yeah, but it motivates you when people tell you that they want you to win and support you. Sometimes yes, the life of a Six day rider is very difficult with all the different tracks, hotels and the late nights. It's also a big thing in the head, not only the physical part with all the training and staying fit, it's a mental thing. If you have like 6 Six Days in a row, after two or three you're getting tired in your head and of course your condition and form goes down a bit as well. So you have to try and stay happy and keep the mental side good. If you can do that it's a lot easier. And of course with success it's easy to be happy but you have to stay in the right frame of mind when you're not successful too.

SP: So, as you are now one of the top guys racing with Risi and having huge success, has your stock and your contract fee gone up?

FM: Well I don't get more money because I race with Bruno but I get more money because of the good results I've had. In the beginning you don't get big money of course, so the promoters tell you that you have to win a World title or do something big. Then you win the Worlds as I did (Scratch race 2002) but you see that your contracts don't improve by that much, maybe only 10 or 15% more. Then you win the Worlds again (2003 Scratch & Madison) and it's maybe another 5 or 10% at best, so you think damn, how do I earn more? So the promoters tell you that you have to get better in the Six Days and the last 2 years have been very successful having won about 12 Six days, I think? So every race you win you take another step up the ladder with another couple of percent and the 2007 Worlds win with Risi also helped both of us. (laughs)

SP: In the UK and most of the English speaking countries, cycling doesn't get much coverage in the mainstream media but when the Olympics come around every 4 years everyone pays attention when they have a medal hope. So how does it work in Switzerland?

FM: Well, of course Track Cycling is not football, skiing, hockey, tennis or golf and we have to fight a lot to get any acceptance in the mainstream media. At first it was like just the results printed but then getting Silver in Athens was a big thing for us as Switzerland only got 5 medals from the whole of the Olympic Games. One gold, one silver and three bronze. So our medal was the 2nd best result by the whole country and that got us a lot of publicity. Its like we talked before about the Six Day money being step by step, so winning the Worlds this year was also big, but it really took the Olympics to make us known and popular outside of the cycling fraternity, as we where known within cycling already of course. And so now with the Six Day wins we are getting more and more publicity.

SP: You have the Zurich Six back on the calendar and you won that last year (it's run during the New Year period).

FM: Of course yes, outside of the Olympics the Zurich Six was one of the bigger things for us, especially with the media. Perhaps the only thing that could be bigger is if we made some bad news!!! In Switzerland the papers like to write about bad things so maybe if we were drunk in a pub or something that would be a big story too. But Bruno and I are very focused on our sport and we only look to be making news with our results.

SP: And for the next Olympics are you qualified already for the Madison?

FM: We're not qualified yet because they are going to take the first 16 or 18 teams from the World rankings but we are well placed at the moment and so we're not going to the World Cups in Sydney or Beijing and are focused on the Six Days. I don't think it's a really hard thing to qualify but... we aren't qualified yet. Our biggest goal is of course the Beijing Olympics and that is the last race Bruno will do with the National Team and I think for him and me, it's the last chance to dream our golden dream, you know? After Bruno retires I'll have to find a new partner and finding a partner like Bruno is (pauses and laughs) I could say impossible, but... it's very, very hard as you don't find riders like Bruno very often!!!

SP: Yes and he's been at the top for 15 years or more.

FM: Yes, he said to me, "before I was young and not so experienced and now maybe I am not so strong but much more experienced," and so with the extra motivation of the Olympics everything we do together is helping us go faster and faster every time.

SP: The Olympics will be the big goal for 'everybody' in 2008 but a Championship race is not that easy to predict as the strongest may not always win?

FM: Last year we won 8 Six Days and then went to the Worlds and everyone said, "ah, your going to win that easily after the way you went in the Six Days," but we always said listen that's just a one day race. There are a lot of guys we don't know and don't race against. Of course on paper we are always going to be favourites and we'll probably be favourites in Beijing too but Wiggins and Cavendish, Bartko, Keisse and the Dutch guys are all kind of favourites as well. You only have to make a wrong move or get the tactics wrong and it can all be lost.

SP: Yes you always get a surprise medallist in Championship Madison's like the Russians or Argentines who don't really race at the Sixes.

Franco Marvulli and Bruno Risi win an
event at Gent 2007 (foto z6sdaagse)

FM: Of course, so we know everybody expects us to get Gold and if we don't at least get a medal I will be disappointed. The country is investing money and we are investing a lot of time and effort, you know Bruno has a family with 3 kids so we are focusing a lot on the Olympics but we know we could just as easily end up in 12th. Nobody goes to the Olympics just for fun, in cycling anyway.

SP: I think the Olympics is one of the only events where you will see people celebrating 2nd or 3rd place as it means they get a medal and National fame

FM: Sometimes I say to people, if I could sign a contract now to say I'd get silver at the Olympics I think I'd take it!!! It is really, really difficult to win an Olympics as you know that everybody is going to arrive in their top form. It's not like a Six Day race where you can have a bad day and still come back. All you've trained for, for over 4 years, is all decided in an hour so you have to keep your nerve... I'm even nervous already actually!!!

SP: So back to the Sixes, I take it that Zurich is your favourite Six Day race but which is 2nd on your list?

FM: Well the Berlin Six is always one of my favourites. It is one of the Six Days that first gave me an opportunity when I was younger and I have a lot of fans in Berlin so actually I can say that Berlin is my favourite race, alongside Zurich.

I always say that you have the 'big five' Six Days that are; Dortmund as that is the hardest track to race on, Munich is the fastest race, Gent is the one with the hardest race programme and Zurich has the longest races. Then you have Berlin with the long track and a lot of teams, that makes it hard, plus a great crowd. These are the races that you always want to try and win. It was always a dream to win Munich but I always had bad experiences there and it's the unofficial Worlds of the Sixes. I'd made some bad mistakes there in the past so to win it this month with Bruno was a dream come true.

SP: As it's also a favourite is winning Berlin an ambition too?

FM: For sure, the two main objectives for the Six Day season now are Zurich and Berlin but we are not the only guys that want to win in Berlin. I know that Bartko certainly wants to win their and the Dutch guys will too.

SP: Berlin is a great Six Day race.

FM: Yes, it's the crowd and it's always packed full. The people watch and cheer every race. They arrive when the first race starts and don't leave until that last one has finished. I think that Berlin and Gent too, have the most 'sportive public' of all the Six Days.

SP: Last question, as we are here in Gent, how do you find this small 166 metre track?

FM: Aargh!!! Phew!!! It's difficult to say. If you have good form it's easier to race on a big track as you have more space. Gent is a very technical track so it's not only the legs that have to be good, you need good technique and tactics and when positioning in the bunch you have to try and hide yourself as much as possible.

SP: Thanks Franco.