by Steve Penny
10 January 2009
Fans who've followed Six Day and track racing generally over the last 18 years will know about the great Bruno Risi. At the time of writing he has started 175 Six Day races and won 57 of them, which is almost a win in every 3 starts. By the end of this winter season he will be in the top 10 on the all time list for Six Day starts and barring accident will finish his career in 7th or 8th on that list. He remains firmly in 5th place on the all time list of Six Day race winners and will probably stay there beyond my lifetime.
On top of these achievements he has worn the rainbow jersey as a World track champion 7 times, 5 in the Points Race and more recently twice for the Madison. But with the mainstream cycling magazines giving very little coverage to Six Day racing in recent years he may still be a well kept secret as far as fans of the road scenes major tours and classics are concerned.
The following interview was held on the 24th November 2008 during a short break in the racing at the Ghent Six.
Steve Penny (SP): So when did you first start racing?
Bruno Risi (BR): I started when I was 11 years old and went pro at 22. My first ever track races were on the Oerlikon outdoor track in Zurich.
SP: And when was your first Six Day race?
BR: I raced my first amateur Six Day with Kurt Betschart in 1989 at Zurich and we won it. We then raced just two more amateur Six Days and won them too, making it three out of three. So from there we went into the professional Six Days starting at Ghent in 1991.
SP: You and Kurt Betschart raced together as a team for a long time which is something very rare, how did you remain together without problems for so long?
BR: Well it is quite a well known story that we are the same age, are from the same town, went to school together, grew up together, started cycling together, turned professional together and always had the same coach. In fact Kurt also went out with my sister for 10 years and so our relationship was not only as professional cyclists but as very good friends. It was always a great story for the press and cycling public.
SP: Do you still see each other?
BR: We are still friend's yes but of course we don't see each other as much as we did when we raced together for all those years. Kurt is still in the cycling business as part of the Tour of Switzerland management team and is also working at the Zurich Six Days.
SP: I remember in your early years you had a pro contact with the Italian team Amore e Vita?
BR: Yes in my first two years as a professional I had a contract with the Italian Amore e Vita team and raced road and track. After that finished though I had no contract with them or another road based team so I decided to specialise in the Six Days, my heart was always on the track anyway. I knew from conversations with Patrick Sercu that I could get contracts at every Six Day and felt I could do a good job as I was already getting a lot of enthusiasm from the public, so it was an easy decision for me.
SP: In the early part of your career I think Six Day races got more recognition from the mainstream cycling press and public but now with everything being about road racing the Sixes are viewed as something separate. Do you think people really appreciate what it takes to be a Six day rider?
BR: A Six Day is not just a race it is an event with sport, entertained, food and drink all of which make it a good product, most Six Day races are a package. My part is to ride well and make the sporting side good. But you are right people think that it is just a game but it isn't, it isn't!!! It is tough sport and you have to train hard and be in good condition to race really hard night after night.
SP: For me and many traditional cycling fans Six Day racing was always part of cycle sport
BR: It still has tradition, it is part of cycling and of course we now race the Madison at the World Championships and Olympics. The Madison started in Six Day racing!!!
SP: In the past you had guys like Sercu, Danny Clark, Anthony Doyle, Etienne De Wilde etc who made good livings from the Sixes but there are only a few guys who really made their careers from Six Day racing.
BR: I think you have to be born to be a Six Day racer. You have to really live it and love it. The guys you mention all had big hearts for Six Day racing and could also bring good performances that entertained the public.
SP: What do you think it takes to make it?
BR: It is important if you are to be a good Six Day racer to be able to entertain the public, not just be a good cyclist, even if you have one or two percent more strength than the other guys you still have to be able to do something special. You have to feel it like an instinct you know and maybe take a double lap or something. That is what the public love and wants to see.
SP: We can all see you are still strong but at 40 years old how do you stay motivated?
BR: As I told you before I think you have to be born a Six Day racer and I believe I was born to be a Six Day racer. I am still enthusiastic, I still love it and like racing. I am going to do one more winter after this one and then I will retire. Next year will be my 19th and final winter season!!!
SP: Over the years you've been the top guy and are now by far the most experienced so do you look at the safety aspect of the racing and other issues etc on behalf of the riders?
BR: So you mean am I the boss among the riders? Well there has always been a leader from the riders. When I started it was Tony Doyle then Etienne De Wilde then Silvio Martinello and now it is me. This means I am the right hand of the race organisers you have to be clever, see everything and watch what goes on during races. When I stop I think it will pass to Danny Stam as well as being experienced he is also very clever and he too sees everything!!!
SP: Over the years some venues and races have changed but do you have a favourite Six Day?
BR: Well of course my home race in Zurich is always big but apart from that my favourite Six Day has always been in Munich, the riders have always called it the World Championship of Six Day racing.
SP: What about the hardest Six Day?
BR: It has to be Ghent, the programme is long (8pm-2am) and hard with very few breaks in racing as there is no real show and entertainment like they have at the German and Dutch Sixes. Here at Ghent it is really just about the sport and that sporting programme makes it the hardest Six Day.
SP: Are there any you don't or didn't like?
BR: I ride all the Sixes as I am a professional and that is my job but yes some places and races I like more than others but I think that is like anything in life were we have likes and dislikes.
SP: Finally I wanted to ask about your 2008 Worlds and the Olympics. At both races you (and Franco Marvulli) were among the favourites for the Madison but neither went well for you results wise?
BR: At the Worlds in Manchester we were not really in top form after the Six Day season, maybe 5 or 10% below our best but we were ok with that as our main goal was always going to be the Olympics. So after Manchester we just looked forward to Beijing and knew what we had to do to prepare and be in the best possible condition. But although we both had 100% condition the Olympic Madison was a really bad race for us, Franco was just too nervous.
SP: Franco told me last year about that goal and the expectation among the Swiss press and public was that a factor?
BR: Yes. There was a lot of pressure on us to win and we got lot of publicity as a big gold medal chance for Switzerland, especially after winning the 2007 Worlds and a silver medal in Athens 2004. That caused a lot of problems with pressure and nervousness for Franco so on the race day he was blocked mentally and so that also affected his legs.
SP: Many thanks.
Even as he answered the last couple of questions he was putting on his helmet to get back on the track for a Derny race.
PERSONAL: Place of Birth: Erstfeld, Switzerland Date of Birth: 06 September, 1968 Married: Yes Children: 3 Resides: Buerglen, Switzerland WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP & OLYMPIC PALMARES 1991 Worlds Points Race (Amateur) Gold 1992 Worlds Points Race (Pro) Gold 1994 Worlds Points Race (Open) Gold 1999 Worlds Points Race (Open) Gold 2001 Worlds Points Race (Open) Gold 2003 Worlds Madison (with Marvulli) Gold 2007 Worlds Madison (with Marvulli) Gold 1990 Worlds Points Race (Amateur) Silver 1997 Worlds Points Race (Open) Silver 2004 Worlds Madison (with Marvulli) Silver 2004 Olympics Madison (with Marvulli) Silver 1995 Worlds Madison (with Betschart) Bronze SIX DAY VICTORIES (as of 10 January 2009)TOPWith Kurt Betschart: 1992 Dortmund 1992 Zurich 1993 Dortmund 1993 Munich 1993 Gent 1993 Zurich 1994 Copenhagen 1994 Munich 1994 Bordeaux 1995 Cologne 1995 Bremen 1995 Zurich 1996 Copenhagen 1996 Gent 1996 Zurich 1997 Dortmund 1997 Munich 1997 Leipzig 1998 Stuttgart 1998 Herning 1998 Munich 1998 Zurich 1999 Bremen 1999 Dortmund 1999 Zurich 2000 Munich 2000 Zurich 2002 Bremen 2002 Stuttgart 2002 Gent 2003 Berlin 2003 Dortmund 2003 Munich 2004 Bremen 2005 Stuttgart (+ Marvulli in a 3 man team) 2005 Berlin 2005 AmsterdamWith Franco Marvulli: 2006 Maastricht 2006 Zurich 2007 Stuttgart (+ Aeschbach in a 3 man team) 2007 Copenhagen 2007 Hasselt 2007 Fiorenzuola (outdoor track) 2007 Dortmund 2007 Munich 2007 Zuidlaren 2007 Zurich 2008 Berlin 2008 Copenhagen 2008 Hasselt 2008 Turin (outdoor track) 2008 Fiorenzuola Wins with other partners: 1998 Fiorenzuola with Giovanni Lombardi 2006 Dortmund with Eric Zabel 2006 Munich with Eric Zabel 2007 Bremen with Eric Zabel 2008 Zurich with Danny Stam