An Introduction to the 95th Edition of the Berliner Sechstagerennen
by Steve Penny
The Sechstagerennen resumed again in 1949 and ran until 1990 (missing only 1989), and was actually held twice yearly for much of the 1950’s and 60’s. During this period the event’s home for a long time was the Deutschland Halle in the Central Western District of Charlotteburg.
After the 1990 event the Deutschland Halle was demolished so the Sechstagerennen disappeared until 1997 when it was revived in the brand new Velodrome on Landsberger Allee (known as Lenin Allee during the East / West Division). Since 1997, and with its new permanent home, the Berliner Sechstagerennen has thrived and hosts an estimated 70,000 plus visitors each year. A large number of the visitors come from the former Eastern districts as although Berliners in general have always been track fans the Easterners (or Osti’s as they are known) are thirsty having been starved of Six Day racing for decades.
The Landsberger Allee Velodrome is a large facility on two levels and with seats for approximately 5,000 but standing room for many more. The track itself is an international standard 250 metres long, 7.50 metres wide and has 13 to 45 degree banking. It hosted the 1999 World Championships and is also used throughout the year for concerts, displays etc.
As well as the normal Six Day format of madison’s, points, elimination, time trial and derny races, the Berlin event also has an International Sprinters Cup. This normally consists of 4 or 5 German riders plus 1 or 2 from overseas; they all ride in a 1 lap time trial, a keirin race and a match sprint (normally 3 riders in each heat of the sprint). At the end of the Six Days the sprinter with the most points accumulated from all the individual races receives the overall Sprinter Cup.
Along with the Dortmunder Sechstagerennen, Berlin is the only Six Day that still has Stayer Racing. Each night the Stayers contest one 20 minute race with nightly points (for 1st – 7th) going towards an overall winner on the sixth day. Local rider Carsten Podlesch is very popular with the spectators and has won every year in the new Velodrome, except 2005 when he abandoned with illness.
Away from the track the Velodrome has the most concession stalls I have seen at a cycling event. Apart from the usual hot dogs and burgers you can buy sandwiches, pizza, pasta, soup, stew, french fries, peanuts, fruit salad, cakes and confectionary at various stalls. Beer is of course a mainstay with numerous bars dotted around the complex but unlike in Gent, for example, punters can also buy wine, champagne, (alcohol laced) fruit punch and spirits as well as soft drinks and coffee for the tee-total visitor.
Various cycle shops seem to transfer there entire operation to various points of the venue, you can buy anything from the latest carbon fibre bike to track mitts, shoe’s, tools, shorts, summer and winter jerseys, jackets, helmets, energy bars etc. Many of these stalls are selling older team clothing at very reasonable prices.
Every company that is providing sponsorship to the Sechstagerennen have a stall or staff wandering around handing out promotional items such as pens, key rings, hats etc. Rather like the publicity caravan at the Tour De France but centred under one roof.
The Berlin Public Transport systems run 24 hours a day and they are also a key sponsor of the event. Anyone travelling too and from the Velodrome on buses, trams or metro / train can do so free if they are in possession of a Six Day ticket.
‘Music and Show’ also plays a big part in the Berliner Sechstagerennen with live acts performing (or miming!!!) in the track centre during breaks. These same acts will then perform a longer ‘live’ set in the ‘Show Halle’ which acts as a kind of disco-come-dance-hall for punters whilst racing is going on in the main arena.
An important part of crowd participation at the Berliner Sechstagerennen is a whistle!!! Once you are inside the building various sponsors have people handing out ‘their corporate’ whistle. The reason becomes apparent once racing starts because as soon as someone (anyone) goes off the front or contests a sprint, 10,000 plus people start blowing on their whistles. It is quite something to hear!!!
Although the ‘Music and Show’ side is of course very much part of German Six Day culture the audience at the Berliner Sechstagerennen are traditionally, first and foremost, there for the track racing. When madison’s are being run every seat is taken and crowd participation is very much to the fore. Although Bremen hosts more spectators, the majority only attends that event for the beer, dancing etc. In contrast, Berlin prides itself on being very much about the sport too. This is highlighted with a Champions parade before the start of every days racing. All current World, Olympic, European, German or National Champions in any of the 3 fields come to the start line, under spot lights, wearing their respective Champions jersey and are introduced to the crowd. This takes place before the traditional introduction of the 18 teams.
The 2006 Berliner Sechstagerennen
The 2006 field is perhaps not as strong as in recent years due to the absence with injury or illness of Bruno Risi – winner with Kurt Betschart in 2003 & 2005 - and Scott McGrory. A bonus however is that despite a recent illness, that caused him to scratch from the Bremen Six, Rolf Aldag - winner in 2001 and 2002 – is riding. This will be Aldag’s last ever race of any kind before he takes up a managerial post with the T-Mobile team. He is paired with local favourite Robert Bartko, who is from Postdam just outside Berlin, and on paper they are the overwhelming favourites for victory. Being an Olympic and World Pursuit Champion Bartko suits a 250 metre track, although he does possess speed in a sprint too, and coming off the back of victory in Stuttgart (on the 285 metre track) his form and morale should be very good.
The organizations decision to pair Bartko and Aldag together caused some problems in Berlin as the other local favourite Guido Fulst - who had won in 2004 and been 2nd in 2005 with Bartko - was very disappointed when it was announced in December. Fulst made some comments to the local press that went down badly with the Berlin Six Day organisation and he was originally scratched from the start list. He has since been reinstated and rides with the up and coming Leif Lampater. This pairing look like a good outside bet and considering they have just won, alongside Bartko, in Stuttgart this proves that both are accomplished pursuiters and suit the bigger tracks. If you add to the mix that Fulst is a native Berliner and (maybe) has an axe to grind with the Sechstagerennen organisation they should be very motivated and are of course on top on form!!!
In contrast the current 2006 Six Day kings Slippens and Stam, having won in Rotterdam and Bremen, may not be as motivated as usual. If you add to this the fact that all their Six Days wins have been on tracks of 200 metres or less then perhaps they are in fact only an outside bet for the overall win, but are certainly potential podium finishers.
The Belgian duo Gilmore / Keisse have been going well in 2006 but may again be more of an each way bet as the 250 metre track is very different from the compact 166 metre Kuipke in Gent. Although looking at Stuttgart results and the absence of some top names they may still be up there, my feeling is that there next objective is February’s new Belgian Six Day in Hasselt, so they may just be tuning form in Berlin.
Outside of these names it’s difficult to see who the other potential challengers will be?
Marco Villa - winner with long time partner Silvio Martinello in 1998 and 2000 – is paired with Franco Marvulli who is without doubt a good rider. However Marvulli seems to lack the endurance, at this point in his career, to stay strong for a full six days although he always goes well in the time trials, points & elimination races.
Kurt Betschart who has never really raced without Bruno Risi is obviously a strong rider but is paired with up and coming Dutchman Peter Schep so the podium is a long shot for them.
Finally veteran Andreas (Andy) Kappes is back with his preferred partner Andreas (Andy) Beikrich for only the second time this season. They always seem to contend for the podium at German Six days, however taking into consideration Kappes turned 40 in December and has not raced in every Six Day event during 2005/2006 he appears, naturally, to be in decline. So perhaps in reality the bottom step of the podium may well be considered a good result for the two Andy’s.