An Introduction to the 96th Edition of the Berliner Sechstagerennen
by Steve Penny
The 96th edition of the Berliner Sechstagerennen begins on Thursday, 25th January when an estimated 70,000 people will once again cheer and whistle the riders around the 250 metre track in the Landsberger Allee Velodrome.
After the tragic death of Isaac Galvez in Gent all the riders will have had a difficult time coming to terms with what happened. None of us present that late November night will ever forget what we saw and the shock, disbelief and subsequent grief we felt as drama turned to tragedy. In cycling, as in everything, life goes on and it will have been with heavy hearts that after a four week break the ‘blue train’ of regular six day riders embarked on the second part of the season in Zurich.
With the winter Six Day calendar now extremely busy many of the riders will have ridden back to races this month. Since the revived Zurich race finished, the six day circus moved on to Rotterdam, Bremen, Stuttgart and Berlin. This makes for a very tough schedule with riders getting just four days break (every Wednesday) from racing and many of those days may be spent travelling. Despite such a hectic schedule the riders will arrive in the German capital tired but motivated. Since its reIntroduction to the calendar in 1997, Berlin has earned its place as one of the best Six Day races with a knowledgeable and noisy crowd, good organisation and excellent facilities.
The 2007 Edition
The 2006 / 2007 Six Day season has been a strange one not least because of the aforementioned death of Isaac Galvez but also due to injury and the retirement of some top riders. Robert Slippens, winner last year with fellow Dutchman Danny Stam, has been out all winter as has Belgian Matt Gilmore after serious crashes on the road late last summer. The circuit has also seen the retirement of Kurt Betschart, Jimmi Madsen and Scott McGrory. So potentially the 96th Berliner Sechstagerennen is wide open, but logic tells us that the winners will come from four or possibly five teams.
The veteran Swiss rider Bruno Risi has just won his 43rd Six Day in Stuttgart and despite the retirement of his career long racing partner Kurt Betschart seems to be as strong as ever. So far this season Bruno has won no less than six of the eight races he has contested, no result was posted for Ghent of course. Three of these victories came with Erik Zabel which provided no real surprises but he also has three victories with fellow Swiss Franco Marvulli, including the home win in Zurich (note the win in Stuttgart included Alexander Aeschbach as they have three man teams). Indeed Marvulli himself has four wins having also won in Grenoble with Alexander Aeschbach. With this kind of form and confidence the Swiss pair must start as the slight favourites.
Having a great tradition for track racing Berlin of course has its home riders and in Guido Fulst and Robert Bartko we have riders on different teams sharing equal status as the ‘home favourite’.
Hailing for an Eastern District of the city, and being a former GDR (East Germany) rider, team pursuit stalwart and track veteran Guido Fulst is a local guy through and through. He won here in 2004 with Bartko but over the last year or so Guido has been riding with the up and coming talent Leif Lampater where the pair have blended youth and experience for some good results. They have taken three 2nd and one 3rd place in their four Six Day races together so far this season and will surely be looking to push for that elusive win in their capital city.
Robert Bartko, from nearby Postdam, started the season badly with a crash that caused a serious injury to his ribs. Since making a full recovery Bartko has had a good second half to the season taking a win with Iljo Kiesse in Rotterdam. After podium places in Zurich, Bremen and this week in Stuttgart he will be looking to make the top step at his home velodrome in Landsberger Allee. His partner and fellow German Andreas Beikirch on the other hand has had a poor season by his own standards failing to finish a number of events due to injury or illness and being paired with weaker riders, he has no podium places this season. However the organisers, and Bartko, must have faith in his ability as they are Team 1 on the list and will wear the main event sponsors jersey which means a good finish is expected.
The Dutch pair of Danny Stam and Peter Schep are reunited after the classy Schep missed the first three events of 2007, including Rotterdam, due to contracting a virus. It will be interesting to see if they can return to the form they showed earlier in the season after winning in Amsterdam, to challenge for the podium. They recently finished 3rd in Stuttgart (with Olaf Pollack) but faded to at a distant seven laps in the last two nights.
The Belgian phenomenon Iljo Keisse has had a difficult but solid season without Matt Gilmore, and he will have felt a lot of pain after the Galvez tragedy with it happening on his home track. A win in Rotterdam and a number of 2nd and 3rd places, with Bartko, Villa and Marvulli show that Iljo is a main player and after missing Stuttgart he should be fresh. He is paired with, former track man but now middle ranking road sprinter, Olaf Pollack who after being released by T Mobile has dropped to a Pro Continental team for 2007. Pollack having worn the Giro’s Maglia Rosa and also ridden for Gerlosteiner was reportedly very upset at not getting a contract at T Mobile. So far this year Pollack, a former East German, may have found his track legs, showing reasonably well in Bremen and Stuttgart, but after the Pro Tour contract loss his purpose for riding may be financial rather than sporting. For this obviously talented pair the podium may be a long shot although not impossible if Iljo Keisse can carry them along.
Best of the Rest
Elsewhere it is difficult to see any other teams who will challenge for the win although a number of them look interesting at least on paper. The experienced Italian Marco Villa is paired with Christian Grasmann who has looked promising so far this year and they should stay in the top half of the classement.
The young Dane Marc Hester who is surely a big Six Day rider of the future is paired with fellow Dane Jakob Storm Piil. Piil started life as a track rider racing Sixes regularly in the 1990s but turned his attention to the road and has a 2003 Tour De France stage win and the 2002 Paris-Tours classic on his palmares. These days at nearly 34 and approaching veteran status, he usually only rides the Copenhagen Six and his appearance in Berlin is probably more to help find his track legs for Copenhagen, which starts two days after Berlin. Although now signed for T Mobile it may be a chance to impress sponsors so the Danes should finish respectably in the top half.
Fellow Danes Rasmussen and Morkov had good results in UIV Cup (Amateur Sixes) a few years ago and have had a few starts around the circuit as well as racing in World Cups for Denmark. Rasmussen must be highly thought of as he has been paired with Piil as ‘the Danish team’ for Copenhagen, so he will look to gain form and stay out of trouble although the Danes won’t be also rans. Another promising young pairing are the Belgians De Ketele and Steve Schets, who at just 21 and 22 respectively have a few Six Day starts under their belt in Gent, Copenhagen, Hasselt, Maastrict, Grenoble and Rotterdam. To my knowledge though this is their first professional outing in Germany so it may be more of a learning process for the Flemish boys.
Another Berliner on the start line is Andreas Muller (who spoke to your correspondent a number of times in Gent) riding here with the experienced Swiss Alexander Aeschbach. Muller like Christian Grasmann has ridden a few events outside of Germany this season and has generally shown well. In front of his home crowd and paired with a strong and competent rider like Aeschbach ‘Andy’ should be good for a top six place.
The Teams for Berlin
Bruno Risi (Sui) - Franco Marvulli (Sui)
Guido Fulst (D) - Leif Lampater (D)
Erik Weispfenning (D) - Michael Arends (D)
Marco Villa (It) - Christian Grasmann (D)
Gerd Dorich (D) - Henning Bommel (D)
Danny Stam (Nie) - Peter Schep (Nie)
Alexandre Aeschbach (Sui) - Andreas Muller (D)
Robert Bengsch (D) - Christian Lademann (D)
Marc Hester (Dk) - Jakob Piil (Dk)
Iljo Keisse (B) - Olaf Pollack (D)
Christian Bach (D) - Roger Kluge (D)
Andreas Kappes (D) - Erik Mohs (D)
Alois Kankovsky (Cze) - Petr Lazar (Cze)
Kenny de Ketele (B) - Steve Schets (B)
Stefan Loffler (D) - Sebastian Frey (D)
Lars Teutenberg (D) - Marcel Kalz (D)
2006 / 2007 Six Day Winners:
AMSTERDAM - Stam / Schep
DORTMUND - Risi / Zabel
GRENOBLE - Marvulli / Aeschbach
MUNICH - Risi / Zabel
GHENT - No Result
ZURICH - Risi / Marvulli
ROTTERDAM - Bartko / Keisse
BREMEN - Risi / Zabel
STUTTGART - Risi / Marvulli / Aeschbach
Sprinters and Stayers
The 96th Berliner Sechstagerennen will also host its annual International Sprinters Cup and Stayer (motor paced) racing competition.
Sprinting had a great tradition in the former GDR and the format of a nightly 1 lap time trial, keirin race and a match sprint (normally 3 riders in each heat of the sprint) keeps the crowd entertained. At the end of the Six Days the sprinter with the most points accumulated from all the individual races receives the overall International Sprinters Cup.
Traditionally only Dortmund and Berlin have had Stayer racing but this season these very specialist riders and pacers alike have had a bonus as both Zurich and Stuttgart have also hosted the ‘big motors’ this season. Each night the Stayers contest one 20 minute race with the nightly points (for 1st – 7th) going towards an overall winner on the final night. Once again local rider Carsten Podlesch will be the favourite having won 9 from 10 in Berlin and he is a big fans favourite too. However the results this season suggest a closely fought competition as the Swiss / Italian Giuseppe Atenzi has taken the other three Six Day Stayers competitions so far. Also look out for Carsten Podleschs perennial rival from Berlin Peter Jorg, from Switzerland, who took a big win at the traditional Boxing Day ‘Grosser Weihnachtspreis’ track meeting in Dortmund.