An Introduction to the 97th Edition of the Berliner Sechstagerennen
by Steve Penny
The current Six Day season has been a battle for the most part between two teams Bruno Risi / Franco Marvulli and Robert Bartko / Iljo Keisse with a little intervention from Danny Stam / Leif Lampater in Rotterdam. The latter pairing only came together because their respective partners in Rotterdam (Robert Slippens and Andreas Beikirch) abandoned due to injury. The Stuttgart Six that finished yesterday has teams of 3 not 2 riders and was won by Bartko, Keisse & Lampater. In 2nd were Risi, Fulst & Aeschbach. The team had been all Swiss but before the Finale Marvulli had crashed, being replaced by Guido Fulst.
So whilst we await news on Marvulli's condition before Stuttgart the Swiss pair Bruno Risi / Franco Marvulli, who are also the reigning World Madison Champions, had won in Dortmund, Munich & Zurich. The German / Belgian duo of Bartko / Keisse had wins in Amsterdam, Gent & Bremen and everything looked like it was set up for a traditional 2 man team showdown on the 250 metre Berlin track. However any hopes of seeing the battle continue where quashed as Robert Bartko and Keisse are not on the start list. A report on cyclingnews.com in December said that Bartko was unhappy that the Berlin organisation would not at pay him his regular appearance fee. We have no further news on that at present. One can only assume that Keisse is not starting out of solidarity, as this is not usually a race Six Day riders would miss through choice.
Without Bartko who is from Potsdam, just outside of Berlin, the undisputed local hero and a major favourite will be Guido Fulst. He was a Berlin winner last year with Leif Lampater and also won 2004 with Robert Bartko no less. Guido Fulst doesn't ride in all the Six Day races and at 37 is close to the end of his career but Berlin is 'his race'. He is probably the last active rider whose career spans the old East Germany (GDR) and the unified Germany of 1990. He had represented the GDR winning a Team Pursuit gold medal at the 1989 Worlds. Riding for the unified Germany he has won numerous World Championship medals in that discipline plus Olympic gold in 1992 and 2000. The Landsberger Allee (formerly Lenin Allee under Communism) velodrome is in the eastern district of Prenzlauer Berg and many of the Six Day crowd come from what was the former GDR. Guido typifies their spirit and represents the old school in the sense that he is very much a blue collar guy. His roots are also given away by the fact he speaks German and Russian, no English, younger people will usually learn German and English. The cycling club he belongs to is from Marzahn which is an area of vast white concrete buildings (in the States they'd be called projects, in the UK housing estates) that where built by the GDR to house 'workers' during the hard line days of the cold war. His 2008 partner is once again the 25 year old Leif Lampater who hails from close to Stuttgart.
Readers will know that we've championed Lampater as a rider with a big future in the Sixes for a couple of years now. So far this season he got 3 rides with Erik Zabel in Dortmund, Munich and Bremen, making the podium on each occasion. He has 2 wins though, as noted, at his home race in Stuttgart yesterday and in Rotterdam when he paired up with Danny Stam on the 2nd night. At that point Stam / Lampater were 2 laps behind the leaders but came out on top with a one lap advantage after the Six days. Racing again with Guido Fulst and having the crowd behind him all the way Leif will be more than motivated to go well in Berlin.
The Rotterdam Six was also Danny Stams only win so far in 2007/2008. His long term partner Robert Slippens return from serious injury this season saw the pair do reasonably well but still a little way from the form that saw them storm around the European tracks in 2005/2006, winning the Berlin Six amongst others. In fact Slippens had to abandon in Zurich and Rotterdam with saddle sores and after he didn't race in Bremen or Stuttgart he will not race in Berlin, although he was originally on the start list. One assumes that he has been unable to sufficiently recover in time and Stam will now pair up with Italian veteran Marco Villa. Stam has shown some very strong form this season and had very much been the strong man of the Dutch pairing. He teamed with Villa in Bremen where they finished 1 lap behind the victors in 4th place. With neither being particularly fast sprinters the 250 metre track may suit them better than the 166 metres of Bremen. Also, if Stam continues to show the same form he has had all season then they should make at least 3rd place, but a win may be too much to ask.
The top favourites however will be the seemingly ever youthful 39 year old Bruno Risi and Franco Marvulli (provided Marvulli is ok after his Stuttgart crash). As mentioned they are currently World Madison Champions and as Franco Marvulli told us in our interview with him they are aiming for the Olympic Madison title later this year too. Before that though they'll be looking to add the Berlin Six to their palmares together, Risi has won with Kurt Betschart in 2003 and 2005. The 29 year Marvulli had also noted in that interview that Berlin is his favourite Six Day race. He loves the public and they seem to like him too. Franco 'marvelous' Marvulli the announcer likes to call him. Risi recently passed the considerable milestone of 50 Six Day victories and after missing out on the win in Rotterdam and Bremen, all being well, watch out for the Swiss team come Tuesdays hectic Finale.
Other Interesting Teams
There is a large field racing in Berlin, 18 teams / 36 riders, but apart from the 3 main teams as at all the Sixes these days it is once again difficult to see who else can challenge for the podium.
The young Danish pair of Michael Morkov (22) and Alex Rasmussen (23) are very good track riders and they won the less competitive Grenoble Six in October. Since then they've only ridden in Munich and Zurich with there priority being the track World Cup and preparation for the Worlds and Olympics with the Danish squad. However at Zurich Rasmussen dropped out with illness and after Slippens abandoned Morkov paired with Stam. The Danish / Dutch pair went very well finishing a creditable 3rd even leading at one point. They are very quick in the Time Trails and Rasmussen was attacking the track records last year when they finished 6th overall at 5 laps down. With a weaker field they could well be in the top 6 this time around but may come to Berlin with an eye on the following weeks 'home' Copenhagen Six.
Berlin likes to pair Germans together so following 5th places in Munich, Gent & Bremen, Andreas Beikirch will team up with promising youngster Erik Mohs. Without Bartko / Kiesse they are another team who should stay in the top 5 and if anyone falters or abandons they could make the podium but 4th place will likely be their objective.
A friend of our website Andreas Muller (see Andreas' interview) is from the area close to the track and will be another guy who's motivated to do well. He is partnered with his friend and preferred partner Christian Grasmann from Munich. If they are fit they will be looking for a top 6 place that would give them some contract bargaining chips for the next Six Days season. Neither rider is involved with the National team and therefore not going to any Championships.
Elsewhere the underrated Swiss Alexander Aeschbach comes into Berlin having ridden to 2nd place in the 3-up team Stuttgart Six with Risi and Marvulli (then Fulst) and should be going well. However he'll race with German Six Day specialist Christian Lademann and this won't be a pair to contend for more than the top 8 at best.
Peter Schep returned to the Sixes in Rotterdam and Stuttgart and with Slippens dropping out he may have hoped to be reunited with Danny Stam after they went pretty well together last winter. This time however the classy Dutchman will ride with Berlin debutant Jens Mouris a fellow member of the Dutch team pursuit squad and this pair could be a good bet for a top 6 spot.
Czech pair and World Madison bronze medallists Alois Kankovsky (also World Omnium Champ) and Petr Lazar from the Dukla Prague Club will race in Berlin after also getting starts in Dortmund, Munich, Gent & Rotterdam. This is their first real season in the Sixes and they haven't had any high overall places but may go well in Time Trials and points races.
With no Iljo Keisse on the start list Belgium has only one representative, Kenny De Ketele. At 22 years old De Ketele is one for the future for Belgium and Six Day racing. He went well at Gent in November with Marco Villa and has also been nominated as partner for Keisse at the Beijing Olympics. Overall though he is quite inexperienced in Sixes and racing on the long track in Berlin will probably serve as little more than preparation for the rest of the year. He is partnered by Danish hope Marc Hester who despite riding all over the circuit has not yet shown he will step up to the top level although he has time on his side.
One other fairly interesting team is that of one time Giro leader and stage winner Olaf Pollack who is a roadman sprinter from a track background. Last year Pollack partnered a strong Keisse to 5th. His partner this time though is one with his eye on the future, young German Roger Kluge who looks a good prospect but only time will tell if he is looking to become a full time Six day rider or not.
The Veterans Say Farewell
Two veteran German riders Gerd Dorich and Andreas Kappes will be saying "Auf Wiedershen" to the German public in Berlin over the coming six days after long but quite different careers.
Andreas Kappes, now 42, was Junior World Points Champion in 1983 and developed into a strong road rider turning pro with the French Toshiba-Look team in 1987. He started riding some of the winter Sixes during this time taking his first win in his home race at Bremen (with Roman Herman) in 1989. He had some wins on the road during the first 6 or 7 years of his pro career including the Het Volk semi-classic and stages in the Tour of Switzerland and Paris-Nice. Although Kappes didn't always race the full Six Day programme (as was the general trend before specialism set in during the mid-90s) he was a regular winner on the winter boards between 1989 and 2004 when he had his last win at Stuttgart. He formed a strong but not altogether regular partnership with Ettiene De Wilde that saw them take 13 victories together at most of the major Sixes between 1989 and 1999. There last being Kappes' only victory in Berlin. From about 1996 onwards Kappes' top level road career came to an end and he concentrated more on the winter programme plus smaller German road races and Criteriums. A couple of bans for doping offences (one in 1997 and another that was contested in 2000) also stop started his Six Day career but they didn't seem to see him lose popularity especially in Bremen where he is a resident. Between 2001/2002 and 2005/2006 he formed a fairly regular and strong partnership with Andres Beikirch that took 2 Sixes and the 2003 European Madison title. His final career total of 24 wins from approx 130 starts puts him high on the all time winners list, level with Tony Doyle. At the start of the millennium he had an impressive 21 wins from around 80 starts. He had continued to be a regular winner in the summer Criterium road races across Germany through 2005 but after the Six Day partnership with Beikirch fizzled out he has been in decline. Over the last couple of years he has just been going through the motions on the winter boards and old father time seems to have caught up with him. Very much a case of a few seasons too many
Gerd Dorich who will be 40 soon after the Berlin Six finishes has been a regular feature at the winter, and summer, Sixes since turning pro in 1990. With no real road pedigree to speak of, although he spent 1991 with the then smaller Deutsche Telekom team, he has been very much a trackie through and through. At the time of writing Dorich had started about 160 Sixes, 12th on the all time list, but during this long career he has just one win. That came in his home race at Stuttgart in 2004 (a 3 man team Six) with Kappes and Beikirch (this was also Kappes last win). That victory must have ranked as his finest hour after all the thousands of laps he'd ridden and hand slings he's made. His 2004 year was capped with a win in the German Madison title and he also won that crown in 1994. Generally, though, Dorich's roll in the Sixes has been that of the taxi driver for young or inexperienced track riders or as an entertainer, rather than a contender. He could normally be seen leading the bunch around the track, getting the crowd involved with Mexican waves etc during Supersprints (or Scratch races). He is a character and they are few and far between in the serious world of bike racing and although at times he looked like he was struggling in Madison chases he was still a safe and reliable rider that riders, promoters and importantly fans across Germany liked. We wish him all the best for the future.
Andreas Beikirch (D) - Erik Mohs (D) Bruno Risi (Sui) - Franco Marvulli (Sui) Guido Fulst (D) - Leif Lampater (D) Christian Lademann (D) - Alex. Aeschbach (Sui) Peter Schep (Nie) - Jens Mouris (Nie) Gerd Dörich (D) - Lars Teutenberg (D) Marco Villa (I) - Danny Stam (Nie) Christian Bach (D) - Marcel Barth (D) Jozef Zabka (Slvk) - Marcel Kalz (D) Alex Rasmussen (Dk) - Michael Mörköv (Dk) Olaf Pollack (D) - Roger Kluge (D) Kenny de Ketele (B) - Marc Hester (Dk) Rafal Ratajczyk (Pol) - Mariusz Wiesiak (Pol) Andreas Kappes (D) - Stefan Löffler (D) Sebastian Frey (D) - Christoph Meschenmoser (D) Andreas Graf (Öst) - Daniel Musiol (D) Christian Grasmann (D) - Andreas Müller (D) Alois Kankovsky (Cze) - Petr Lazar (Cze)
The Stehers (motor paced racers) will once again be in Berlin to fly around the track at 60+kmph behind the big motors. This form of racing is fairly rare these days but still has a scene in Germany, Holland and Switzerland where they race during the summer on long, wide outdoor tracks. During the winter the Stehers get a rare chance to shine in front of large crowds in Dortmund, Zurich and Berlin and 7 very specialist riders will once again do battle in Landsberger Allee.
So far this winter Timo Scholz won the Dortmund Steher Six. Peter Jorg won the traditional Boxing Day Steher meeting in Dortmund (the 'Grosser Weihnachtspreis') and his home event in Zurich. Last winter we spoke to Giuseppe Atzeni in Berlin and Giuseppe missed the Dortmund Six after injury and was perhaps not yet at his best of the Christmas / New Year period in Zurich. He'll hope to show the form he showed in Berlin when he gave local hero Carsten Podlesch a close run for his money. Podlesch was the last ever UCI 'Steher' World Champion in 1994 (the last time it was contested) and I understand he is due to retire (tbc). If this is indeed his last Berlin Six then he'll be looking to give everything for one more win in his home Velodrome.
With Scholz, Jorg and Atzeni all strong Stehers it should be quite a battle as they'll all want to take that place in the spotlight away from Podlesch.
Rider: Pacer: Timo Scholz (D) Peter Bäuerlein (D) Giuseppe Atzeni (Sui) Bruno Walrave (Nie) Carsten Podlesch (D) Helmut Baur (D) Mario Vonhof (D) Dieter Durst (D) Peter Jörg (Sui) Rene Aebi (Sui) Jan-Erik Schwarzer (D) Christian Dippel (D) Florian Fernow (D) Karsten Podlesch (D)
The sprinters, like the Stehers, get a chance to bask in the applause of 12,000 people every night for 6 days in Berlin where as in Germany on a whole there is a great tradition in match sprinting. This year the field lacks a real champion though in the vein of Jens Fiedler (a former hero here until his retirement) or Arnaud Tournant riders who regularly rode here in the past. Perhaps with possible Olympic or World Championship places up for grabs bigger riders are away training but those on show will be looking to prove themselves worthy over the week in a series of match sprints, flying laps and Keirin races.
This year's starters are:
Matthias John (D) Damian Zielinski (Pol) Robert Förstemann (D) Maximilian Levy (D) Kasper Jessen (Dk) Rene Enders (D)