by Steve Penny
British 6-Day Correspondent
26 January 2011
The Berlin Six Day has reached a golden milestone with the 100th edition beginning in the German Capital on Thursday. The first ever Berlin Sechstagerennen was held in 1909 and was run twice a year during the 1920s, early 30s, the 50s and 60s. Due to the war it was absent from the calendar between 1935 and 1948 and later from 1991-1996 coinciding with the unification and changing face of the city. The organisation is understandably proud of the achievement and will no doubt aim to make the six days a celebration of this long and rich history. The Berlin Six began in the same year as the first ever Giro d’Italia and predates the Tour of Flanders by four years and races such as the Vuelta, Paris Nice and Ghent-Wevelgem didn’t begin until the 1930s. The winners list reflects this long tradition as well as that of English speaking Six Day riders as it was the American pioneers Floyd MacFarland and Jimmy Moran who conquered Europe to win that first 1909 race. In the next year Australian Jack Clark was a winner and he was followed into the history books in 1926 by fellow Aussies Reggie McNamara and Harry Horan. In the early 1950s Alf Strom and Reg Arnold followed suit. From the road, Belgian cycling legends Rik Van Steenbergen, Rik Van Looy (twice each) and Eddie Merckx were all winners across the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Then the greats of Six Day racing, Peter Post (1960s), Patrick Sercu (70-80s) and Danny Clark (80s) dominated the top step of the Berlin podium.
The class of 2011 of course can’t compare with the greats of bygone eras, as cycling has changed a lot, but they will aim to put on a worthy spectacle for the 70,000 fans. Those Berlin fans will no doubt also be in celebratory mood but then again Six Day crowds don’t normally need any excuse to have a party!!!
As noted Australia has plenty of tradition and no little success in Six day racing but the last winner in Berlin was Danny Clark back in 1988. This year the Berlin organisation has pulled off a major coup by bringing, hot property of track and road, Cameron Meyer to ride in his first ever pro Six Day race.
The Western Australian, who turned 23 a few weeks ago, comes to Berlin having just won the 2011 Tour Down Under for his trade team Garmin-Slipstream, taking the 4th stage victory along the way. Just four weeks into 2011 he has already been crowned National Time Trial Champion on the road and Madison Champion on the track to go with that win in his country’s biggest road race. Prior to the Tour Down Under his major wins had all come on the track. In 2010 he dominated the endurance events at the Copenhagen Worlds with storming victories in the Points and Madison, as well as being part of the winning Team Pursuit squad. This followed up his 2009 Points win and silver medals in the Team Pursuit and Madison, on top of these achievements he was a 3 time World Junior Champion back in 2006.
His partner Leigh Howard is perhaps less well known but his palmares is no less impressive. The 21 year old from Waurn Ponds, Victoria is in the second year of his road contract with Team HTC-High Road and partnered with Meyer to the 2010 World and 2011 National Madison titles. He also won the 2009 World Omnium title and was a silver medallist in that relatively new event in 2010 and the 2009 Madison (with Meyer). Unlike Meyer he does have some experience in Six Day races, having started a handful with Glenn O’Shea and was a winner at Under 23 Sixes in 2007 and 2008.
Despite obvious good form and impeccable records at World Championships how they will do in this Six Day is as yet unknown. It will depend on their motivation and ability to adapt to the long hours and up and down, stop start nature of these events. Berlin doesn’t have a long programme like Ghent for example and as they know each other very well and already have a stage race in the legs they should be serious contenders for the podium. Whatever happens its going to be exciting to see them resplendent in their World Champions jerseys!!!
The favourites and winners of the season opening Amsterdam Six are German duo Robert Bartko and Roger Kluge, who finished 2nd by the narrowest of margins last year. This season Bartko has been the top rider on the circuit having also won in Zurich (with Hondo) and Bremen (with Bengsch) and he currently tops the UIV Madison rider rankings. His partner Kluge has not ridden a Six Day since Amsterdam last October but has been riding at some of the Track World Cup events and won the European Omnium title last October. The impressive Kluge had a long first season in the Pro-Tour on the road, and was probably a bit over raced in the first half of the season by Milram. After coming back to the track the 24 year old from Cottbus should be refreshed and relishing the opportunity to team with the in form Bartko again.
The team that held off the Germans to the win last winter were Michael Morkov and Alex Rasmussen and they should be the main challengers to the local combination. After a long, almost non-stop period of track and road racing the 2009 World Madison Champs have raced a lot less this last autumn and winter, just the Ghent Six together where they were not at their best. With the home Copenhagen Six following Berlin and road team training camps in the legs the Danish dynamite should be ready to explode again in the Landsberger Allee Velodrome!!!
Probably the only other team with a realistic chance to win are the first time combination of Franco ‘marvellous’ Marvulli and long time sprinter/roadman Danilo Hondo. The Swiss track specialist Marvulli has 30 career wins but apart from any early win in Grenoble this has not been his best season so he should be motivated for one of his favourite races. The 37 year old Hondo is not greatly experienced in Six Day racing but won in Zurich and was 3rd in Ghent on his two appearances so far this season. The fact he has always been a strong spring rider means he will come to Berlin in good shape and if they gel his endurance will complement Marvulli’s speed well.
With quality Six Day riders becoming scarce as events are lost from the calendar and riders increasingly being drawn to the road it was a surprise to see that two experienced riders Alex Aeschbach and Leon Van Bon didn’t make the start list. Those riders have ridden at most races this winter with a win each, Aeschbach in Grenoble (with Marvulli) and Van Bon in Rotterdam (with Stam). One can only assume it was a matter of money as normally these are the kind of proven, reliable riders a promoter would want to make up a peloton.
After getting 3rd last year Six Day strong men Danny Stam and Peter Schep should be close to the front next Tuesday. Veteran Stam has spent the whole winter riding with the missing Van Bon and (as noted in previous writing) he and Schep are not a natural Six Day pairing. Although both are good chasers neither has a sprint and they’ll find it hard to clock up points against the top German, Danish and Aussie teams.
Once again Leif Lampater will team with Christian Grasmann and with respect to the Bavarian the classy Lampater deserves a stronger partner at a race he won in 2007. They’ve had a couple of 4th or 5th places together but have never been close to a win. During the week I asked Leif how things have gone and about any ambitions for Berlin:
“I'm feeling alright but I’ve just started to get over the cold I got on the 2nd day in Bremen, so I couldn't do that much training on the rollers, as I wanted to finally get rid of it!! I had started the year in really good form as I came into Rotterdam directly from Australia. Just the sickness started in Bremen and it hasn't been too good since, so I will have to see how it is when we get to Berlin. Our chances in Berlin? I think we just have an outside chance for the podium as there are 3 really strong teams”.
With Iljo Keisse having his well documented problems Kenny De Ketele is the number one Belgian on the scene and will represent Belgium across the border with his countryman Tim Mertens. Like Lampater the 25 year old from Oudenaarde, East Flanders goes well if he’s given the chance to race with a top partner. In Berlin he will probably be tuning his form for the local road season and working on his partnership with Mertens before the World Madison Championship race in March.
A late addition to the Berlin start list is Danish team, Marc Hester and Jens-Erik Madsen. Despite over starts in the past Hester failed to show his full potential and seemed to be just making up the numbers. This season he seems to have more focus. His partner Madsen (no relation to Jimmi) has been part of the Danish Team Pursuit squad and has won World and Olympic medals. His professional approach to track racing may have rubbed off on Hester as when they’ve raced together they’ve been in the top half of the standings. On the long 250 metre track and with an eye on the Copenhagen Six they should show well and again finish in the top half of the standings.
The Berlin based Robert Bengsch and Marcel Kalz start on the back of good showings in the last two Berlin Sixes. The 27 year old Bengsch was a late replacement partner with Bartko in Bremen and the pair went onto dominate that Six winning by 2 clear laps. That performance as well as being on home ground will be ample motivation but 5th-8th will be a more realistic target for the Berliners.
One of the few experienced Six Day riders elsewhere in the field is Berlin born Austrian Andreas Muller who will race with the youngster Tino Thomel. I asked Andreas Muller about his recent races, form and coming home to Berlin:
”Rotterdam was hard for me because I was sick before, but it got a little bit better every day and racing with Kenny van Hummel as my team mate it was a good race in all, he is a very cool guy!!! Then Bremen was much better and the form was increasing. Directly after that I have had one week training in Mallorca, so now the form should be good!!!"
"Of course its always something special to race at home, so I’m happy that the race starts in a few days. I know Tino Thömel he is also from Berlin, so will be 100% motivated, and because he was riding for the last few years in the same road team from Berlin as I’d had in the past. He is a very talented road sprinter and so I think we will win some of the small competitions over the six days and of course we will also be looking a little bit at the overall rankings.”
The rest of the field features a mix of young German, Swiss, Czech - the pick being European Madison Champions Martin Blaha and Jiri Hochmann - and Russian riders.
Team 1 Robert Bartko (Ger) - Roger Kluge (Ger) Team 2 Danilo Hondo (Ger) - Franco Marvulli (Swi) Team 3 Leigh Howard (Aus) – Cameron Meyer (Aus) Team 4 Alex Rasmussen (Den) - Michael Mörköv (Den) Team 5 Jan Dostal (Cz) – Vojtech Hacecky (Cz) Team 6 Leif Lampater (Ger) - Christian Grasmann (Ger) Team 7 Danny Stam (Ned) - Peter Schep (Ned) Team 8 Marcel Barth (Ger) - Erik Mohs (Ger) Team 9 Martin Blaha (Cz) – Jiri Hochmann (Cz) Team 10 Ralf Matzka (Ger) - Theo Reinhardt (Ger) Team 11 Milan Kadlec (Cz) - Henning Bommel (Ger) Team 12 Robert Bengsch (Ger) - Marcel Kalz (Ger) Team 13 Claudio Imhof (Swi) - Silvan Dillier (Swi) Team 14 Kenny de Ketele (Bel) – Tim Mertens (Ger) Team 15 Alexei Markow (Rus) – Iwan Kowaljow (Rus) Team 16 Tino Thömel (Ger) - Andreas Müller (Aut) Team 17 Benjamin Edmuller (Ger) - Bastian Faltin (Ger) Team 18 Marc Hester (Den) – Jens-Erik Madsen (Den)
Amsterdam Bartko / Kluge (Ger) Grenoble Marvulli (Swi) / Aeschbach (Swi) Ghent Keisse (Bel) / Schep (Ned) Zurich Bartko / Hondo (Ger) Rotterdam Stam / Van Bon (Ned) Bremen Bartko / Bengsch (Ger)
Berlin always allows the Steher (or motor paced racers) and match Sprinters some well deserved spotlight, giving spectators a chance to enjoy almost all the traditional forms of track racing, the exception being the long removed tandem!!!
The Stehers race for 20 minutes every night behind the big motors and this is one of just two Six Day races that give them a chance to shine, the other being Zurich. The former spiritual home of the Stehers was Dortmund’s Westfalenhallen but in 2009 not only was the Dortmund Six cancelled but after 72 editions the Boxing Day ‘Großer Weihnachtspreis’ (considered the unofficial Steher World Championship) also sadly fell by the wayside. The small band of specialists and pacers plug away on the large outdoor tracks during the summer months around Germany, as well as occasionally in Switzerland, Holland and the UK (at the Herne Hill Good Friday meeting), in front of small but appreciative and knowledgeable crowds.
The sprinters race a Flying Lap, a Match Sprint and the Team Sprint each and every night. The current World Team Sprint Champions are Germans Maximilian Levy, Stefan Nimke and Robert Forstemann and all start in their capital city. Germany has always been a strong nation for sprinters, especially in the old East where many of the spectators come from and the big men of cycling will look to put on a show and get some competition in before the World Championships in Holland.