Berliner Sechstagerennen Retrospective

I used to read Bicycling magazine when I initially got into cycling in 1980. I saw an ad in one of the issues that advertised Winning magazine, which was mostly dedicated to racing in Europe, so I immediately ordered a subscription. This is where I first heard of six day racing back in the mid 80’s. I had no idea of how it worked or what it was all about, so I read the article (THE KID WHO CAUGHT SIX-DAY FEVER by Peter Nye1), as I always did, going from cover to cover, consuming everything the mag had to offer… ads and all.

After reading many issues of Winning, I was totally addicted to cycling and racing. The Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, the Vuelta Espana, Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, Milan-San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem…. this was what cycling was all about. The problem was, I had to wait three and four months to read about these events because the magazine was always that far behind in getting their reports written and publicized. A few friends of mine and I used to glean through the local newspaper looking for scraps of information on the major tours and classics, but we only usually got a small results list buried in the maze of football and baseball coverage, that totally took over the newspapers and still does now-a-days. I always dreamt of going to one of the European races, but never seemed to have had enough money or the time to do it.

As the years went by, my late friend Arnold Devlin, another rider totally addicted to cycling, got me interested in six day racing. Arnold was the type of person that always had his nose buried in some sort of cycling news or historical data. He would come over for supper, then we would talk cycling for hours on end, eventually boring my wife to death, who would secretly up and disappear, leaving us discussing the high points of certain races or the eventual creation of this website. This was back in the fall of 2004.

In 2005, Arnold convinced me to go to Gent with him, in November, to watch the six there. I did an introduction of that event which can be found here. Also, in the Thunder Bay Cycling Club’s 2006 newsletter, I wrote a small piece called Gent Wanderings, (starts at the bottom of page 8) describing what my wife and I did during the day before the sixes started in the evening.

This year I got to go to the Berliner Sechstagerennen (the Berlin Six Day). I initially wanted to go to Gent again, but because of previous commitments, I wasn’t able to make it. So instead, I contacted Steve Penny, my foreign reporter from the UK, and made plans to meet him in Berlin. This was back in November. I booked my hotel, the same one Steve has used for the last 13 years, my flight, and a few other necessary items for the trip. I actually (recommended by my wife) went to Minneapolis a day early, just to make sure I wasn’t going to get caught in a major snowstorm the day my flight left. This was a good plan, because I made arrangements to meet another friend of mine, Bob Williams, for supper in Minnie, and ensuring my getting to the airport on time the next day.

Bob was thrilled to discuss Berlin, as he had never gone there himself, and wanted feedback as to what it was like when I returned. Bob is another cycling fanatic who can talk, like Steve and myself, about cycling forever. I guess every sport is the same though. Get a couple or group of people together talking sports, and it just goes on and on.

Now… getting back to Berlin; it was a totally amazing trip. Steve and I met at the hotel, arriving about 3 minutes apart from each other. This seemed to have been the case for the next four to five days. We'd go our separate ways, and agreed to meet back at the hotel at a certain time, and crazily enough, we were always within a minute or so of the agreed upon time. Talk about coordination!!

I was amazed at the venue (the Berlin velodrome). It’s actually built into the ground, the base of the track must be at least 20-25 feet or more below the roadway of Landsburger Allee. There are four levels, five if you count the track, which one can access. The bottom level was used for displays, the second the center of the track, the fourth and fifth were access points to the bleachers, and also venues for food and drink, Schultheiss brewery being one of the main sponsors. On the main level, there was also a pub of sorts... a very nice little area for food and drinks, and with its own live entertainment. This was also the level for press room too. We were treated very well in there, with free drinks and food. It's a good place to have this, so one can actually sit and think and write without all the hubbub going on around you, like in Gent.

I guess the point I’m trying to make about all this is the fact that the racing is spectacular… at least I thought so. Now I can see people wanting to go to the Tour de France and maybe the spring classics, but how much of the race do you actually get to see live, ten seconds, twenty seconds thirty seconds, maybe a minute or more as the stragglers go by. But here, during any of the six day events that are held throughout Europe, they (the riders) can be seen live the whole time, depending on how long you decide to stay or how much you’ve had to drink :). These young racers put on an amazing performance, especially during the Madison events. The sprints are really fast, as are the Derny and Steher events, but they are shorter and aren’t really team efforts. The German fans will raise the roof during those times though.

The Madisons, to me, are the main events of the evening. There’s nothing that can compare to the riders trying to gain a lap, amidst the cheers and whistle blowing of the fans, who can make just as much noise as a rock band in concert. Not being used to this, I went back to the hotel many nights, with my ears ringing. The riders are awesome how they handsling each other into the fray, with the greatest of ease from any point on the track, even on the steepest sections of the banking. It's usually a 'Battle Royale' right from the get go.

I thought the final Madison on Tuesday night was incredible. Five teams were battling for the top spot, four of them after points and one team trying to grab back the lap they had lost earlier.

The difference between Gent and Berlin is in the amount of racing and events during the evenings. In Berlin, there seemed to be bigger gaps between events and a more relaxed schedule. There were also more intermissions, including press talks and show times with the different bands and musicians. Also, they had the additional Steher and ladies races, which don’t take place at Gent. Remember, I’m only comparing this to Gent, because I’m not familiar with any of the other six day. Don’t get me wrong either; I’m not saying this is a bad thing, just the fact that it’s different from my previous and only other experience.

My final point to all of this is; take a little time and look into six day racing, I think you’ll find it much more thrilling than the road events throughout the year. No, you won’t have the nice weather of the summer races, but remember, you’ll be able to watch everything from start to finish... indoors.

References:

1 - Winning Bicycle Racing Illustrated Issue No. 20 March 1985