by Steve Penny
British 6-Day Correspondent
22 January 2012
The Berlin Six Day reached a golden milestone last January with its 100th edition, and the annual festivities will return to the German Capital for the 101st time on Thursday.
Unfortunately Six-day racing continues to be in decline and it’s not something that can solely be laid at the door of the global economy rather just a sad fact of life that times change. Events have in recent years left established Six-day cities such as Dortmund, Munich and Stuttgart, lack of sponsors and public interest being the main factors. So in 2012 it is left too Bremen and Berlin to fly the Six-day flag for Germany. As well as events riders come and go and many who created the spectacle and excitement over the last 10-15 years - Bruno Risi, Kurt Betschart, Silvio Martinello, Marco Villa, Matt Gilmore, Scott McGrory, Jimmi Madsen and Robert Slippens – have all retired. Others like Michael Morkov and Alex Rasmussen seem to have left track racing behind to the draw of the road and commitment to trade team contracts.
One of the best riders left in the Six-day peloton is Robert Bartko and he won’t be on the start line following a dispute with the Berlin organisation over the terms of his contract. That and the fairly thin field is testament to the fact that even this great event is under pressure. But with or without Bartko the show goes on and 32 riders will race too nowhere around the 250 metre long boards inside the Landsberger Allee Velodrome. The quality and composition of the field is, like it has been at all this winters Sixes, a mixed bag and there are very few riders who now race at all Sixes. In the past there was what they called ‘the blue train’ but that seems, like Munich and Dortmund, to be a thing of the past. It’s not all doom and gloom though as the riders who are present will be motivated to put on a show and compete to the best of their varying abilities.
Without the aforementioned Robert Bartko in the field, his partner in victory last year Roger Kluge starts his first Six-day of the winter with Leif Lampater as his ‘new’ team mate. The talent of Kluge is undoubted and his ultimate goal for 2012 will be a medal in the London Olympic Omnium. That new and generally unpopular championship event is very difficult for most Six-day riders to be competitive in; Kluge does have the speed, strength and endurance to make a real go of it, although it is still something of a lottery. Whatever the outcome, once the Olympics are over you’d suspect that Kluge will concentrate more on the road and like Morkov and Rasmussen will be another talent lost for most of the winter Six-day circuit. In Berlin though as the home team, and with the main sponsors name on their jersey, he and Lampater will be expected to bring home the bacon. The quiet but talented Lampater won here in 2007 with Guido Fulst and will be motivated having the speedy Kluge at his side. He doesn’t have the strength of Bartko though and the mantle of favourites will pass over to another team this year.
That team are, World Madison Champions Cameron Meyer and Leigh Howard, who like Kluge will be entering there one and only Six-day race this winter, in fact it is only the 2nd of Meyer's career. Last year in his first ever Six, Meyer and his partner Leigh Howard pushed the strong Bartko-Kluge team all the way to the finish taking 2nd place. This time around despite the lack of Six-day experience they look like the class riders of the field. Their talent and road strength, honed back home at the Tour Down Under, should be enough to see them competitive. To prove the point they recently cruised to victory on the track in the Australian Madison championship. The lack of top riders in the field sees them stand out like a beacon and they’ll be keen to put on a strong, and winning, performance in their World Champions jerseys. Ultimately they’ll be looking to retain the jerseys for the 3rd consecutive year on home soil in Melbourne during early April.
Probably the only other team with a realistic shot at the victory are European Madison champs Iljo Keisse and Kenny de Ketele. The Belgians both have Six-day victories this winter although none together, Keisse was in especially good form winning in Amsterdam, Grenoble and Zurich but was only 4th and 3rd in Rotterdam and Bremen. The Ghent winner de Ketele hasn’t ridden in either of the last two races but will surely arrive in good shape after riding at some track World Cups. He and Keisse would be a strong team at most Sixes but on this 250 metre track it may be difficult for them to match the strength of Kluge, Meyer or Howard. A place on the podium is certainly up for grabs though.
At 39 years old, Danny Stam is ending a great career on the boards of Europe and the world, next month in Copenhagen. The ‘little diesel’, as he is known, has won 16 Six-day races with 11 of those coming with his friend and fellow Dutchman Robert Slippens. A relative late comer to the Six-day scene he didn’t really establish himself as one of the top guys until he won the Amsterdam Six, with Slippens, in 2003 at the age of 31. Over the next few years he and Slippens became challengers at every race and that form culminated in a remarkable run in January / February of 2006 when they won in Rotterdam, Bremen, Berlin and Copenhagen. That same summer Slippens had a terrible crash that ultimately ended his career although he did briefly come back in 2008 partnering Stam to victories in Amsterdam and at the less prestigious Zuidlaren Six. But he was forced to retire and since then despite victories with Risi, Keisse, Lampater, Schep and last year in Rotterdam with Leon van Bon you feel it wasn’t quite the same for him racing without Robbie Slippens.
This will be the last German Six for Danny Stam and the winner in 2006 is paired with fellow countryman Peter Schep who is having a great 2012 so far winning in both Rotterdam (with Wim Stroetinga) and Bremen (with Bartko). At both those races he was with faster men than Stam. It’s always been the case when these two are paired together that the lack of a sprint means they struggle to gain points and bonus laps. Also being in decline Stam will probably find the going tough on the long straights of the 250 metre track. Who knows with the appreciative crowds that flock in night after night I’m sure he’ll get a wonderful send off and with an in form Schep, may be inspired for one last podium push.
Franco 'marvellous' Marvulli appeared to be in premature decline over the previous year or so, but he seems to have re-found his form and enthusiasm winning in Zurich and taking 2nd in both Rotterdam and Bremen. Berlin is one of his favourite races and this year he is paired with 21 year old Swiss hopeful Silvan Dillier who has shown well at a couple of Sixes this winter. They could be the surprise package as Dillier is fast and the veteran Marvulli, with over 100 career starts and 31 wins, will probably leave the sprinting to the younger man saving his energy for the chases. If they go well here who knows they could become a new Swiss team on the block!!!
The Berlin based Robert Bengsch and Marcel Kalz have been reunited based on their good showings at the last three Berlin Sixes. The 24 year old Kalz comes into his hometown on the back of his best ever result, a 2nd place in Bremen with Franco Marvulli. After winning his first Six-day in Bremen last year (with Bartko) Bengsch has had more starts this season but hasn’t yet shown that same form. The motivation of this being, Berlin could make a difference and he and Kalz will look to improve on their 2009, 2010 and 2011 showings by pushing for the podium in 2012.
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 a few experienced riders such as Marc Hester and Christian Grasmann didn’t make the start list. It was especially surprising to see the Dane, Hester, wasn’t a starter as he has had his best ever winter. Without them and the likes of Hondo and as mentioned Bartko, Morkov and Rasmussen much of the field is an unknown quantity. There are some familiar names many in national pairings with an eye on Aprils Worlds.
The 2011 World Madison silver medallists Martin Blaha and Jiri Hochmann from the Czech Republic should do reasonably well on the longer track whilst finding form for the World Championships in Melbourne.
Berlin born Austrian national team rider Andreas Muller is paired with his Austrian national team partner Andreas Graf. Like the Czechs, and a number of other teams, they will be using the week to work on their Madison skills for Melbourne. That said Muller will want to show well when he can as he was born just a short walk from this velodrome and Berlin remains his home city.
The veteran Alex Aeschbach gets a start after surprisingly again being overlooked at Bremen and Rotterdam. He has some pedigree but as he is paired with Polish rider Rafal Ratajczyk; he’ll just be keeping the peloton together rather than going for wins, unless Ratajczyk can produce the performance of his life.
Another Berliner is Henning Bommel who as part of the German track squad will be at home on this particular track. His partner is Belgian Tim Mertens who is another solid track rider. Their goal will be just to try and finish in the top 10 and pick up a few wins in the lesser races on the weeks programme.
The German pair Marcel Barth and Erik Mohs are both still only 25 but have a number of Six-day starts between them. This year Barth got a few starts outside of Germany but hasn’t shown he has the potential to ever be a challenger. On the other hand Mohs came onto the scene strongly around 2006-2007 and appeared to have a big future, but after aiming for a road career has since returned to the track but has not re-established himself as a potential podium rider.
For the first time in many years there is an American team on the start line which in itself is an achievement. But the pairing of Jackie Simes and Brad Huff will be licking there wounds after taking a pasting in Bremen where they lost 28 and 29 laps with German partners while finishing 10th and 12th (last) respectively. The more interesting, and better known to Six-day students of the two is 23 year old Jackie Simes IV, to give him his full name. His dad Jack Simes III rode in 11 Six-day races in the early 1970s and is the man behind the latest attempt to bring Six-day racing to New York City. The younger Simes was drifting around the under-23 races in Europe for a few years and is now attempting to make the break through into the pro ranks.
The Italians Fabio Masotti and Angelo Ciccone have been around the track scene for a long time but neither has much in the way of wins or Six-day appearances to report on. They are with all due respect yet cheap contract to make up the numbers and add another 'national' team to the start list.
Two German teams help round out the field, Bjorn Schroder and Tino Thömel from Berlin are one, the other being another Berliner Theo Reinhardt with Ralf Matzka. The latter pair had some international results as juniors but whether they can translate that to the senior ranks remains to be seem.
Last but not least are unknown Russians Valeri Kaikow and Leonid Krasnow. The Russian track team is now coached by Former East German, Heiko Salzwedel who worked successfully with the British, Danish and Australian teams in the past. One assumes that is the reason the Russians are here, plus it’s another 'national' team something that the organisers seem to like.
Amsterdam Kiesse (Bel) / Terpstra (Ned) Grenoble Kiesse (Bel) / Kneisky (Fra) Ghent De Ketele (Bel) / Bartko (Ger) Zurich (4 Days) Marvulli (Swi) / Kiesse (Bel) Rotterdam Schep / Stroetinga (Ned) Bremen Bartko (Ger) / Schep (Ned
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!!!
This year the organisers have added ladies racing to the programme which is a unique concept in itself.
The Stehers race for 20 minutes every night behind the big motors and this is one of just 2 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 Germany and that team, Maximilian Levy, Stefan Nimke and Rene Enders start. They along with Robert Forstemann, who was in the 2010 World Champion team, will be vying for places on the team and honing form for the World Championships before their ultimate goal the London Olympics.
Many of the spectators come from the former East Germany which always had strong sprinters so the big men of cycling are appreciated in Berlin and will be looking to put on a show, plus get in some useful competition before what is a massive year ahead.
The ladies programme is at the time of writing is unknown but the field is comprised of German national riders and younger riders from Briton and Poland looking to establish themselves internationally.