by Steve Penny
British 6-Day Correspondent
20 January 2013
The 102nd Berlin Six Day starts in the German Capital on Thursday night. This event is one of the classics of the winter track calendar, but despite that, unfortunately, Six-day racing continues to be in decline. This is not just something that can be laid at the door of the global economy, rather just a fact of life that times change. As events have left established Six-day cities such as Dortmund, Munich and Stuttgart in recent years due to lack of sponsors and public interest, it is now left to Berlin and Bremen, to fly the flag in the country that was once the European home of Six-day racing.
The quality and composition of this year's field is, like it has been at all this winters Sixes, a mixed bag as there are very few riders now that race at every Six. In bygone years there was a 'blue train' of established riders who went from city to city racing long into the night hours. That culture appears, like events, to be a thing of the past as riders from the host countries tend to dominate the start lists in those countries' respective Sixes.
This year the Berlin starting field, on paper, is even weaker than it was 12 months ago. The list has numerous Berlin debutants as well as 4 or 5 young Six-day novices / rookies. The organisers have not been able to bring riders such as Michael Morkov, Iljo Keisse, Leigh Howard, Cameron Meyer, Glenn O'Shea or Gijs Van Hoecke to Berlin, probably due their commitment to trade team contracts. But with the quality of Six Day riders becoming as scarce as events it was again a surprise to see that a few of the strong specialists such as Marc Hester, Christian Grasmann and Silvan Dillier didn't make the start list either.
It's not all doom and gloom though, as the riders who are present will be motivated to put in performances and compete to the best of their varying abilities… after all the show must go on. So the 32 riders will again start their race too nowhere on the 250 metre track, entertaining another noisy Berlin public inside the Landsberger Allee Velodrome.
Roger Kluge starts only his second Six-day race of the winter as the organisers favourite and is paired with veteran Dutchman Peter Schep. The talent of Kluge is undoubted and after a great start to his career in 2008, he was seen as a potential star of track and road. Last year, his goals of an Olympic medal and improvement on the road didn't materialise. Entering 2013 at nearly 27, he is no longer a young, up and coming future star. He'll still be seen as the man to beat though, so he'll come to Berlin with a point to prove and will want a second victory in his capital city, following a win with Robert Bartko in 2011. This is a strong team, especially in a field with no other obvious favourites, as Kluge has the speed and Schep the endurance to make a classic Six-day partnership.
World Madison Champion Kenny de Ketele has had a good winter season in the rainbow jersey, winning two events and placing 2nd in a very hard fought Ghent Six. He is paired with experienced Australian Luke Roberts, who returned to Six-day racing with a 2nd place in Bremen (alongside Leif Lampater) last week. This year De Ketele seems to have improved his finishing speed to go along with his increased strength and Six-day experience, so, alongside a strong pursuit rider like Roberts, this team should be the main challengers to Kluge / Schep.
A couple of years ago Franco 'marvellous' Marvulli appeared to be in premature decline, but after a good last winter he has continued to show he has indeed re-found his form and most importantly, his enthusiasm. Last week he won the Bremen Six with Marcel Kalz and comes into one of his favourite events in good form, as well as with good morale. The mental side has always been part of the battle for Franco. His partner is Berlin born Austrian national team rider, Andreas Muller, who also showed well in Bremen with a career best 4th place finish. With so few big name riders in the field Muller gets a rare chance to ride with a top performer, many his previous 70 odd Sixes have been spent looking after inexperienced riders. 'Mulli', as he is affectionately known, was born just a short walk from the velodrome, so with Marvulli at his side his motivation will be sky high. His chances of making his first ever podium have probably never been better.
The Berlin based Robert Bengsch and Marcel Kalz are reunited following their good showings at the last 4 Berlin Sixes. The 25 year old Kalz starts in his hometown on the back of his first ever win in Bremen, with Franco Marvulli. His partner Bengsch won his one and only Six-day at Bremen in 2011 (with Robert Bartko), but hasn't really shown that same kind of form very often since. The motivation of Berlin could make a difference though, so he and Kalz will be aiming to improve on their 5th place finish last year and at least make the podium in 2013.
The Dutch team present this year comprises Wim Stroetinga and Nick Stopler, both of whom have shown well at Dutch Sixes over the last few years, but are debutants in Berlin. On his day, Stroetinga is fast and could go well in the time trials. The 22 year old Stopler looks like a rider on the rise, so if they are both in form, could get close to the podium. In the past Stroetinga seemed to lack the endurance to hang on until death in the chases, a win in Rotterdam (with Schep) last winter being the exception. It'll be interesting to see if they can shine in this field of mostly lesser lights.
At the Ghent Six in November, French speaking Swiss Tristan Marguet, broke track records in the flying lap and 500 metre time trial and I'm sure his remit in Berlin will be to entertain the crowd in similar fashion. His partner Tino Thomel gets a 5th start on his home track, but has little in the way of international pedigree so this pair won't be one to watch in the chases.
The Belgian, Tim Mertens, went well in Ghent but hasn't had a contract since, so will be looking to survive as well as guide Berlin based debutant Hans Pirius around the boards safely for the six days.
Leif Lampater has shown to be a strong rider over his 60 plus starts and along with Marvulli is the only guy to have raced at all the Sixes this winter. He'll probably be disappointed then that his reward is to play taxi driver to 20 year old Lucas Lib, another of the German debutants. Not sure of the thinking behind this one as Lampater is a former winner here but without local knowledge it might be that the youngster is seen as a potential future player so pairing him with a strong rider is a way to show him off to the public, with future Berlin Sixes in mind.
The German pair Marcel Barth and Erik Mohs are both still only 26 and have a number of Six-day starts between them. Last year, Barth got a few starts outside of Germany but poor showings meant that was not repeated this winter, and he hasn't shown the potential to be a challenger, just an entertainer perhaps? On the other hand Mohs came onto the scene strongly around 2006-2007 racing with the retired Andreas Beikirch. He seemingly had a big future, but after aiming at a road career, that didn't materialise, he has returned to the track without showing himself to be a potential podium rider.
The organisations love of 'national' teams brings French team Morgan Kneisky and Vivien Brisse to Berlin for the first time. Kneisky is a strong track rider and a multiple Worlds medallist, so in this field, they should stay inside the top 10 and get some good work ahead of the World Championships.
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 a cheap contract to make up the numbers and add another 'national team' to the start list.
Perhaps the most surprising pairing in the field is that of Robert Bartko and Theo Reinhardt. The experienced Bartko has 19 Six-day wins in his palmares whilst Reinhardt is just starting his 4th Six and two of those starts came here in 2011 and 2012. On paper, as with Lampater, it appears the organisers have taken one of the few top Six-day riders in the field out of contention. On the other hand, Reinhardt may be highly rated locally and it could be they are the 'local team' to cheer for as the youngster is from the city and Bartko resides a few kilometres away in Potsdam. It will be interesting to see how they go, as I can't recall ever seeing Bartko with an unknown partner.
Yet again, the organisers have given a start to little known Russians, that penchant for 'national teams' again, Artur Ershov and Leonid Krasnow. The latter raced in Berlin last winter with a different partner finishing a whopping 32 laps down. That is a massive deficit on the 250 metre track and like the young Germans in the field, experience is all they'll be looking for.
Another Berliner riding on his home track is Henning Bommel, who he is another cast in the role of guiding junior German rider, this time Kersten Thiele, through his Six-day baptism.
The only Dane in the field is Jesper Morkov, brother of the more famous and successful Michael. The younger Morkov will have a tough week preparing for his home race in Copenhagen, as despite only a handful of starts he'll be the experienced one in his pairing, with the last of the young German debutants, Sebastian Wotschke.
Last, but not least, American Guy East gets a rare start and at 25 is not a youngster, but the Indianapolis native will be keen to show the stars and stripes in a good light. His partner is Berlin roadman Bjorn Schroder, who despite being 32, has just two Six-day starts to his name. Look for them to lose a lot of laps, but maybe not as many as some other teams!!!
Team 1 Kenny De Ketele (Bel) - Luke Roberts (Aus) Team 2 Wim Stroetinga (Ned) - Nick Stopler (Ned) Team 3 Tristan Marguet (Swi) - Tino Thömel (Ger) Team 4 Franco Marvulli (Swi) - Andreas Müller (Ger) Team 5 Leif Lampater (Ger) - Lucas Lib (Ger) Team 6 Tim Mertens (Bel) - Hans Pirius (Ger) Team 7 Roger Kluge (Ger) - Peter Schep (Ned) Team 8 Marcel Barth (Ger) - Erik Mohs (Ger) Team 9 Robert Bengsch (Ger) - Marcel Kalz (Ger) Team 10 Morgan Kneisky (Fra) - Vivien Brisse (Fra) Team 11 Fabio Masotti (Ita) - Angelo Ciccone (Ita) Team 12 Robert Bartko (Ger) - Theo Reinhardt (Ger) Team 13 Leonid Krasnow (Rus) - Artur Ershov (Rus) Team 14 Henning Bommel (Ger) - Kersten Thiele (Ger) Team 15 Jesper Morkov (Den) - Sebastian Wotschke (Ger) Team 16 Guy East (USA) - Bjorn Schroder (Ger)
Amsterdam Morkov (Den) / Ligthart (Ned) Grenoble Kiesse (Bel) / De Ketele (Bel) Ghent Kiesse (Bel) / O'Shea (Aus) Zurich (4 Days) Schep(Ned) / De Ketele (Bel) Rotterdam Kiesse (Bel) / Terpstra (Ned) Bremen Marvulli (Swi) / Kalz (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 The Stehers race for 20 minutes every night behind the big motors and this is one of just two Six Day races that still 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 The sprinters are all German but with this nations sprint tradition are also World class. This city appreciates the big men of cycling. The Olympic Team Sprint bronze medallists Maximilian Levy, Robert Forstemann and Rene Enders are joined on the start list by multiple World and Olympic medallist Stefan Nimke, Erik Balzer and Tobias Wachter. The 34 year old Nimke, traditionally a kilo specialist, is still going strong and he and his fellow sprinters will put on a show and get in some competition for the Worlds racing a Flying Lap, Match Sprint and Team Sprint each and every night.
The sprinters The ladies programme, at the time of writing, is unknown, but the field is comprised of potential German national riders and younger, less experienced riders from Briton, Holland, Denmark, Slovakia and Poland trying to establish themselves internationally.