by Steve Penny
British 6-Day Correspondent
26 January 2014
The winter track season would not be the same without the legendary Berliner Sechstage Rennen. With temperatures of minus 10°, the norm at this is time of year, the event annually welcomes 70,000 visitors inside the Landsberger Allee Velodrom. The Berlin public has a reputation for wanting to see cycle sport. This is a sporting / sportive public as they say on the continent that enjoy the racing and are not just here to take in the show. The sporting aspect of this historic event is what one hopes, keeps it alive but also highlights a problem. As the amount of, and quality of, riders racing the 6-day circuit these days becomes thinner and thinner the level of the racing inevitably suffers. This, in my opinion, creates the need to provide more of a sporting spectacle than an out and out race - as you have in Ghent.
The 103rd. edition probably has fewer riders the fans will be familiar with, this seems to be the case year on year. A number of the small pool of top riders who have been competitive here in recent years are not riding due to road or national commitment, or as has been the case with some, contractual issues. This list includes recent winners (Michael) Marko, Rasmussen, Howard, Meyer and Kluge as well as Iljo Keisse, Hester, Dillier, Wim Stroetinga and Marcel Katz. It is of course difficult to replace the big riders who've retired in the last 10 years such as Risi, Betschart, Martinello, Villa, Kappes, Gilmore, McGrory, Madsen, Stam, Slippens, Beikirch, Schep etc., but this dearth of riders must be a concern to those associated with the Sixes. You could point to the Madison's removal from the Olympics as the start of this rot, or certainly contributing to it, but that's a story for another day.
The guys who have started in 2014 are of course giving all they have to provide the spectacle that the sporting public expects. After 3 nights 5 teams are still in contention for the overall victory. The overwhelming favourites are Leif Lampater and Jasper De Buyst, who are reunited, having won the Ghent Six in November. They hold a decent lead on points from Kenny De Ketele and Andreas Muller. The Belgian De Ketele is one of the few top riders left in the Sixes and his partner Muller will be inspired to top his 3rd place from last year. That was the best result of the affable Berliners career, so a win would be a major achievement.
The 3rd. team looking to challenge are a 'home team' of experienced riders, Robert Bartko and Theo Reinhardt who at 23 is just in his 7th. Six. They are hanging in and will certainly challenge for the podium.
Below these teams, the surprise package are Havik and Hacecky, more than a mouthful for the ever exuberant commentators. They are on the same lap as the leaders, so the Dutch / Czech combo will be more than happy with their progress so far.
The 5th. team in the standings are, World Madison Champion Vivien Brisse and Bavarian Christian Grasmann. The Frenchman, Brisse, was due to race with his 2013 Championship partner Morgan Kneisky, but a knee operation has ruled Kneisky out of the early 2014 Sixes.
Sadly, in his last ever 6-day, Franco Marvulli is near the bottom of the standings, with Australian Luke Roberts. A winner of 32 Sixes in his career, Franco is one of the last few in the line of riders who compete at every winter and summer Six. His retirement is another signal of the changing nature of this part of cycle sport. This Six is after Zurich, his favourite, and he has always had a great rapport with the Berlin crowds. Alas his last winter season has been one of continual health problems and you can imagine this certainly wasn't the way he'd have wanted to say goodbye. I can't ever remember him ever being in such a lowly position.
Elsewhere the Spaniards Muntaner and Torres made a promising start and could have been up there on their preferred 250 metre track. However a crash on Friday night saw them neutralised and with Muntaner hurt; they've since lost 7 laps and are out of the podium battle.
1. Lampater (Ger) - De Buyst (Bel) 176 points 2. De Ketele (Bel) - Muller (Ger) 147 3. Bartko - Reinhardt (Ger) 120 4. Havik (Ned) - V. Hacecky (Cz) 109 5. Brisse (Fra) - Grasmann (Ger) 102 at 6 laps 6. Bommel (Ger) - Thiele (Ger) 53 at 7 laps 7. Marguet (Swi) - Beyer (Ger) 64 8. Muntaner (Spa) - Torres (Spa) 57 9. Barth (Ger) - Heslich (Ger) 26 at 10 laps 10. Wotschke (Ger) - Pirius (Ger) 38 11. J. Morkov (Den) - Ackermann (Ger) 23 at 11 laps 12. Thomel (Ger) - Schomber (Ger) 25 at 12 laps 13. Marvulli (Swi) - Roberts (Aus) 26 at 13 laps 14. East (USA) - Holloway (USA) 20 15. Blaha (Cz) - M. Hacecky (Cz) 12 at 15 laps 16. Byrgesen - Christensen (Den) 02
The main Six Day programme is much shorter than in some other cities due to the sprint and steher (motor-paced) races. We also now have the Ladies-Cup and that reduces the programme even further.
The leading Sprinter after 3 nights is, he of the most enormous thighs in cycling, Robert Forstemann (if you think that's a weird statement look at a picture). He and fellow German sprinters Balzer, Levy and Enders are putting on a show for the fans with a Pole, Zielinski and a Czech, Kelemen - although the latter is struggling a bit in this company.
Leading the Stehers after 3 nights is Mario Birrer, who has had the best of the crowd pleasing high speed motor-paced races thus far. The Swiss is the current European Champion. This title is, nowadays, the pinnacle of this long forgotten but very specialist form of track racing.
Last but not least, the Ladies-Cup is being dominated by Stephanie Pohl in the Omnium style competition. The one Brit in the field, Hannah Walker, is struggling a bit in 13th. place, but the Stockport rider always has a smile on her face and seems to be popular around the Landsberger Allee Velodrom.
All photos by Mareike Engelebrecht or Arne Mill from the Official Berlin Six Website.