An Introduction into the Z6s-daage Vlaanderen-Gent 2005
November 22-27, 2005
Het Kuipke / Gent
by E. Vandal
Arnold (Devlin) had been trying for ages to get me to go to Europe to watch a 6-day event, but I always found some excuse not to go. My wife Roberta finally convinced me to go after mentioning she would also like to come along. Well... that's all it took. After a few days online on the computer, the three of us pretty well had everything we needed for the trip, the flight tickets, car rental and hotel. Bob Williams, sports director for the Blaine Velodrome at this time, purchased all the tickets for us for the z6s-daagse event itself. Bob did this online, which saved us a bit of work. When we received the tickets we just re-imbursed Bob the money he originally spent. All we needed to do now was plan an itinerary for the sights and places we would like to see while there.
Not really knowing what I was getting myself in for when I decided to make the trip to Belgium for the Z6sdaagse Vlaanderan Gent, I was totally amazed at the spectacle of human effort and determination put forth by the riders. I had no idea how exiting 6-day racing could be until after watching a few hours of the professional 6-day racers on the track during the first night of racing at the Kuipke Velodrome.
The speeds are unbelievable. The riders are averaging 50+ kph all the time, with speeds reaching almost 70 kph during the sprints. The Derny races are yet another spectacle, with speeds nearing 80 kph. These races are continuous from 7 p.m. until 1 or 2 in the morning. There are usually two breaks during the evening to give the riders a chance to eat, drink and freshen up for the next series of races. The riders will also do this between events, if they have been eliminated from a race such as a miss-and-out.
No matter where you are situated at the Kuipke, there is a great view of the racing. The middenplein (center of the track), is where most of the drinkers end up (Belgians do enjoy their beer). The two end zones contained numerous keg taps with the bartenders constantly filling the plastic cups and passing them to the patrons of the middenplein. For viewing the race I didn't find it as good as the bleachers because you were constantly turning your head to follow the racers. It wouldn't take you long to get dizzy, which would be exacerbated with the amount a beer intake. Arnold was fortunate due to the fact that he had a press pass, which gave us access the end zone where the press sat and anywhere along the edge of the whole track. From here you had a means of getting right up to the racers, their bikes and their small rest/change quarters.
The atmosphere of the event was something else also. There was the constant primal drum beat, through all the overhead speakers, that steadily increased in volume as a particular event neared completion. At first it was a bit un-nerving, not being used to it, but the more you got into the whole scene, the more the sounds increasingly wrapped you up within it. The whole crowd all react the same way, yelling and screaming for their favourite riders as the final lap approaches.
The whole event is absolutely amazing. It's all the thrill of the Tour de France but this takes place right in front of you. It was well worth the visit.
The first night of racing at het Kuipke indoor track in Gent, Belgium is in the books. Before a nearly sold out crowd of 7,000 spectators, the top 6-day riders and endurance track speedsters in the world put on a dazzling show of speed and bike handling skills. The racing was fast and furious as local cycling stars Matthew Gilmore and his 22-year-old partner Iljo Keisse are in the lead with 63 points. Robert Bartko (Ger)/Scott McGrory (Aus) are in 2nd with 59 points and the Dutch duo Robert Slippens/Danny Stam in third with 57 points.
During the first Madison Robert Slippens took a serious fall, tearing his shorts and pulling wood slivers out of his thigh. Slippens was slow to return to the fray.
With tonights racing, Matthew Gilmore joins an exclusive club of six-day racers have that done more than 100 six-day events. Of the current six-day specialists, only six riders have more than 100 6-day starts: Gerd Dorich (140), Bruno Risi (137), Kurt Betschart (134), Marco Villa (121), Jimmy Madsen (115) and Andreas Kappes (105). Matthew is now tied with his father Graham Gilmore who rode 100 six-day races.
Gilmore/Keisse had a good start to the grind, scoring well in winning the 1st Madison, getting second place in the 2nd Madison, and Gilmore taking first in both Derny #2 and the Derny final. Also showing his strength was the Swiss track ace Marco Marvulli who won both the Individual Elimination (miss and out) and the 500m Sprint/TT. They also got second in the Scatch event and second again in the first Madison with his partner Marco Villa (Ita).
There is something special about the energy and drama at a six-day race. First is the whole idea of racing at maximum for five hours per night and then on top of that having to do it for six days in a row. The racing starts at 8:00pm but is preceded by the young aspiring 6-day racers who have their own 2 hours of racing per night following a similar format to the professional six-day racers. The racing is finished at 1:00am as the exhausted riders finish their last event a 60 lap (about 10km) Derny Final. The Derny heats and finals are exciting as the racers follow an unusual motorized machine... part bicycle, part motorcycle. The riders keep their bikes less than 12" behind their rear wheel of the derny. The speeds are amazing, in the final sprint they approach 80km/hr. Not for the faint of heart. There are two Derny heats and a final as only 6 riders (stayers) and derny drivers (gangmakers) can fit on the track at one time.
Tonight's racing was tight and fast. World Track Madison Champion Robert Hayles of Great Britain took a rough tumble coming out of last corner in the first Madison of the evening and had to be helped off the track for first aid and x-rays. He returned to race about 1 1/2 hours later after the first intermission. The team of Hayles/Cavendish (GBr) went on to win the 500m Supersprint.
The second night finished with the local track stars Gilmore/Keisse (BEL) in first with 132 points and one lap ahead of Bartko (GER)/ McGrory (AUS) who have 123 points and in third the Dutch duo Slippens/Stam with 116 points.
Showdown at het Kuipke:
The third night of racing is always the measuring stick to see what teams are in the running for a podium place and what teams are "just in the race".
After the second derny heats Gilmore/Keisse are in first place with 169 points. The veterans Risi/Betschart are in second with only 97 points. When they reach the 100-point mark they will be credited with one lap bonus and thus will gain a lap on the current leaders (G/K).
In third place with 168 points, 1 lap behind Gilmore/Keisse is the fast charging Potsdam Flyer, Robert Bartko (Ger) and his veteran partner Scott McGrory (Aus). Last evening Bartko/McGrory won three events and they are looking to repeat that effort again tonight. The 500m TimeTrial set the momentum in their favour as Bartko/McGrory won by 1 / 100th of a second over their nearest competitors De Fauw/Beikirch.
The real showdown began with the second Madison of the evening: 40 minutes plus 10 laps, averaging about 10-12 seconds a lap, around this tight wooden track. The race began, not at high noon but at 12:08am and in less than two minutes of riding Bartko/McGrory attacked attempting to gain a lap and the overall lead of this six-day grind. The Dutch duo Slippens/Stam and the local favourites Gilmore/Keisse were quick on their wheels.
Risi/Betschart were the next to go and "the chase" was on. Then Marty Nothstein, the lone North American in the race was off the front with the team of Grasmann/Hester and the youngest rider in the race 20 year old Kenny De Ketele in tow. Nearly ten minutes into the final Madison, Bartko/McGrory attacked but were unable to break loose from the pack as Gilmore/Keisse covered the break. Then it was Iljo Keisse, to the roar of the partisan Gent crowd, who attacked with Bartko right behind him.
The teams took a break from the constant attacking for about 5 minutes, riding tempo at 50km/hr. The only real action being the fluid high speed hand slinging of partners into the fray. Suddenly Robert Slippens/Danny Stam are off the front hammering and in one minute they lap the field; unbelievable. Slippens/Stam now join Bartko/McGrory and Gilmore/Keisse at zero (0) laps. Risi/Betschart were the next to gain a lap at 18 minutes
Then Nothstein/Llaneras, Gilmore/Keisse and Risi/Betschart hammered off the front. The racing was fast and furious as the top four teams took turns attacking. The up and comers; De Ketele/Aeschbach, De Fauw/Beikirch, DeNeef/Schets are constantly chasing, attempting not to lose laps.
At 32 minutes Bartko attacked again and immediately Gilmore/Keisse are chasing. The teams traded attacks for the next few minutes and then with only five laps to go Bartko/McGrory are tied in laps with Gilmore/Keisse. In the end Bartko edged Gilmore, in the final sprint to the line, winning the Madison.
The final events of the evening: the derny and keirin heats did little to change the standings. Bartko/McGrory are in the lead with 202 points, Gilmore/Keisse in second with 190 points and in third is Risi/Betschart with 106 points.
The crowds have been a sellout every night. Tonight it was estimated that the organizers had to turn away nearly one thousand fans.
"The Night the Lights Went Out"
Day Four of the Gent 6-Day Races is in the books but not before a three-person crash and a suspension of the racing for the night. Before another sellout crowd the fourth night of racing started with the introduction of the riders including Marco Villa, who is back after falling ill yesterday and abandoned during the first Madison. Abandoning a six-day race is not common experience for the 36-year-old veteran. Of the 116 six-day races Marco has started he has the amazing record of finishing 115.
The Points Race opened up the evening's action. Immediately Robert Slippens and Danny Stam started to hammer taking the first sprint and De Fauw/Beikirch took second. In the final sprint Matthew Gilmore edged Slippens for the victory but Slippens/Stam won the overall being the team to score the most points.
The Team Elimination Race was the next event and it started with a three-rider crash. Matthe Pronk, Gerd Dorich and Steve Schets went down heavily infront of the judges' stand just before the finishline The crash actually took place when those riders that had been eliminated from the race collided while circling the bottom of the track. No one was hurt and the riders had a good laugh that they had been eliminated twice. The Team Elimination Race is snapshot of the who's who status of the 6-day race. Bartko/McGrory, Gilmore/Keisse, Slippens/Stam and Risi/Betschart are the topl four teams. Risi/Betschart are the first team to be eliminated quickly followed by Bartko/McGrory. Now we are down to five laps of cat and mouse for the final two teams: Slippens/Stam and Gilmore/Keisse. Gilmore was 10 meters behind Slippens as they had 3/4 of a lap to go and then Gilmore let go with the afterburners rocketing past Slippens at the line. The Gent fans were ecstatic. With this victory Gilmore/Keisse pass the 200-point mark and thus are awarded a bonus lap. The Gent favourites now have 213 points, compared to their closest rivals Bartko/McGrory who are ahead in points with 214 but are down one lap.
The nights racing progressed with the Flying Sprint. It was close again as Slippens/Stam won with a speed of 68.965km/hr with Bartko/McGrory coming in second with 68.650km/hr, Gilmore/Keisse in 67.950km/hr and Nothstein/Llaneras with 67.873km/hr.
Slippens/Stam won the Madison and now gain a bonus lap for passing over 200 points. Gilmore/Keisse came in fourth and Bartko/McGrory fifth.
During the racing Rob Hayles (GBr) abandoned due to injuries suffered from an earlier fall. Marco Villa (Ita)as well abandoned. A new team was formed of Franco Marvulli (SWI) and Mark Cavendish (GBr). According to the UCI rulebook Marco and Rob both have 36 hours to re-enter racing or their teams are dissolved and this new team becomes official.
After several more races including the Kaisersprint, Derny heats and the 500m Time Trial all of a sudden the lights began to flicker and the emergency lights in het Kuipke came on. The lighting was so poor the racing paused. Gerd Dorich started a procession of riders around the track attempting to get the spectators to form a wave. Then at 1:00am the announcer came on and suspended all racing for the evening. The city of Gent has been plagued by a series of electrical blackouts due to a rare snowfall of 6cm of wet snow. This old arena is starting to leak in several places so for the safety of the riders the judges suspended the raceso things will begin anew tomorrow night.
The City of Gent had over 10cm of wet snow on Thursday evening which played havoc with getting around. The roads and sidewalks were not plowed so walking and driving was treacherous. But that did not slow down the fans from filling the Kuipke Track for a fourth sellout evening of racing.
With Matthew Gilmore/Iljo Keisse trying to put a lock on Gent 6-day the other Belgian riders have had a chance to perform for the partisan fans. Dimitri De Fauw (BEL)/Andreas Beikirch won the Points Race and the Derny Final. Steve Schets (BEL) won the Individual Elimination and Wouter van Mechelen the Keirin final. The local phenominum Kenny De Ketele didn't win a race this evening but has been a strong rider scoring points in the Keirin, Madison, Supersprint and coming in second in the first Derny rounds.
Both Robert Hayles (GBr) and Marco Villa (Ita) returned from being injured, but are in pain caused by their crashes earlier in the week. The major crash of the night occurred during the second Madison when superstar Iljo Keisse crashed directly in front of the lap counter (a momentary lapse in concentration). Iljo was looking over his shoulder to see his partner Matthew Gilmore come in from the balustrade for the hand sling when he touched the wheel of the rider in front of him and went down heavily landing on his already injured right shoulder. It appears that Iljo has a trick shoulder which dislocates very easily. After some first aid and a new bike Iljo was cheered on as he re-entered the race. Iljo and Matthew are extremely popular in this country having, local fan clubs who wear cycling jerseys called "Friends of Matthew" and "Friends of Iljo". They travel to all the six-day races to support their heroes.
On a sad note Scott McGrory (AUS) of the team Bartko/McGrory is under the weather and had to withdraw from the racing last evening. He has been fighting a sore throat and hopes to be back tomorrow for the final day. At the end of five nights of racing Gilmore/Keisse are in first place with 309 points, Slippens/Stam (NED) are in second with 284 points at 1 lap, Risi/Betschart also at 1 lap have 189 points. Both Risi/Betschart and Slippens/Stam will gain a bonus lap when the pass the 100 point marker. Thus the final day of racing will be tight and filled with drama.
"What a Finale"
The z6s-daagse Vlaanderen Gent is a huge winter party for the city of Gent and this year the local fans had a lot to cheer about. Matthew Gilmore the veteran of 100 six-day races and Iljo Keisse the youthful track star from Gent combined for the first time in Gent to defeat the last years winners the Dutch duo Robert Slippens and Danny Stam in a dramatic finale.
The last day events began on Sunday afternoon at 1:30pm with the Gilmore/Keisse in first place with 310 points and 0 laps. In second place were Slippens/Stam 1 lap 284 points. Also at 1 lap down were the veterans Bruno Risi/Kurt Betschart with 189 points. Both Risi/Betschart and Slippens/Stam are poised to gain a bonus lap when they pass the 100 point marks. Thus all the frontrunners would be tied at zero points and it would be the battle for points.
The Team Points Race was won by Marvulli/Villa gaining 16 points with Risi/Betschart 2nd -11 points and Slippens /Stam 10 points.
The Team Elimination was won by Slippens/Stam gaining 15 points and the bonus lap, which now puts them only 3 points behind Gilmore/Keisse. During the Team Elimination there was a serious crash at the first corner. Dimitri De Fauw a local track star and fan favorite hit a slick spot on the track above the blue line and came tumbling to the bottom of the track, but not before he took out Bruno Risi who catapulted over De Fauw as he was falling. Both riders were seriously injured and had to be taken from the track for medical attention. It appeared that De Fauw and Risi had knee injuries and it would be doubtful that they would return to the race.
Slippens/Stam took the Flying Sprint with a speed of 68.497km/hr. Gilmore/Keisse were in 5th place. Matthew Gilmore won the Derny Final with the Dutch Gangmaker Joop Zijlaard. Slippens/Stam were leading with 327 points to Gilmore/Keisse with 321 points.
The Individual Elimination did not change the status of the front runners as Robert Hayles from Great Britain won. Christian Grasmann (Ger) won the second Derny Final. The team of Grasmann/Hester also won the 500m Sprint Time Trial in 63.807km/hr getting the same time as Marvulli/Villa.
The Supersprint was won by Pennsylvania track star Marty Nothstein who rides for the North American Navigators Cycling Team.
We are now down to the last event the 60-minute, 50 lap Madison. De Fauw and Risi are now official out of the race and a new team of Kurt Betschart (SWI) and Andreas Beikirch has been formed.
At 10 minutes 30 seconds into the race Slippens/Stam are at 329 points, Gilmore/Keisse 2nd place at 325 points, the new team of Betschart/Beikirch at 222, all at 0 laps. In fourth place and looking very strong are Bartko/McGrory, who have 301 points and 1 lap down.
At 22 minutes Robert Slippens is attacking, Gilmore/Keisse counter his move. Two minutes later Slippens/Stam try again. By 25 minutes Slippens/Stam have a one-lap lead. The see saw for the lead continues as Gilmore/Keisse gain the lap back at 26 minutes15 seconds. At 29 minutes the troops are riding tempo catching their breath from all the attacking.
Now that we are halfway through the final race Slippens/Stam are being shadowed by Gilmore/Keisse. When either of the riders attacks, their rival is on their wheel. At 60 minutes all is still even. There is perfect symmetry to the riding with the hand sling of riders and racers taking turns at the front and then peeling off to the end of the pack.
In the final Madison after the 60 minutes of riding, sprint points are awarded every 10 laps of the final 50 laps. The drama continues as Slippens edges Gilmore in Sprint 1. Iljo Keisse wins Sprint 2 nipping Danny Stam. Sprint 3 goes to Gilmore and now it comes down to the final sprint as the superstar from Gent, Iljo Keisse, comes over the top of Robert Slippens on the final straightaway to win, pumping his hand into the air with a victory salute. What a finale!
It has been an exciting week at the Gent 6-day. Of all the European Six-Day Races this is perhaps the classic. The riders love coming here as do the cycling fans from throughout Europe and North America.
Total Race Results