An Introduction to the 68th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Ghent

by Steve Penny


Watford, UK
16th November 2008

Cycle racing has had another poor year in terms of public relations with doping once more making more headlines than racing. Germany, the home of the European Six Day scene, has been hit the hardest with the cancelling of the 2009 Tour of Germany, the Stuttgart Six Day and Tour De France TV coverage. News also indicates that the Dortmund and Munich Sixes had the lowest attendance figures for many years, perhaps ever, and the Munich events future is reportedly in jeopardy. All this is a fall out from the poor public image cycling now has in Germany following the boom years of the mid to late 1990's when the nation followed the now disgraced Jan Ullrich at the Tour De France in numbers only usually reserved for football (soccer) World Cups. Of course Six day racing is not the Tour De France but historically Six Day racing actually precedes the Tour by around 25 years. Due to increased specialism, and money, the prestige of Six Day racing has been lost a little with riders increasingly aiming for glory on the road. They have still maintained their traditional place at the grass roots of cycle sport though and in spite of everything the Six Days in the German capital, Berlin and Bremen are still booming with seats and standing room still expected to sell out.

Another place witnessing no fall out from the ongoing scandals is the Belgium, Flemish city of Ghent where the 68th Six Days of Flanders, Ghent (Zes-Daages Van Vlaanderen, Gent in Flemish) gets under way on Tuesday, November 18th. Promoters estimate that 42,000+ of the knowledgeable Flanders cycling public will come to see the 'Men of the Night' speed around the local 166 metre, Het Kuipke track proving that even into it's 3rd century Six Day racing is still alive and well.

This Years Ghent Field - Team Photos of the Z6s Daagse Website

Former king of the Sixes and Gent Six 'Sports Director' Patrick Sercu has the job of choosing the 12 teams to take the start line in Het Kuipke. He described putting his field together as "puzzle work" but is satisfied he has "good balance with 3 leading teams and a h4 middle of the field!!!!" Leading light will be Ghent local hero Iljo Keisse who won here in 2007, to the delight of 'his' public, with German Robert Bartko. They really are the overwhelming favourites to repeat that feat again in 2008. They've become a very h4, and regular, partnership and started this winter season in good form winning the Munich Six last week and taking 3rd in Amsterdam last month. Keisse has developed into a real h4 man of the winter boards and will be going for his 10th overall Six Day victory from just over 50 starts, a h4 winning percentage, and he is still only 25 years old.

Normally amongst the top favourites for any event is the king of Six Day racing in the 1990s and new millennium (so far) 40 year old Swiss flyer Bruno Risi. He and Franco Marvulli had been tearing up the European tracks over the last two years (since Risi's 15 year partner Kurt Betschart retired in 2006) winning 13 Sixes plus a World and European Madison title. After starting the 2008 World and Olympic Madison as favourites they went home medal-less. Since then unfortunately Marvulli has been taken out with a virus since early in the Dortmund Six and so Risi will race in Ghent with Alexander Aeschbach, also from Switzerland. Aeschbach is a h4 rider in his own right, with 6 wins from over 60 starts to his name, and at 34 he will be looking forward to racing with the legend that is Bruno Risi; however they may not be h4 enough to challenge for victory and a podium place would prove to be a good result.

Before the 2006/2007 Six Day season Dutch duo Robert Slippens and Danny Stam looked ready to become kings of the Sixes following four wins in 2005/2006 but Slippens suffered serious injuries in a summer of 2006 crash. In 2007/2008 he made what seemed a full return to racing but then missed the last 6 races of the winter season due to recurring problems. This autumn it looked as if he had come back to his best winning the Amsterdam Six with, of course, Danny Stam but after pulling out of the Munich Six he is not among the starters in Ghent and the latest news is that his career could be at risk. Stam will therefore renew his 2006/2007 winter partnership with former World Points race champion and regular Dutch National Track Team rider, Peter Schep. This pairing had a number of good places and a win during Slippens' year out so they should be competitive but perhaps neither of them has the pure speed needed on the short 166 metre track. Like Risi / Aeschbach the Dutchmen will be going for the podium with anything else a big bonus.

Hello and Goodbye to Erik Zabel

During the 1950's, 60's, 70's and 80's, big name road riders made regular appearances in Six Day Races. The king of cycling Eddy Merckx himself rode 35 Sixes. Since the early-mid 90's, top road riders have been scarce on the Six day scene mostly due to the fact that teams pay more now but also due to racing schedules and team commitments. Erik Zabel is the one rider with major Tour de France and Classic credentials too, have ridden in the Sixes, starting 25 and winning 11 over the last 14 years. Most of those appearances have been in Dortmund (6 wins), were he is resident, and Munich (4 wins) plus a few rides in Bremen (1 win), Amsterdam and Rotterdam. But following his retirement from the road this October he has embarked on a farewell tour on the Six day scene, alongside young German Leif Lampater, riding in Amsterdam, Dortmund and Munich already. His 6th win in Dortmund and 2nd places at the other events shows he is still racing hard and will race for the first time in Ghent. The Belgian public will be pleased to have a chance to say 'Auf Wiedersehen' to Erik but will also be keen to see how he and Lampater shape up in what looks like a head to head with Keisse / Bartko for the win. Lampater at nearly 26 is along with Keisse the future of the Sixes and on his second start in Ghent will be motivated after the narrow loss to Keisse / Bartko in Munich last week.

Local talent

Iljo Keisse is, as noted, a star of the Sixes and Belgian track racing but there are a couple of guys who are looking to progress further over the winter albeit at slightly different stages in their careers.

Kenny De Ketele at 23 and with 18 Six Day races under his belt should be looking to break in as regular on the circuit this season. Kenny road to 4th place in the Olympic and World Madisons and won the European Madison title this year, all with Keisse, showing his one off Madison race potential. After a good ride last year with Villa taking 4th place he has once again been given a h4 partner in Andreas Beikirch. The 38 year old German has ridden in 110 Sixes and should work well with De Ketele to achieve a good result, most likely 4th or 5th but with good form they could at least remain in the race into the final weekend. Tim Mertens made his indoor Six day debut at Gent last November and he road impressively to 6th place with the more experienced Berliner Andreas Muller, albeit at 15 laps behind the winners. Sercu has re-united the Belgo-German team and it will be interesting to see if they can go as well again this time. Mertens was drafted in as a late replacement in Munich and Sercu feels he has tremendous potential. He has gained international experience too riding World Championships and World Cup scratch races. He really could be someone that within a couple of years can challenge for high places in the Sixes, providing that is the direction he sees his career taking.

Turning Point for Dimitri

Gent born and raised Dimitri De Fauw is according to Sercu "at the turning point" and needs to work hard to resurrect a once promising career riding with fellow Belgian the veteran Steven De Neef. De Fauw did after all win the UIV Talents Cup (what was once the amateur Six that precedes the main event with a 60 minute Madison every night) for under 25's with Keisse in 2002/2003. Since then he has raced for Quick-Step but has slowly fallen from grace and had no pro team contract in 2008. He was known to be a bit fragile mentally and one wonders if the psychological effects of being the rider Isaac Galvez fatally crashed into 2 years ago will have had caused irreversible damage. Last year he over trained in an attempt to ride well in the Madisons, but it looks like this year his remit will once again be to go fast in the Flying lap and 500 metre Time Trials races he excelled in during the ill fated 2006 race. He has a fan club who made themselves heard last year, so perhaps they can motivate him to kick start a once promising career, at 27, time is still on his side.

Best of the Rest

The other Belgians in the field are Nicky Cocquyt and Ingmar De Poortere who are both 24 and they have one and two Ghent starts respectively but elsewhere have not really raced at this level to date. De Poortere has ridden twice but both times he struggled mightily. Let's see if there is any improvement this time around, that meaning, a win here and there in points races etc, as mentally, night after night off the back of the field would be demoralising for de Poortere. Australian team pursuit rider Luke Roberts comes in from the 'new' Milan Six day to once again race alongside 23 year old Dane Marc Hester. Roberts has proved a solid and fairly h4 Six day rider before but this team looks like a middle to lower half ranked pairing. Also a former winner of the UIV Talents Cup Hester has now ridden around 30 Sixes with various partners and seems destined, without a regular partner, to be a bit part player and taxi driver at the Sixes. Experienced road pro Leon Van Bons best years are behind him but he has ridden a few Sixes. He teams with fellow Dutchman Pim Ligthart who despite being just 20 year old has already ridden Olympics and World Championships but other than an outing in Amsterdam, is completely untested in Six Days, so it will be interesting to see how he goes and what his future plans are.

Casper Jorgenson and Jens-Erik Madsen where part of Denmark's Olympics and Worlds Team Pursuit silver medal winning squads this year. The more well known members of the squad, Morkov and Rasmussen have already won a Six in Grenoble this year but are now signed to Saxo-Bank (formerly CSC) and team commitments mean they won't start here. Jorgenson (23) and Madsen (27) have ridden in Copenhagen, Grenoble and Milan but are fairly inexperienced in the Sixes and will probably be just looking to improve their endurance with a view to getting more starts this winter.

It is nice to see an Italian team included, but Angelo Ciccone and Fabio Masotti are really untested in the winter Sixes although they have rides in the Italian Summer Sixes, run on big outdoor tracks. Masotti, at 34, is no youngster either and after finishing 3 laps down in the Olympic Madison they look like a cheap option for the promoter to make up the numbers. Let's see if they prove us wrong?

Ciao Marco

It seems as if every year we say goodbye to at least one of the Six Day regulars and this year is no exception. The Italian Marco Villa who rode 153 and won 24 Sixes as well as being twice World Madison Champion (with Silvio Martinello) had to retire on Doctors orders in the summer due to a heart condition. Although since Martinello retired in 2003 Marco spent a lot a time being a taxi driver for young or local riders. He was, still at the time of retirement, one of the best riders on the Six Day Circuit. We wish him all the best for the future

The Start List:

Iljo Keisse (Bel) Robert Bartko (Ger)
Erik Zabel (Ger) Leif Lampater (Ger)
Bruno Risi (Swi) Alexander Aeschbach (Swi)
Peter Schep (Ned) Danny Stam (Ned)
Andreas Beikirch (Ger) Kenny De Ketele (Bel)
Dimitri De Fauw (Bel) Steven De Neef (Swi
Luke Roberts (Aus) Marc Hester (Den)
Leon Van Bon (Ned) Pim Ligthart (Ned)
Casper Jorgenson (Den) Jens-Erik Madsen (Den)
Nicky Cocquyt (Bel) Ingmar De Poortere (Bel)
Tim Mertens (Bel) Andreas Muller (Ger)
Angelo Ciccone (Ita) Fabio Masotti (Ita)

The 2008/2009 Six Day Season (so far):

20/10 - 25/10 Amsterdam - Stam / Slippens (Ned)
23/10 - 28/10 Grenoble - Rasmussen / Morkov (Den)
30/10 - 04/11 Dortmund - Zabel / Lampater (Ger)
04/11 - 09/11 Milan - Bettini (Ita) / Llaneras (Spa)
06/11 - 11/11 Munich - Keisse (Bel) / Bartko (Ger)


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THE STORY SO FAR - Day 2

by Steve Penny

Ghent, Belgium
19th November 2008

Before Thursdays racing commenced local flyer Iljo Keisse and Robert Bartko stood on top of the standings followed by the retiring, but still h4, Erik Zabel and his partner Leif Lampater in 2nd place. The word around Het Kuipke is that Zabel is actually stronger than many might have expected. Perhaps being used to the bigger gears on the road rider he needed the first two Sixes to really find his track legs although it is early days and a lot can change in a couple of nights of Six day racing. Keisse and Bartko have the advantage of being by far the fastest pair in the flying lap and 500 metre Time Trials (TT). Maximum points gained in those events alone each night will see them rack up a very tidy 180 points by the 'finale' on Sunday afternoon. Very well placed in 3rd place are Kenny De Ketele, a local boy and Keisses' partner with the Belgian national team, and Andres Beikirch. They have 99 points so are just one point away from a bonus lap and the overall lead. The 23 year old De Ketele has stated his ambition to make the podium and with 2 nights gone he is on course but over 6 hard night's fatigue can set in and things can change quickly.

After the first night Bruno Risi found himself in the unusual position of being 2 laps behind the leaders. Some semblance of normality was resumed last night when he and fellow Swiss Alexander Aeschbach got back to within one lap of the leading trio of teams. Without his regular partner Marvulli the veteran Risi will be struggling for points over the week though. Marvulli is a rider who can challenge Keisse in the Flying laps and as a fast sprinter always gains a lot of points during a long nights racing. Racing with Aeschbach is in some ways reminiscent of Risi in his latter days with Kurt Betschart when the Alpine Express (as they were known) usually needed to get a clear lap gain to win a Six. But, as noted, Aeschbach is a solid rider in his own right who should really get a chance to race in all the Sixes and not just as a taxi driver. He told us that he was a little off the pace on the first night having ridden in Milan, not Munich, which was to quote Alex "not raced at Ghent speed". Look for them to improve as the Six progresses.

Elsewhere as Patrick Sercu suggested there is a strong middle of the field with the next four teams within 2 laps of each other. Stam / Schep look unlikely to challenge for the podium but are a shoe in for 5th place barring accidents or illness. Following a promising Ghent debut last year Tim Mertens renewed his partnership with Andreas Muller and they have again looked a decent pairing. Australian Luke Roberts and Dane Marc Hester are going well in the 500 metre TTs, 2nd only to Keisse / Bartko and will probably spend the rest of the week fighting it out for 6th or 7th with Mertens / Muller.

Bringing up the rear, and as unfortunately we suggested in the preview, at a whopping 18 laps down after 2 nights are young Belgians Nicky Cocquyt and Ingmar Depoortere, the latter again appears the weak link.

The standings at 20.00 on Thursday 20 November:

Keisse / Bartko 136 Points
Zabel / Lampater 115
De Ketele / Beikirch 99
+ 1 lap
Risi / Aeschbach 70
+ 2 laps
Stam / Schep 54
+ 3 laps
Roberts / Hester 75
+ 4 laps
Mertens / Muller 81
+ 5 laps
Jorgensen / Madsen 90
+ 8 laps
Van Bon / Ligthart 66
Ciccone / Masotti 39
+ 9 laps
De Fauw / De Neef 65
+ 18 laps
Cocquyt / Depoortere 40


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THURSDAYS RACING - Day 3

by Steve Penny

Ghent, Belgium
20th November 2008

Thursday's at the Ghent Six have, in recent years, become one of the busiest nights of the whole event with a large number of students swelling the usually crammed centre of the track (the middenplien) to bursting point. Tonight is no exception and all tickets are sold out. Normally a Ghent crowd is strictly a cycling crowd but tonight it is a bit different perhaps closer to a German Six Day crowd who come to party as well as watch racing. However the boisterous, but generally well behaved, crowd are always intent on enjoying the heady mix of fast and furious racing and more than a bit of their preferred liquid refreshment, Belgian beer.

As always at a Six Day the evenings racing kicks off with a leg warming points race, here it is over 60 laps of the 166 metre track with each rider taking 30 laps each. This one goes to Kenny De Ketele and Andreas Beikirch who take a morale boosting win and 10 points that give them a bonus lap and the lead at the top of the standings.

The next race, a team Elimination (or Devil Takes the Hindmost in the UK), with 20 points on offer had the main players focused. Risi / Aeschbach surprisingly went out midway through followed by Stam / Schep, that lack of a strong sprint again telling. The Danes Jorgensen / Madsen hung in bravely but ultimately couldn't live with the top 3 teams all of whom went hard. Surprisingly Zabel had to sit up and left a Belgian showdown between Keisse and De Ketele. Keisse confirmed he is the quickest guy on this home track taking the win with his now trade mark 'bunny hop' across the finish line.

The flying lap Time Trial (TT) is a crowd favourite but tends to follow a pattern during a Six and roared on by the crowd Keisse has been the fastest so far. He is again clocking 8.83 (67.950 km/h), although there was also a very credible time from Tim Mertens of 8.97 (66.889 km/h). Keisse and Bartko are well on their way to 200 points and another bonus lap.

The evenings first 40 minutes + 10 lap Madison was, as ever, fast and furious stuff. Risi / Aeschbach seem to have come into form and pushed the field all the way arriving at the finish on the same lap as Keisse / Bartko. Risi then showed that when he needs it he can pull out a sprint and beat Keisse to the line taking the bouquet from Ghent Six Day legend Etienne De Wilde. The Belgo / German combination had the consolation of regaining the race lead and are still the team to beat.

The evening's first Derny race saw a popular win for fast improving 22 year old Belgian Tim Mertens. The individual Elimination race was a much needed win for Ghent local Dimitri De Fauw who seems to have lost his speed in the flying laps and is not competing in the Madison either, so any win is a good win for him this week. The 2nd Derny race saw a grandstand finish with Erik Zabel, paced by Joop Ziljaard, nipping ahead of Iljo Keisse, who was behind his national track coach and former Track World Champion Michel Vaarten, on the line. The 500 metre TT saw Keisse / Bartko blitz most of the field by well over a second clocking 27.87 (64.586 km/h) to get another 20 point haul and gain the bonus lap for reaching 200 points. They were followed by Hester / Roberts in 28.47 (63.224) from Jorgensen / Madsen 28.60 and Mertens / Muller 28.74 the only other team within one second.

The 2nd Madison of the night is understandably a little less frenetic than the first and the crowd seemed more interested in singing and swaying along to Euro and retro pop songs. That said the racing speed was still high and concentration must always be 100% during Madison races. Zabel / Lampater had slipped to 2 laps behind Keisse / Bartko but entered the last 10 laps of this Madison with Stam / Schep a lap ahead of the field. The Dutch pair are not great sprinters and try and break with 5 to go but are reeled in and Lampater rather than Zabel takes the sprint finish to put them back within a lap of the leaders.

With the time approaching 1 a.m. and tiredness understandably setting in the remaining races are a bit more low key. The 'Supersprint' (a mini-team elimination race with 6 eliminations followed by a 6 team sprints) goes too Dutchmen Pim Ligthart, at 20 the youngest rider in the race, and 36 year old former Tour De France stage winner Leon Van Bon from Mertens / Muller and the Italians Ciccone / Masotti who are as predicted are struggling in 11th place and need a win. Next was a straight forward Scratch race over 20 laps taken by Tim Mertens confirming his potential, he represented Belgium in the Scratch at the World Championship and recent World Cup meeting in Manchester.

The 3rd round of Derny races is between riders from the top 6 in the overall standings and saw the ever competitive Joop Ziljaard pace Bruno Risi to the win from De Ketele and Bartko. The last Elimination race of the night had the top guys hanging at the back of the field, with a view to getting off early to their Hotels, allowing the lower ranked riders to contest the victory. This one goes to Nicky Cocquyt from Steve De Neef in the traditional two up sprint. Even with the crowd thinning out it will have been a morale booster for Cocquyt, who also took the nights closing Keirin, whose partner Ingmar Depoortere has struggled again.


The standings after day 3 are:

Keisse / Bartko 215 Points
+ 1 lap
Zabel / Lampater 172
De Ketele / Beikirch 156
Risi / Aeschbach 118
+ 3 laps
Stam / Schep 91
+ 4 laps
Roberts / Hester 112
+ 5 laps
Mertens / Muller 136
+ 7 laps
Jorgensen / Madsen 135
+ 11 laps
Van Bon / Ligthart 129
+ 13 laps
De Fauw / De Neef 96
Ciccone / Masotti 65
+ 31 laps
Cocquyt / Depoortere 75


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FRIDAY NIGHT IN GHENT - Day 4

by Steve Penny

Ghent, Belgium
21st November 2008

Fridays at the Ghent Six Day are traditionally the 'big' night on and off the track. On the track anyone with serious aspirations to win the event must be able to still dig deep and avoid losing laps in the Madison. Off the track many locals put on their jacket (coat) and tie, bring their wife or girlfriend and spot the local professional riders of past and present who flock to the VIP restaurant and expensive seats. This year will no different and all the tickets are again sold out which will add fuel to local hero Iljo Keisses already burning fire. When one talks about local riders it can normally mean within 50 km of a place however Iljo's father owns the which is less than 500 metres from Het Kuipke, so this really is local. Before and after the nights racing the De Karper is full of fans coming or going to the Six and is, naturally, the home of the Iljo Keisse fan club.

THE RACING

The Standings before Fridays start:

Keisse / Bartko 215 Points
+ 1 lap
Zabel / Lampater 172
De Ketele / Beikirch 156
Risi / Aeschbach 118
+ 3 laps
Stam / Schep 91
+ 4 laps
Roberts / Hester 112
+ 5 laps
Mertens / Muller 136
+ 7 laps
Jorgensen / Madsen 135
+ 11 laps
Van Bon / Ligthart 129
+ 13 laps
De Fauw / Deneef 96
Ciccone / Masotti 65
+ 31 laps
Cocquyt / Depoortere 75

After the traditional introduction of the teams the opening point's race got the racing underway at 20:30 local time, it was a good start for Nicky Cocquyt / Ingmar Depoortere who took the first victors bouquet of the night. Cocquyt took the final sprint after he had won 2 races very late last night and with Depoorteres struggles in the Madison it's obvious the young Belgians at least had some early cheer.

The Team elimination got off to a bad start with a heavy looking, and sounding, collision bringing down Marc Hester and Nicky Cocquyt, a mixed start to the night for the Belgian. The racing resumed quickly though and the top 4 teams, after sitting up in the last lap of the points race, set a hot pace that only Mertens / Muller of the rest could follow. There was then some confusion with Bartko / Keisse and Risi / Aeschbach both thinking they'd been eliminated and slowing down. Almost by default the last 2 teams standing were Lampater / Zabel and De Ketele / Beikirch. The two younger partners went head to head but Lampater out sprinted De Ketele to claim the 20 points and move the Germans to within 6 points of 200 points and a bonus lap.

Fridays crowd pleasing flying lap time trial (TT) saw Tim Mertens improve on his Thursday night time clocking 8.94 (67.114 km/h) however Keisse again took centre stage, as the decibels increased he flew around the tight bends in 8.85. A little down on his 8.83 on Thursday, but still 10 more points in the bag.

The first 40 minute + 10 lap Madison started without Marc Hester, still suffering the effects of his heavy fall an hour earlier in the Team Elimination race. The racing was fast but tight and tactical and the top 5 teams entered the final 10 laps at least 1 lap up on the rest of the field. There was a brave effort from Risi / Aeschbach to break away but they were caught 4 laps from home and Keisse again showed his speed and crowd pleasing skills with another bunny hop across the finish line. With Hester down, for now, Aussie Luke Roberts paired with Nicky Cocqyut giving Ingmar Depoortere a break, they finished 4 laps down.

This year saw the introduction of a more environmentally friendly fluid being used to power the Derny motors. Of course it is better for the health of the paying customers and our much maligned planet but the smell in the air the Derny bikes have traditionally brought to Het Kuipke is gone forever. The first Derny race over 60 laps was for the bottom half of the leader board. Crowd pleaser and fierce competitor Joop Ziljaard as ever got the crowd involved taking his rider Dimitri De Fauw off the front. With 2 laps left though they were locked in a 3 way tussle that Pim Ligthart won behind another legend of motor pacing, Dutchman, Bruno Walrave.

The first of two individual Elimination races on tonight's programme was another chance for the lesser lights to shine as Steve Deneef took a rare win in the two up sprint from one time road man sprinter Leon Van Bon. The Derny race for the top 6 teams produced the usual excitement, Derny races being 2nd only to the chases in popularity at Ghent. This one saw Risi, behind Ziljaard, overtaken very close to the line by Kenny De Ketele paced by Luc Uytfanghe. This was a rare win for the Belgian pacer who sports a rather large handlebar moustache. The 500 metre TT was once again a Keisse / Bartko fest in a winning time of 28.03 (64.217 km/h). Although slower than Thursday, it was still over a second better than the rest. Tiredness amongst the other teams showed with neither Jorgensen / Madsen or Mertens / Muller going below 29 seconds this time.

Marc Hester still hadn't returned to the track, so Luke Roberts was again joined by Nicky Cocqyut for the 2nd Madison. The main battle though would once again be at the top of the leader board with Keisse / Bartko closing in on 300 points and yet another bonus lap. At their current rate of scoring they will have close to 500 points by the finish on Sunday. Zabel / Lampater went into the last Madison comfortably ahead of De Ketele / Beikirch on points but the latter paring had close to 200 points and their bonus lap. Risi / Aeschbach were hanging in at 1 lap down in 4th place but in reality they'd have to take 2 laps back to win this Six Day and that is unlikely to happen with the form Keisse, especially, and Bartko are in. Things didn't quite go to script in the race though. With Zabel beating Aeschbach to the line, the Swiss banging his handlebars in frustration, Stam / Schep joined them 1 lap ahead of Keisse / Bartko and De Ketele / Beikirch. The win gave the German pair a clear lap lead although Keisse / Bartko moved closer to a bonus lap that will see them regain the lead. Both Bruno Risi and Danny Stam crossed the line shaking their heads although the reason why was unclear. Worryingly for Kenny De Ketele, he twice came on the wrong side of his partner Andreas Beikirch to make a hand sling change and Beikirch was noticeably displeased. They slipped to 4th overall and after 4 nights fatigue and a little pressure could be telling on young De Ketele. Still that bonus lap would see them return to 3rd.

Normally the next event, the Supersprint, would see the top guys easing off especially following a tough Madison and with the exception of Keisse / Bartko that was the case. With the favourites needing 10 points for a bonus lap, and 20 on offer to the winner, they stayed with it into the 6 team sprint but blew up on the last lap. The winners were Tim Mertens and Andreas Muller who continue to clock up decent performances night after night. The 20 lap Scratch race was a chance to indulge the crowd in some clapping and Mexican waving. The 8 laps see the racing start and a sprint win for Dimitri De Fauw, who has had a disappointing week, but showed he can still fly in a bunch sprint.

The last round of Derny racing for the main players saw Andreas Beikirch go half a lap up on the field within 20 laps. Perhaps still fuming from his earlier Madison problem he caught the field soon after only for Iljo Keisse, paced by Michel Vaarten, to follow his example and try the same thing. With the field in sight Beikirch, after settling at the back for a while, decided it was time to go again and he went to the front in pursuit of Keisse who was continuing to close. With 3 laps left though Keisse was out of the saddle and made the junction. He still had work to do, but was then paced all the way to the front beating Beikirch on the line and he was again disappointed, this time with his pacer. The Derny racing is all about show and although Keisse did have to go hard even a non cynic would have to agree it was a win 'made for the home crowd'.

The last individual Elimination race went too Ingmar Depoortere who showed that away from the Madison, he is a decent trackie. The only other item of note was De Ketele taking a few points to get that bonus lap for himself and Beikirch. The last Derny round went to Steve Deneef, with his 2nd win of the night, behind Ziljaard who got his win. Closing the night were two Keirin races, a recent addition to the Ghent Six, the first going to Luke Roberts who had a quiet night after the accident involving his partner Hester. Bartko gained the points his team needed for a bonus lap and a return to the overall lead. The 2nd and final race on the programme was another late night bouquet for Dimitri De Fauw, 2 wins each for him and Deneef tonight, who pulverised the field of 6 with a sprinting master class.

Standings after Day 4:

Keisse / Bartko 302 Points
Zabel / Lampater 246
+ 1 lap
De Ketele / Beikirch 207
Risi / Aeschbach 164
+ 2 laps
Stam / Schep 118
+ 8 laps
Mertens / Muller 190
+ 11 laps
Jorgensen / Madsen 170
+ 12 laps
Roberts / Hester 129
+ 15 laps
Van Bon / Ligthart 193
+ 18 laps
De Fauw / Deneef 150
+ 20 laps
Ciccone / Masotti 90
+ 40 laps
Cocquyt / Depoortere 111


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SATURDAY NIGHT IN GHENT - Day 5

by Steve Penny

Ghent, Belgium
22nd November 2008

The Ghent Six goes into the final two days with 4 teams still in with a chance of taking the overall honours at 18:00 (CET) on Sunday afternoon. In the pole position are of course Iljo Keisse and Robert Bartko, who look poised to repeat their 2007 victory. However, they will be wary of complacency as they themselves only won last year after a late break that took a lap from the field.

Kenny De Ketele is putting up a great show, currently in 3rd place with Andreas Beikirch. He really wanted to race with Keisse here in Gent, but for the immediate future Iljo is committed to his partnership with Robert Bartko and De Ketele will have to wait a few more years; but he has time on his side.

Alex Aeschbach has settled into his role alongside the boss of the Six Days, Bruno Risi. As noted previously, Alex was struggling a little in the first days coming from the Milan Six, which he told us was "very dangerous". The crash Paolo Bettini had is available for all to see on 'You Tube' but he assures us that was far from being the only spill over the Six Days.

After last nights crash Marc Hester was limping heavily and looks to be out of the Six, although his name continued to appear on the overall standings, meaning Luke Roberts will contest only the individual races during the remainder of the programme.

THE RACING

The Standings before Fridays start:

Keisse / Bartko 302 Points
Zabel / Lampater 246
+ 1 lap
De Ketele / Beikirch 207
Risi / Aeschbach 164
+ 2 laps
Stam / Schep 118
+ 8 laps
Mertens / Muller 190
+ 11 laps
Jorgensen / Madsen 170
+ 12 laps
Roberts / Hester 129
+ 15 laps
Van Bon / Ligthart 193
+ 18 laps
De Fauw / Deneef 150
+ 20 laps
Ciccone / Masotti 90
+ 40 laps
Cocquyt / Depoortere 111

The opening Point's race warms up the riders as well as offering a chance to start the night in style. This evening Mertens and Muller took the win from Keisse / Bartko continuing their good showing, Mertens really is one for the future. The Team Elimination is always run off at a fast pace and tonight was no different, Risi / Aeschbach seem determined to race hard and close in on a bonus lap, so they were left in at the end with Stam / Schep. The two up sprint goes to Schep from Aeschbach in a clash of two non sprinters.

The flying lap Time Trial (TT) is once again a procession for Keisse / Bartko, albeit a very popular one, in a blistering 8.79 seconds (68.259) km/h. With Franco Marvulli absent and Dimitri De Fauw again not in good form there have been no challengers to the Keisse domination around the tight 166 metre track.

The first Madison, over the usual 40 minutes + 10 laps, is a good one for Risi / Aeschbach and De Ketele / Beikirch who gain a lap on the field going into the last 10 laps. Surprisingly the De Ketele / Beikirch combination attack with 5 laps to go and thus nullify any potential to win the sprint. Aeschbach easily came past De Ketele on the last bend. The lap gained put the Swiss pair just 4 points away from a bonus and the outright lead by 1 lap. Their points total won't gain them the Six Day win but being a lap ahead would.

The first Derny race saw a frightening looking crash for Casper Jorgensen who touched his pacing motorbike and fell heavily on a bend. He got up too finish a race won by young sensation Tim Mertens. The Italian pair Ciccone / Masotti has had a tough Six Days, so it was a long overdue win in the individual Elimination race for Fabio Masotti. The 34 year old from Udine, in the North-East of Italy, took it from 'lowlander' Pim Ligthart. The second Derny race was another seemingly dramatic last gasp, bunny hop across the line win for Iljo Keisse and his National Track coach Michel Vaarten. Another one for the home crowd maybe? Either way, the crowd were entertained and that is all part of any Six Day race; giving the public what they want. The 500 metre TT is another home banker for Keisse / Bartko, although there can be no pre-arrangements against the clock and their TT domination is again absolute, posting 28.17 (63.898 km/h). A decent time from Van Bon / Ligthart of 28.72 (62.674 km/h) saw them the only other team to break 29 seconds.

The final late night Madison of this Six was another titanic struggle between the main teams. Very close to the finish, Risi / Aeschbach, and Stam / Schep had a 1 lap lead over the other top teams and with the 4 points for a bonus lap, guaranteed they were close to taking a 2 lap lead at the top of the standings. In the end though, De Ketele / Beikirch and Zabel / Lampater followed soon after by Keisse / Bartko, got back on equal laps with Keisse taking a close sprint for first place. No time for bunny hops on this occasion. Risi / Aeschbach did have the consolation of a bonus lap to take the overall lead at 1 lap clear. Zabel / Lampater had 290 points and Keisse / Bartko 369, so both of those teams will have their bonus lap before the final Madison on Sunday afternoon. It's been a good comeback performance from the Swiss riders after such a bad start when they lost those 2 laps on the first night.

After a hard Madison for the leaders, it was once again the turn of the riders from further down the field to shine in the late night / early morning Supersprint and Scratch races. Dimitri De Fauw took the Supersprint and after Tim Mertens led the crowd in a Mexican wave, Leon Van Bon took the Scratch from Luke Roberts and Erik Zabel who took his team 5 points closer to the bonus lap. The 3rd round of Derny racing was won by Bruno Risi and the big guy himself, Joop Ziljaard, from De Ketele and Vaarten. The last individual Elimination race is merely a warm down for the main players and Iljo Keisse, Andreas Beikirch and Erik Zabel were 3 of the first 4 to go out, no doubt all had a good nights rest on their minds before Sunday's big showdown. With only the lower placed riders left in the bunch it was the well rested Luke Roberts who took the sprint from Nicky Cocquyt. The 4th and final Derny race, again involving the lesser lights, was taken by De Fauw who has won a few races over the week, although most have been after 12:30am when the crowd is thinning and big names easing back.

All that remained to wrap up another busy programme were the Keirin races won by Nicky Cocquyt and the busy Tim Mertens, respectively. Zabel got the points required for the bonus lap to sit on top of the standings with Lampater going into the final day. With the two TT's on Sundays programme, Keisse / Bartko will; barring accidents, start the hour long Madison in poll position with a massive lead on points and only needing to defend rather than attack.

Standings after Day 5:

Zabel / Lampater 302 Points
Risi / Aeschbach 216
+ 1 lap
Keisse / Bartko 376
De Ketele / Beikirch 241
+ 3 laps
Stam / Schep 164
+ 11 laps
Mertens / Muller 240
+ 13 laps
Jorgensen / Madsen 206
+ 18 laps
Van Bon / Ligthart 264
+ 22 laps
Roberts / Hester 149
+ 25 laps
De Fauw / Deneef 197
+ 25 laps
Ciccone / Masotti 141
+ 48 laps
Cocquyt / Depoortere 144


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FINAL DAY IN GHENT - Day 6

by Steve Penny

Ghent, Belgium
23rd November 2008

44th Toekomst Zes Daagse

 Courtesy of MEGAFOTO.be
Before the main event each night the Toekomst Zes Daagse (Futures Six Day) race, which is part of the Under 25 UIV Cup, takes place. These events for potential Six Day riders of the future normally have a flying lap or 500 metre Time Trial followed by a 200 lap Madison with 4 intermediate sprints every 50 laps. On the final day they just race a straight forward 250 lap Madison with 5 sprints, again every 50 laps. The week was plagued with crashes and on Friday there were 3 crashes in 9 minutes of racing, although thankfully no one was seriously injured. The class act in the field all week has been Belgians Tosh Vande der Sande and Stijn Steels, nephew of former roadster Tom Steels. They both hail from the Waasland area of Belgian, close to Antwerp. At the end of the Six Days they won clearly by 2 laps, from Americans Guy East and Austin Carroll, themselves winners of the same event at the Dortmund Six. In 3rd at 3 laps were Belgians Van Immerseel and Vlasselaar with the rest of the 11 team field 8 laps or more behind. It will be interesting to see if Vande der Sande, who'll be just 18 years old on the 28th November and Steels 19, follow recent winners of the UIV Cup like De Ketele and Mertens, into the pro Sixes or pursue careers on the road.

Tech Talk

With bicycle and equipment technology on over drive in the current market, unsurprisingly some of the latest gear is on view here on the Ghent track. The frames are a mixture of the latest lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium. Carbon is also used on some forks, seat posts, handlebar stems etc. The majority of riders now have the straight rather than curved forks too. Everybody is riding on the 'hi profile' deep carbon rimmed 'zipp' style wheels which are stiffer and more aero dynamic than traditional wheels and a few are even using three, four and five spoke versions. In the Derny races and TT's they use a disk wheel at the back but they are not used in the Madison and Points races as they are in the World Championship races these days.



During each night of the Six the riders will race approx 120 kilometres. That may not sound like a lot to club riders but when one considers the changing speeds they race at plus the stopping and starting at late hours of the night it is still impressive to witness. In the Madison, Points and Elimination races they use gear ratios of 52 x 16. For the TT's it is a 52 x 15 and for the Derny paced races the much bigger 54 x 14.



SUNDAYS RACING

Standings after Day 5:

Zabel / Lampater 302 Points
Risi / Aeschbach 216
+ 1 lap
Keisse / Bartko 376
De Ketele / Beikirch 241
+ 3 laps
Stam / Schep 164
+ 11 laps
Mertens / Muller 240
+ 13 laps
Jorgensen / Madsen 206
+ 18 laps
Van Bon / Ligthart 264
+ 22 laps
Roberts / Hester 149
+ 25 laps
De Fauw / Deneef 197
+ 25 lapsv Ciccone / Masotti 141
+ 48 laps
Cocquyt / Depoortere 144

After some confusion in earlier reports it was confirmed Marc Hester retired from the Ghent Six due to an injury sustained in his fall on Friday night, Luke Roberts again only racing in the individual events.

The Sunday programme has only 2 Elimination and Derny races and the Keirin is given a miss. The opener is as always a Points race that went to the fresh Luke Roberts. Team Elimination races always seem to see the main riders motivated and Sunday was no different. The 20 points for the win going to Peter Schep / Danny Stam from Kenny De Ketele / Andreas Beikirch. The Dutch team have had a solid if unspectacular Six comfortably in 5th place in what has been their first ride together in a couple of years.

The 500 metre TT has been dominated by Iljo Keisse and Robert Bartko who made it 6 out of 6 in a time of 28.15 (63.943 km/h). The 20 points for the win took them over 400 points and gained the inevitable bonus lap ensuring they'll go into the final Madison in control of the race. The first of the two Derny races was won by Danny Stam behind Michel Vaarten. The individual Elimination race saw Angelo Ciccone try to give Dimitri De Fauw the slip attacking from high up the banking in a track sprinting move, but De Fauw was just too quick over the last 100 metres and took the race by half a wheel. The final Derny race featured Keisse, Zabel and Risi for what was a showdown of the big guns. It was another crowd pleaser, although it was Zabel who took the win from Keisse in a tight finish.

Courtesy of the Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen website
During the 20 minute pause in the racing, Erik Zabel had his farewell from the riders and spectators before being presented with a gift by the organisers and taking a couple of laps of honour. Despite being at the end of his career, Zabel has raced hard all week in Ghent, coming in anything less than top condition would not allow you to be so close in the overall standings as some high profile riders have discovered in the past.

The racing resumed with a Supersprint win for De Fauw / Deneef with Dimitri taking the sprint. The word was; the organisers have actually been happy with De Fauw despite his lack of TT speed. He will have a fresh start in the New Year, racing for a Dutch track (and small road race) team, with Stam, Slippens and Schep. He is something of an enigma in Belgian track racing. The track team route into more Six Days may well get his once promising career going again.

The Iljo Keisse show continued in the 166 metre Flying lap TT where the 'Genteer' romped around in another impressive time of 8.78 seconds; no one else again broke 9 seconds. The last race before the 'finale' was the Scratch won in fine style by Tim Mertens. As we keep saying, he really is a rider for the future.

Finale of the 68th Ghent Six Days

The final 60 minute Madison of the Ghent Six has 5 bonus sprints every 10 laps over the last 50 laps. The 'finale' of a Six is the only time you have the bonus sprints that are part of Championship Madison racing.

Keisse / Bartko will need to be attentive, but it would be a big surprise if they gave up a race losing lap. De Ketele / Beikirch will want to push for the podium, so their will be a few little battles going on during the final hour. Most of the fields remit will be forming a peleton, so the shape of the chase is clear for the spectators to follow.

Top 5 before the Final Madison:

Keisse / Bartko 424 Points
Zabel / Lampater 316
Risi / Aeschbach 224
+ 1 lap
De Ketele / Beikirch 255
+ 3 laps
Stam / Schep 193

The final action of the 2008 Ghent Six saw the top 4 teams swapping laps early on but De Ketele made the most progress getting up onto the same lap as the 3 teams above them. From then on it was only a matter of whether Keisse / Bartko would crack or not. With the bonus sprints unimportant, De Ketele / Beikirch tried to gain a lap with 50 to go but after pushing out a half lap advantage they were reeled in fairly quickly. Zabel / Lampater tried with 33 to go and it was Risi / Aeschbach not Keisse / Bartko that brought them back with 25 to go. That affectively killed any chance the Swiss had of making a last ditch attack. To rub salt in the opposition wounds, Keisse / Bartko jumped away with 17 laps to go. After their earlier efforts no one could respond and it was quite an easy lap gain in the end for Keisse / Bartko who got back into the bunch to a standing ovation with 5 laps to go, where they began their celebrations. Not wishing to humiliate the opposition, they didn't charge to the front and cross the line first but cruised across the finish for the result the crowd wanted. The organization will be happy too, as a home win means the fans will be back in their thousands for more of the same next year.

Who said Six Day racing was boring?

Courtesy of the Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen website

Final Standings:

Keisse / Bartko 436 Points
+ 1 lap
Zabel / Lampater 348
De Ketele / Beikirch 271
Risi / Aeschbach 242
+ 7 laps
Stam / Schep 205
+ 15 laps
Mertens / Muller 276
+ 17 laps
Jorgensen / Madsen 228
+ 22 laps
Van Bon / Ligthart 302
+ 28 laps
De Fauw / Deneef 251
Roberts / Cocquyt 162
+ 31 laps
Ciccone / Masotti 182
+ 48 laps
Depoortere and Hester Abandoned


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Coming In From the Cold - Inside the Gent Six

by Steve Penny

Gent
23rd November 2008

Winter is here and there are no Classics or Grand Tours to watch on cable TV and only the hardy will be out on their bikes clocking up the miles as if it were spring, summer or autumn. So for some British cycling enthusiasts and a fair few North Americans too, this can only mean one thing, a trip to the Ghent Six. The city has been a home from home for British cyclists and cycling fans alike since the 1960s when the legendary Tom Simpson, amongst others, lived in the city. Two of the late Simpson's daughters have lived here for many years and when they enter 'Het Kuipke' (meaning the bowl) the Six Day velodrome, or the 'Sportspaleis' as it was once known, there is a bust in honour of 'Gentleman Tom'. With 42,000 fans from home and abroad attending over the week the Six Day race is now unofficially described locally as 'the Gent Winter Festival', and it really is more than just another bike race.

During the final weekend of the 68th edition biting winds coming in from the North Sea (20 miles to the west), hail, sleet, rain and more than an inch or two of snow fell at various times, sometimes it seemed like all at once. But once you came in from the cold into the warm, compact confines of Het Kuipke for many it is like you have arrived at your own home from home. The building is 50+ years old and apart from some renovation in the lobby and main bar area you imagine not a lot has changed over the years and the hard wooden backed seats around the 166 metre, steeply banked, track belong to a bygone era. The roof has apparently been in need of repair for many years and it was a strange sight seeing two pigeons flying around the old rafters on Sunday afternoon, there must be a hole somewhere. Can you imagine that happening inside one of the state of the art 21st Century arenas that house Ice Hockey and Basketball in North America? But that is why generations of locals and foreigners alike have come from near and far every November to see Six Day racing Belgian style, the cyclists change but most other things don't. People keep coming back to meet with and talk to old friends. Some talking about their own racing days, although unlike in the English speaking world the majority of bike fans are certainly not cyclists themselves. The Flemish just love cycling it's part of their history and culture so most will come with their partners, family members, friends, work colleagues to chat and meet people they met here in years gone by, it's like a reunion. The MCs, journalists, photographers and organisational staff seem to change little from year to year adding a familiarity people enjoy and welcome, like I said a home from home. Of course others will be here for the very first time and I'm sure many will make new friends and meet new people, either way all will become united by their love for this event. There are no light shows, glitz, glamour, show girls, cheer leaders or separate rooms for discos and live music as in Munich, Berlin or Rotterdam, just one podium girl and Miss Sport Belgian to present the prizes and woo the male members of the audience. The public wouldn't have it any other way though as this is a spit and sawdust blue collar Six Day, just as it's always been.

The track centre, or Middenplein in Flemish, is the hub of this social gathering. As the cyclist's proceed to circle the track for lap after lap Euro and retro pop music blares continuously through the speaker's, men and women of all ages drink (plastic) glass after glass of the local beer(s). Belgium is of course a country of many beers and some foreigners, and a few locals, will leave having underestimated the strength of the local brews. Unlike weekends in towns and cities across the UK though there are no fist fights or arguments here, just many a sore head the next day. There are even a group of fans, from Southern England, dressed in fancy dress Scottish kilts and hats. They arguably turn as many heads as the females in the crowd, many of whom are the wives and girlfriends of local bike riders from past and present. The cyclists themselves are the eye candy for the females in the audience though and nowhere else in the world are low - medium income pro bike riders so sought after.

But of course it is not all about beer and if you want just a Pepsi, lemonade or soft drink you can get that too. Around the hall's perimeter there are a couple of cafes one selling everything you get in the centre but also, a much needed, coffee or a local drink called Cecemel, a kind of cold chocolate milk drink. This product was actually sponsoring the Derny races and the motor pacers themselves. The large bellies some of these pacers sport may not actually be the best publicity for the product though, but that of course is coincidental!!!

At German Sixes food is very much part of the mix, but in Gent it doesn't appear that culinary excellence is all that important. You can get a burger or hot dog and with cigarette smoking now banned inside it is the greasy smell of the burgers that now seems to stay in the nostrils long after you've passed the stall. I also saw a stall selling pizza in the shape of a 'French baguette' and they seemed to be doing a decent trade. But if you do want to sit down and eat there is a 'public restaurant' where for 18-25 Euros you can have the soup of the day, a chicken or steak dinner with salad and, literally, a mountain of frietes (French fries). The non meat option was a shrimp salad nothing for vegetarians, but being teetotal or a vegetarian is akin to having a mental health problem at any Six Day race (I know as I'm both). The VIP restaurant I imagine has the same menu as the public place, although it was off limits for me, and this is where the organisers and sponsors bring their friends, clients and staff to eat and afterwards sit in the best seats on the home straight. In Germany the VIPs and corporate sponsors always sit and eat at tables in the track centre, but in Gent that would be sacrilege as the Middenplien, like cycling itself, belongs solely to the people.

As another Six ended the fans, warmed by another win for local man Iljo Keisse, drifted off into the snowy evening. All chatting away in Flemish, French and English about what they'd seen and many, I'm sure, were talking about coming back again next year to do it all again. As the saying goes "if it isn't broke don't fix it".

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