An Introduction to the 69th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Ghent

by Steve Penny

Watford, UK
22th November 2009

At around 8.15pm local time on Tuesday the start gun will sound to begin the 69th Six Days of Flanders, Ghent (or Zes-Daages Van Vlaanderen, Gent in Flemish). With that bang the 24 riders will set off on the first of their thousands of laps around the famous 166 metre 'Het Kuipke' track before the finish at around 6pm on Sunday evening.

Before a pedal is turned in anger the riders, organisation and spectators will stand silent and pay their respects to Dimitri De Fauw, the local rider who took his own life just over two weeks ago. I had spoken to Dimitri at the Ghent Six during the afternoon of 25th November 2006. After a disappointing couple of years of being told not to ride the track and raced in the wrong races by the Quick-Step Team he was back were he loved to be on the boards at his local Six Day race. While taking a massage he told me how he was content and in the form of his life winning all the time trials and going close to the track records each and every night. Less than 8 hours later in the early hours of Sunday 26th November 2006 his life had changed forever following his fatal collision with Isaac Galvez. Since then as spectators and reporters all we saw in Ghent was the below par cyclist Dimitri on the track. None of us read between the lines and saw that the real reason for his loss of form was ultimately the depression that followed the accident and the extent of this depression is now known. Whilst initially in shock life went on as normal for most of us in attendance that tragic night in 2006. For his family and those close to Isaac Galvez their lives where changed forever. For Dimitri De Fauw it was the beginning of the end and all that is left to say is RIP.

Six Days in Trouble?

Following on from the well publicised news that the UCI have proposed taking the Madison, Points and Individual Pursuit out of the Olympics the news on the future of Six Day racing, in its European spiritual home of Germany is once again bad.

Last year we reported the cancellation of the 2009 Stuttgart Six and this autumn we saw the loss of the traditional season opening Dortmund Six whose existence dated back to 1926. Dortmund has also cancelled the traditional Boxing Day 'Grosser Weihnachtspreis' meeting after 72 editions, another sad loss for track racing. Attendance at the Munich Six is down once again and the organiser has been saying that "although he will fight to keep the event in some format" he had also earlier said that "every product has its life cycle and perhaps this event has reached its end" which does not sound positive for an event that has traditionally been considered the World Championship of Six Day racing.

The news from the Ghent Six organisation though is once again good. They've spent €320,000 to repair the leaky roof and made improvements to bathrooms and other such facilities which signals a strong commitment on there part. The ticket sales are once again expected to go over 40,000 for the six days meaning that 'Het Kuipke' will again have very close to a full house for most nights.

The Teams and Riders

To complement the spectator boom the organisation believes they have put together their best field in years. At the press conference on Thursday sports director, and undisputed king of the sixes, Patrick Sercu said:

"It was puzzle to put together, but I think we can reasonably say that it is the best quality field we've had in years. We will have the reigning World Madison Champions Alex Rasmussen and Michael Morkov, and after 18 years Bruno Risi will say goodbye to his audience in Gent. It will be a fascinating duel for victory here"

He also explained the reasons behind some of his team choices noting that Iljo Keisse and Robert Bartko dominant displays in the last few years had been why he'd decided to split them up:

"With Keisse and Bartko apart and Keisse not racing with Kenny De Ketele we now have two top teams instead of one."

'Kaiser of the Kuipke'

Iljo Keisse will return to his local track after failing a dope test at the 2008 Ghent Six and subsequently missing the second half of the last winter season. He has since been cleared and avoided a full two year ban. He returned to Six Day racing in Amsterdam then following the news of his acquittal raced at the more low key Grenoble Six in late October. He did not race at the Munich Six and he himself is not sure how his form will be this week having said:

"I'm a little scared of Gent and I will be content when it is over. My general condition and top speed haven't returned yet. In Grenoble I raced with Gianni Meersman, who rode well, but hadn't been on the track in five years. In Amsterdam I raced with Kenny De Ketele, but again the speed wasn't quite there."

For his home race, Keisse will be paired with young German star Roger Kluge who has had a good start to the 2009/10 season winning the European Madison title and the Amsterdam Six with Keisses' former partner Robert Bartko. Kluge and Bartko started the Munich Six as favourites but following Bartkos crash on the first night Kluge had a number of partners before finishing a creditable 5th with Kenny De Ketele. The young German is also a silver medallist in the Olympic Points race and now has a road contract with the Milram team for 2010. That move could see him concentrate on the road and thus have a limited future on the track. For now though with Keisse probably more motivated than ever on home soil and Kluge seeming to be in good form, this pair should be on the podium come Sunday afternoon.

Whether they make the top step or not will depend upon a few things:

-Keisse will need to have something close to his old form and, importantly, have that old speed back... a big advantage on such a short track.
-Then, can Kluge adapt quickly to the shorter track? His talent is undoubted but he has no previous experience on the two short Six Day tracks in Ghent or Bremen.

Farewell to a Six Day Legend

Bruno Risi now in his 42nd year has decided this will be his last season on the Six day circuit. So this week will be the last time Belgian fans will see a man who made his debut in the professional Sixes here in Ghent way back in 1991. That debut was the start of a record breaking partnership with boyhood friend Kurt Betschart that saw them win 37 Sixes together. The pair had their first Ghent victory in 1993 and followed that up with wins in 1996 and 2002.

Since Betschart retired in the summer of 2006; rather than slow down, Risi has gone on to win a further 21 Sixes, 16 of those victories coming with fellow Swiss rider, and partner here in Ghent, Franco Marvulli. The partnership seemed to be rock solid after a record run of 15 Six Day wins and World and European Madison titles between September 2006 and the start of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They went into the Beijing Madison among the top favourites but performed below par and spent part of the last Six Day season seemingly in dispute and racing mostly with different partners. However they've started the 2009/10 season back together and any fall out seems to have been put behind them, as the pair won the blue riband Munich Six last week. That was Risi's 9th victory in that event and leaves him on 59 career Six Day wins coming into Ghent.

Looking back over Bruno's impressive career though, Ghent has been the least successful of all the 'classic' Six Days for him. A good reason for that may be that his home Six in Zurich used to start the day after Ghent finished and he and Betschart may well have, at times, kept there powder dry with Zurich in mind. However in this his 19th and final Ghent appearance you'd have to expect that he will be going all out for a last shot at a 4th Flanders win. Also note that Marvulli having won in Zurich, Dortmund, Munich, Stuttgart, Berlin and Copenhagen but never at Ghent will surely be equally as motivated to bring home the bacon for the Swiss couple. Barring illness or injury they should be the team to watch

For further information on this team see our interviews: Bruno Risi Interview
Franko Marvulli Interview

Uncomfortable Rivals

The statement from Patrick Sercu that 'Keisse and Robert Bartkos dominant displays was why he'd decided to split them up' may or may not be 100% true. Because following the suspension of Keisse last winter his partner for 7 Six day wins Robert Bartko had been publically critical of the Ghent born rider saying that:

"He (Keisse) didn't do anyone any favours - not himself, not the other riders and certainly not the Six Day races."

So here we have local rider Kenny De Ketele paired with Robert Bartko and Keisse paired with Kluge who is Bartkos current Madison partner for Germany and at the Sixes. Last year De Ketele made no secret of the fact that he felt he was ready to take on the responsibility to ride with hometown hero Keisse to make an all Belgian team. It is probably the case that De Ketele would probably have liked to ride with Keisse this year but on this occasion, as on many before, it looks like Mr Sercu has made the right choice. There are a few potential problems though as Bartko had a heavy fall in Munich and his condition, although deemed fit enough to start, is unknown. It will also be interesting to see how the various pairs accept on a professional level the decision made by the organisers because one would suspect that the Germans, and the Belgians, would have preferred to stay together. Will Keisse and Bartko hold any grudges after those comments and how will that affect De Ketele and Kluge?

We have to hope that all concerned are professional and motivated by the thought of winning the prestigious Ghent Six. I am sure De Ketele, having taken his first Six this February in Hasselt, will be going all out for his first Ghent win and Bartko has proved to be a force every time he has raced on the 166 Kuipke track. The answer may be in the state of Bartko's health / condition, is he recovered from Munich, as they'll need him to be at 100% if this team are to remain in contention right through until Sunday.

World Madison Champions

2009 has been a very good year for the Danes Michael Morkov and Alex Rasmussen. It started with a contract to ride on the road with Bjarne Riis' Saxo-Bank Team. Next came a win at their home Copenhagen Six and they then played a part in Denmark's Team Pursuit win at the World Championships and the capped it off by becoming World Madison Champions a few days later.

So the two 24 year olds will make their professional Ghent debuts (Morkov rode the U23 event in 2003) wearing the rainbow jerseys and will start as one of the favourites for victory. They rode to within 3 points of victory at Munich last week and having a road season behind them they'll be strong especially in the time trials where Rasmussen has blistering speed. There are a couple of factors that probably make them only 4th favourites.

Firstly, like Kluge, a lack of experience on the short and tight track. Then importantly do they have the tactical know how, along with that strength, to out wit the likes of Risi and Keisse at the end of six hard days? Knowing when and where to save energy will be crucial and these skills are certainly not beyond the young Danes.

Strong but No Sprint

At the end of this season Dutchman Danny Stam will take over from Bruno Risi as the elder statesman and therefore spokesperson for the Six day riders. His long term partner Robert Slippens succumbed to injury and retired late last year. Without Slippens he has won Sixes with Peter Schep and Bruno Risi respectively but has not quite hit the heights that he and Slippens rose too in 2005/06 when they won 4 races. In Ghent, Stam is partnered with the talented, but often overlooked 26 year old German Leif Lampater. The German has not really had a regular partner since becoming an established rider in 2005/06 but has won a handful of Sixes with Erik Zabel and Guido Fulst amongst others. As individuals they have the pedigree so as a pair they should remain competitive but neither man has a real turn of speed in the sprints or Time Trials. Without that they probably won't rack up enough points (that equates to bonus laps) to challenge for the overall win. That said if they are still on the same lap come Sunday they could yet have a part to play in the last 50 laps of the finale chase.

Elsewhere in the Field

Another Dutchman in the field is former Tour De France stage winner (1998) Leon Van Bon who teams with Berlin born Austrian rider Andreas Muller who took a bronze medal in the World Championship Scratch race this year. This pair should be around the middle of the pack taking a few wins throughout the week but winning a big chase may be beyond them, and indeed most of the other teams outside of the top 5 teams already mentioned.

Alexander Aeschbach comes into Ghent without having ridden Munich, and despite his experience, finding the leg speed and having the right condition to stay with the best in the chases will be difficult. So he and his partner, fellow young Swiss hope, Tristan Marguet will just hope to help form the peloton and not lose too many laps. The same will apply to most of the other teams such as, the stylish, Peter Schep (who did ride in Munich) paired is paired with fellow Dutch national rider Jeff Vermeulen. Yet another Dutchman in the field is the inexperienced Geert-Jan Jonckman who teams with Danish Six Day regular Marc Hester.

Last year the Belgians Nicky Cocquyt and Ingmar De Poortere had a torrid time trying to just hold onto the back of the field and they'll want to improve this time around, if not place wise then performance wise!!!

Steve Schets looked like a possible future talent when he came onto the scene after winning the 'UIV Under-23 Cup' with Kenny De Ketele a few years ago. Following some serious back injuries he still has a lot to prove though whilst De Ketele has gone onto become a major player on the track scene. Schets teams up with Belgian veteran Steven De Neef and this pair will probably have to battle it out with Cocquyt and De Poortere to avoid the wooden spoon.

As a footnote the promising Belgian Tim Mertens who has performed well at a number of Sixes and in the track World Cup events would have been here but had to leave the Munich Six with a suspected heart problem. He his undergoing tests and we wish him well.

Return of the Aussies

Australia has a long and rich in Six Day racing dating all the way back to the early 1900's during the golden age of the Sixes in the United States (USA). During this era Alf Goullet, Melbourne born Jackie Clark and Tasmanian Alfred Grenda all won Sixes in the USA and Europe. Having started in Sixes at home Alf Goullet then a 24 year, from a farm near Sydney, had his passage to America paid for by promoters. He went onto join an elite group of cyclists that annually earned more money than the most famous of all baseball players Babe Ruth.

The great New South Wales rider Reggie 'iron man' McNamara won 19 Sixes on both sides of the Atlantic between 1913 and 1933, winning his last as a 45 year old in Cleveland, Ohio. Following a lull during World War II in 1950 Alf Strom teamed successfully with Reg Arnold to twice win the Berlin Six (it was run twice that year). Reg Arnold became the first Australian to win the Ghent Six in 1956, also going onto win in 1958 with the great Rik Van Looy.

The Ghent tradition was carried on in the early 1970s by Graeme Gilmore, who also lived locally whilst racing, getting wins in 1973 and 74. Don Allan continued the trend taking wins in 1976, 79 and 82 on his way to a tally of 17 career victories. Those 3 and 15 of Allan's career wins came alongside the 2nd best (and greatest Aussie) Six day rider of all time the one and only Danny Clark. Between 1976 and 1994 Clark won 7 times at Ghent and during his career rode more Sixes than anyone else in history appearing no less than 236 times. He also sits firmly in 2nd place behind Patrick Sercu on the all time winners list with 74.

After Clark retired the baton passed onto Graeme Gilmore's son Matt and Scott McGrory. Matt Gilmore was born in Ghent during his father's career and became a Ghent resident, and a 'naturalised Belgian', and during his career he won 5 times in Het Kuipke as well as taking a total 17 career Six Day wins. Scott McGrory was a surprise and deserved winner at Ghent in 1999, with Dane Jimmi Madsen. That win started a good run of results for 'Scooter' that saw him win another 12 Six Days (14 in total) including Ghent 2001 across his career that ended in 2005.

So fast forward to 2009 and Leigh Howard and Glenn O'Shea will be the first all Australian pairing we've seen in Ghent for a few years. Leigh Howard at just 20 has a promising career ahead and has secured a contract with Columbia HTC (Mark Cavendish's' team) for next season. Coached and mentored by Scott McGrory at the Victoria Institute of Sport (VIS) Howard had a great World Championships in Poland winning the Omnium gold as well as taking silver in the Team Pursuit and Madison (with Cameron Meyer). Fellow 20 year old and VIS graduate Glenn O'Shea appears to have a great future too. The Bendigo born rider having taken two Junior World Titles in 2007 and the hard fought (senior) Australian Madison crown in 2008.

The pair had a great introduction to Six Day racing taking 4th in Hasselt this February but there 2009/10 debut proved to be a baptism of fire in Munich but after a slow start they finished 8th at 17 laps behind the winners. For these youngsters anything could happen in Ghent with the long and tough programme of racing. However after getting their leg speed up in Munich and both having all round track talent the short speedy track could well suit them and a finish somewhere between 5th and 8th should be achievable.

Finally after winning his first Six Day race in Grenoble, with Franco Marvulli, there is no place in Ghent for Luke Roberts although I'm not sure whether it was his or the organisers decision? Either way it's a shame none the less.

For the complete starting field follow this link to the official website: http://www.z6sdaagse.be/

The 2009/2010 Six day Season: (so far)

19/10 - 24/10 Amsterdam - Bartko / Kluge (Ger)
29/10 - 03/11 Grenoble - Marvulli (Sw) / Roberts (Aus)
12/11 - 17/11 Munich - Risi / Marvulli (Sw)



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Thursday - 69th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Ghent

by Steve Penny

Ghent, BE
26th November 2009

Arriving in Ghent for Thursday nights racing I was met with strong winds and rain that seemed to have made a liar of the seemingly mild, for the time of year, mid 46-48% temperatures. The wind chill factor makes the temperature feel a number of degrees lower. Once inside Het Kuipke though I'm reunited with the somewhat tropical climate that is a permanent fixture of this historic venue. The temperature will slowly rise as the place fills and the sea of people that is the track centre will burst at the seams for what has become one of the most popular nights. The crowds that trudge through the fallen leaves of the Citadel Park (home of Het Kuipke) on Thursdays tend not to be 100% cycling fans as is the usual norm here. Many are students who come to drink the local brew, party and make noise which is of course also part of the Six Day experience. This younger crowd should also help to maintain the popularity of the event and will hopefully pass on their affection for the Flanders Six Day to the next generations.

The Story So Far

The 69th Ghent Six has started very competitively and the organisation will be hoping that all the top teams remain healthy and in contention through Sunday.

The World Madison Champions from Denmark, Alex Rasmussen and Michael Morkov, came out of the blocks well taking the opening chase of the Six and accumulating a good enough points total to sit on top of the standings. They haven't dominated the time trials as they have done at the last two Berlin Sixes but this is there first time on the tight 'Het Kuipke' track.

Local hero Iljo Keisse has had a very emotional couple of weeks. Within a few days of the high of been cleared of doping his friend Dimitri De Fauw had committed suicide. The riders and fans paid there respects to De Fauw with a minutes applause before the start on Tuesday. Keisse and De Fauw, both Ghent natives, had raced and won the 'UIV Under 23 Cup' series together before turning pro. So whatever his physical condition it must be a difficult time for him mentally going from a huge high to a low so quickly. Despite any emotions he has started well on his return to top level Six Day racing and he lies ready to pounce in second place with young German star Roger Kluge.

The retiring Bruno Risi is as always making his presence felt and he and partner Franco Marvulli have been taking maximum points in the flying laps so far. Those performances guarantee good points but also, most importantly at a Six, entertain the crowds. The other local star Kenny De Ketele with Robert Bartko has made a good start taking a chase last night. As feared though Bartko is carrying some injuries from the fall that caused him to leave the Munich Six on the first night and so he and De Ketele are not scoring a lot of points.

The top Dutch Six Day racer Danny Stam is going well with Leif Lampater and although not scoring as consistently as the top teams they start close to a bonus lap and would join the leaders early tonight by taking the 4 points they need. They could still be the sleeper team for overall honours if anyone else shows any sign of weakness. Compatriot and sometime partner Peter Schep is racing with another Dutchman Jeff Vermeulen. The latter was a late replacement for Belgian Tim Mertens who is having tests for a suspected heart condition. This pairing is the surprise team so far and won the last chase of Wednesday night. That win from under the noses of the big boys will have surely boosted their confidence as madisons tend to be won exclusively by the favourites and experienced teams. As Vermeulen was a late replacement there is no information on him in the programme so his history is a bit of a mystery for now at least although he has ridden a handful of Dutch Sixes.

Elsewhere the young Aussies Glenn O'Shea and Leigh Howard are at 5 laps behind, no disgrace in there first Ghent and 4th Six Day in total. Another Dutchman Leon Van Bon riding with Andreas Muller has had stomach trouble and noted his disappointment. He had expected to go better in what on paper was a good mid ranking team, they are at 6 laps but with stomach problems Van Bon will be suffering in what is an unforgiving race programme. The Swiss pairing of veteran Alex Aeschbach and 22 year old Tristan Marguet, in his 6th Six Day start, are also at 6 laps but there is a big gap to the next teams.

The inexperienced Geert-Jan Jonkman with the young but experienced Marc Hester are at 13 laps. Struggling once again though are De Poortere and Cocquyt but there woes are nothing compared to those of Steven De Neef and Steve Schets who are a whopping 25 laps in arrears. As noted in the preview Schets has struggled with back trouble since making a promising start to his Six Day career with Kenny De Ketele a few years ago.

Standings at the start of Thursdays racing:

Rasmussen - Morkov 160 points
Keisse - Kluge 149
Risi - Marvulli 126
De Ketele - Bartko 84
@ 1 Lap
Stam - Lampater 96
Vermeulen - Schep 69
@ 5 Laps
O'Shea - Howard 61
@ 6 Laps
Aeschbach - Marguet 40
Van Bon - Muller 24
@ 13 Laps
Jonkman - Hester 37
@ 15 Laps
De Poortere - Cocquyt 14
@ 25 Laps
De Neef - Schets 22

Thursdays Racing

The opening leg stretching point's race was won by De Poortere-Cocqyut who will be pleased as they prepare for what will inevitably be a struggle later on.

The team elimination went to Risi-Marvulli the later out sprinting Leif Lampater but the German took enough points to take him and Danny Stam onto equal laps with the race leaders. The bad news was that surprise team of the Six so far Schep-Vermeulen saw there challenge cut short when Peter Schep was worryingly taken out of the arena on a stretcher during this race. It seems likely that the 2006 World Points Race Champion is out of the Six as the rumour was he had experienced some chest pain, not good.

The flying lap or 'baanronde' as it is known locally was a battle between Rasmussen and Marvulli the Swiss having taken this race on Tuesday and Wednesday. Last year Iljo Keisse dominated this event and although no slouch in 08.92 (67.264 kmph) the lack of his old speed, as he talked about, shows. The Danes clock a fantastic 08.76 (68.493kmph) and tonight best the Swiss who clocked 08.79 (68.259 kmph)

In the first madison Keisse-Kluge and Risi-Marvulli stole a march on the other favourites gaining a lap to take them clear in the standings. It was Keisse that took the sprint with his trade mark bunny hop across the line ahead of Marvulli before the riders took a well deserved, but short, 20 minute break in the race programme. No further news on Peter Schep but Jeff Vermeulen rejoined the race albeit with Australian Glenn O'Shea losing two laps in another hectic chase.

The second part of the programme kicked of with the crowd pleasing Derny races the first won by Steven De Neef paced by fellow Belgian Michel Vaarten from Glenn O'Shea behind the legendary showman pacer Joop Zijlaard. The second, for the top 6 teams in the classification, had the local crowd going wild as Iljo Keisse won lapping the field with Kenny De Ketele following suit in 2nd spot.

The individual elimination race was won by Marc Hester from Berlin born Andreas Muller. The 24 year old Dane Hester is riding his 45th Six Day but has not yet shown, or had the chance to show, he can one day contend to win Sixes but he is certainly established and making his career in this traditional area of cycle sport.

The 500 metre Time Trial has been won by Rasmussen-Morkov and Keisse-Kluge respectively on the first two nights. Tonight saw another close run thing that went to Keisse-Kluge in 27.94 (64.424 kmph) by a whisker from Rasmussen-Morkov who clocked 27.95. That performance had 'Het Kuipke' swaying and chanting "Iljo, Iljo, Iljo" like a football (soccer) crowd. For the record 3rd went too Risi-Marvulli in 28.16 (63.920kmph)

The last real test of the night was the 2nd Madison which was, as ever, hard fought and close. The leaders Keisse-Kluge, Risi-Marvulli and Rasmussen-Morkov attempted to force home there advantage over the other couple of teams left in the running. Aware of the danger the more experienced riders Bartko and Stam could be seem gesturing, by hand, for there less experienced partners De Ketele and Lampater to stay closer to the front of the small but fast moving peleton. They heeded the warning and the top 5 teams contested the prize over the last fast and furious 10 laps with Marvulli taking the sprint from Morkov. The Danes went over 200 points and gained another bonus lap going back into 2nd place at 1 lap. But the Swiss combo Risi-Marvulli are also very close to a bonus lap too that would in turn put them on zero laps with Keisse-Kluge.

All still to race for then but the low scoring De Ketele-Bartko need lap gains to stand any chance of upstaging Keisse-Kluge, Risi-Marvulli or Rasmussen-Morkov for the podium places. A little further back at 2 laps my sleeper team of Stam-Lampater appear to be out of the running now though.


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Friday - 69th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Ghent

by Steve Penny

Ghent, BE
27th November 2009

With almost constant rain falling during the last week the organisation will be glad that they invested their €300,000+ to fix the leaking roof that has caused racing to stop a number of times during the last few years. So without potential for weather intervention it'll be all systems go inside 'Het Kuipke' again on Friday night.

Tonight, at the Ghent Six, is traditionally the 'big' night for fans and local VIPs. It's the when many local cyclists and cycling fans alike will dress up in their best jacket and tie to take their wife or girlfriend out for a long night at the races. Among the dressed up members of crowd will be many ex-professionals and leading players from the Flanders bike race scene. This is after all typical hard nosed Flanders racing albeit indoor style. Whilst the Sixes in Germany and now Holland offer riders the relative comfort of shorter race programmes, spacious cabins and good changing facilities with showers. Here in Ghent it's another story. The riders used to change in temporary small gazebo tents although this year they've been upgraded to a large partitioned portacabin (as used on building sites)!!! It's still behind the track and actually outside the main building though. Just a small partition separates them from a large truck storage hanger, and although it is covered the rain can still be heard pounding against the hangers iron roof. There are no frills for the riders and the facilities and brutal race programme make this the Six Day equivalent of the wind, rain and cobbles of the Belgian road classics and semi-classics. So despite the lack of creature comforts the Six Day riders' will covert a win in this 'classic' as much as road riders covert the Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem or Het Volk.

Fridays Racing

The goods news is that Peter Schep is ok and is riding tonight with the 21 year old surprise package of this Six Day Jeff Vermeulen. Unfortunately after Scheps neutralisation last night they are now a number of laps behind but Vermeulen has at least managed to make a good impression. Sports Director Patrick Sercu no doubt knew of his talent all along as he had in fact signed a contract to race here during the Amsterdam Six and was not a last minute replacement despite having no entry in the official programme!!!

On my way to the track tonight I passed an already busy 'De Karper cafe/bar' that is home to Iljo Keisses father and his fan club. The fans will certainly be happy with the way he has returned to racing as it seems to be business as usual, for him, showing his customary determination and form. However one can't underestimate the man alongside him, Roger Kluge. The 23 year old German has quietly been getting on with the job in hand and appears to be in good form on his first start here. They are now ahead in this Six Day but will need to maintain their form and concentration to hold off the ever ready Bruno Risi and Franco Marvulli, not to mention World Madison Champions, Rasmussen and Morkov. Talking of Risi, his fan club arrived tonight with two very large cow bells that had already started to reverberate around the building before racing began, bringing a piece of Switzerland to the lowlands of Flanders. The Kenny De Ketele 'supporters club' was also in attendance, although they had a much shorter journey, a sure source of motivation for the Belgian none the less.

Standings at the start of Fridays racing:

Keisse - Kluge 223 points
Risi - Marvulli 201
@ 1 Lap
Rasmussen - Morkov 210
De Ketele - Bartko 124
@ 2 Laps
Stam - Lampater 137
@ 5 Laps
Vermeulen - Schep 80
@ 9 Laps
O'Shea - Howard 110
@ 10 Laps
Van Bon - Muller 64
@ 11 Laps
Aeschbach - Marguet 69
@ 19 Laps
Jonkman - Hester 60
@ 25 Laps
Depoortere - Cocquyt 36
@ 35 Laps
De Neef - Schets 58

The opening race on any Six day programme is a point's race which more of a leg stretcher than anything, was won by De Ketele-Bartko, a team that needs points. The first serious race of the evening is the team elimination. This being one of the 3 events each night that give 20 points to the winners, the others are the Madison and 500 metre time trial. With good points on offer the top guns are on there metal and Leif Lampater beats Bruno Risi in the 2 up shoot out sprint taking maximum points. Risi-Marvulli took 12 points though to close the gap on Keisse-Kluge.

Tonight's flying lap is yet another showdown between Alex Rasmussen and Franco Marvulli. The Swiss betters his time of last night with 8.78 (68.337 kmph) but the Dane matches his in 08.76 (68.493kmph) to take the honours. No slouch in 3rd is Iljo Keisse with 8.95 (67,039 kmph).

The first Madison saw Robert Bartko neutralised so De Ketele was joined by the recovered Peter Schep, and it appears that Vermeulen is now unwell. A shame for De Ketele who before Munich must have thought that with Bartko he had a real shot at his first win in 'Het Kuipke'. The 40 minute race produced the usual backward and forwards of a chase but eventually Rasmussen-Morkov and Stam-Lampater broke the elastic and went a lap clear with a couple of minutes left. All that was left was for Rasmussen to easily out sprint Lampater for another win that took them back to the top of the classification at the first break.

The second part of the programme got under way with the Derny motor paced races. The first four riders placing 7th-12th was won by Marc Hester behind one time World Track Champion and now Belgian Track coach Michelle Vaarten. The second round for the teams from 1st-6th once again saw the decibel levels rise and rise until the roof was almost raised as Iljo Keisse and Kenny De Ketele clear of the field battled it out, with De Ketele eventually taking it. Despite these races having an air of show biz to them it is still not an easy task maintaining such high speeds behind the pacer on the tight 166 metre track and these are the races that the Ghent crowds seem to enjoy the most.

The individual elimination race was won by Andreas Muller the Berlin born rider who this year won a bronze medal in the Worlds Scratch race representing Austria!!!

The 500 metre Time Trial was last night won by Keisse-Kluge from Rasmussen-Morkov. Tonight some of the teams switched there lead man and it paid off for Risi-Marvulli with Risi bringing them home in 27.89 (64.539) from Keisse-Kluge in 27.99 (64.309 kmph). In 3rd were Rasmussen-Morkov clocking 28.20 (63.830 kmph), Morkov taking the last leg duties tonight.

The 2nd Madison of the night started with 3 teams on the same lap and just 16 points separating Keisse-Kluge in 1st and Risi-Marvulli in 3rd with Rasmussen-Morkov sandwiched in-between. Bartko started the chase but was soon replaced by Schep so young Vermeulen is now down. Early in the chase with his team on the attack Marvulli had a puncture. On the track of course it takes a lap or two to slow down to a halt so Marvulli wasn't happy when his back up took to long to get his new wheel ready and in, hand gestures told the story. The temporary team of De Ketele-Schep worked well and actually won the Madison a lap ahead of the field. Maybe Schep is fresh but whatever the case the 24 year old De Ketele is back in the hunt. Also despite my pessimism yesterday Stam-Lampater battled back and they're only 1 lap behind, for now. They tried hard in this last chase but Leif Lampater looking the more tired of the two, noticeably faded in the last 5 minutes.

With just a couple of lesser races left on the nights programme Rasmussen-Morkov now lead Keisse-Kluge by a handful of points with Risi-Marvulli still in there too with a lot of points, and a few laps, still to be won and lost.

Whilst the race to nowhere went on, the bumper crowd partied on and on. A particular highlight was the locals singing along to the Liverpool football (soccer) anthem, 'You'll Never Walk Alone' (originally from the movie Carousel). Being originally from the Liverpool area that song never fails to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and it seems that's the case in 'Het Kuipke' too!!!

The Berliner Andreas Muller is having a decent Six despite getting his contract late. His partner, former Tour of France and Spain stage winner Leon Van Bon, has recovered from his stomach problem and is getting stronger. Andreas always seems to have good morale and despite tired legs is thinking about doing 'Route 66' on his bike sometime in the future!!!

Stand nach der 4. Nacht (Freitag)
Final standings for Friday night

Place Mannschaft(Team) Runden(Lap) Punkte(Points)
1 Iljo Keisse (Bel) - Roger Kluge (Ger) 298
2 Alex Rasmussen (Den) - Michael Morkov (Den) 289
3 Bruno Risi (Sui) - Franco Marvulli (Sui) 260
4 Kenny De Ketele (Bel) - Robert Bartko (Ger) 178
@ 1 lap
5 Danny Stam (Ned) - Leif Lampater (Ger) 191
@ 3 laps
6 Jeff Vermeulen (Ned) - Peter Schep (Ned) 112
@ 12 laps
7 Alexander Aeschbach (Sui) - Tristan Marguet (Sui) 107
8 Leon Van Bon (Ned) - Andreas Muller (Ger) 98
@ 13 laps
9 Glenn O'Shea (Aus) - Leigh Howard (Aus) 140
@ 26 lpas
10 Geert-Jan Jonkman (Ned) - Marc Hester (Den) 83
@ 33 laps
11 Ingmar Depoortere (Bel) - Nicky Cocquyt (Bel) 52
@ 40 laps
12 Steven De Neef (Bel) - Steve Schets (Bel) 78


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Saturday - 69th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Ghent

by Steve Penny

Ghent, BE
28th November 2009

The rain is still falling but while the weather is so bad what better way to spend and evening than watching the racing on Saturday night at the Ghent Six.

There are just two sessions left in the Ghent Six career of Bruno Risi (although he doesn't retire until February) and his official Flanders farewell is set for Sunday afternoon. The Swiss veteran is going to be impossible to replace as he really is the patron of the Sixes being the voice of the riders with the organisers as well as being well respected. Who will take on this role? It appears it will be Danny Stam as the oldest guy but he doesn't seem like a natural leader in the way Risi was.

From a 41 year old set to retire to the next generations, and if this race is a guide, it seems like the future of Six Day racing is in good hands. We've seen strong talented guys like Morkov, Rasmussen, De Ketele, Kluge, Howard, O'Shea and Vermeulen all 24 or under. Then don't forget Iljo Keisse and Leif Lampater are both only 27 next month. But the results here hide the fact that Kluge, Howard, Morkov and Rasmussen will probably be lost to the road for at least the next few years. With many of the Six Day races having trouble with money, i.e. lack of sponsors, the future for guys making careers in this way such as Keisse, Lampater and De Ketele is less secure. It could be that in 12 months time another 2 or even 3 Six Day races will be lost - Munich is likely to go, Zurich seems to have no future without Bruno Risi and I also heard a rumour (and its only a rumour) that Bremen may not survive after 2010. The new Sixes that come along may have to be in small halls with small crowds and small pay cheques.

So it may be that Bruno Risi is indeed the last ever real Six Day star.

Saturdays Racing

The unofficial news was that Peter Schep would ride with Kenny De Ketele and that Jeff Vermeulen was out of the race. During the introductions though Robert Bartko was alongside De Ketele but there was no sign of Vermeulen.

Standings at the start of Saturdays racing:

Keisse - Kluge 298 points
Rasmussen - Morkov 282
Risi - Marvulli 260
De Ketele - Bartko 178
@ 1 Lap
Stam - Lampater 191
@ 3 Laps
Vermeulen - Schep 112
@ 12 Laps
Aeschbach - Marguet 107
Van Bon - Muller 98
@ 13 Laps
O'Shea - Howard 140
@ 26 Laps
Jonkman - Hester 83
@ 33 Laps
Depoortere - Cocquyt 52
@ 40 Laps
De Neef - Schets 78

The opening point's race was won by Steve's, De Neef and Schets, a rare bouquet and a chance to take some applause for the guys popping up the standings.

The team elimination offers the first 20 point prize of the night and Alex Rasmussen wanted those points for his team and attacked Keisse-Kluge with 3 teams left. He managed to get a ride with the Belgo-German pair but left himself short of energy for the final one to one sprint and was bested by Franco Marvulli. Much needed points for the Swiss who had slipped back a little during the 2nd half of Friday's programme.

Like the last race the flying lap time trial (TT) was expected to be another showdown between Rasmussen and Marvulli. However Roger Kluge took last lap duty from Iljo Keisse tonight and posted what was up to that point the best time of the Six so far 8.76 (68.571 kmph) only to see Franco Marvulli go even better in 8.71 (68.886 kmph). The Danish dynamite Morkov-Rasmussen posted a fantastic time too but 8.72 (68.807 kmph) was only good enough for 2nd place on this occasion.

The first Madison saw little in the way of real fireworks as all the top teams watched each. But Stam-Lampater and Risi-Marvulli had enough to nip away close to the end and steal a lap and Risi out sprinted Lampater for the win. That win was significant for Ris-Marvulli who have really made a charge taking 50 points over the last 3 races to now stand alone at the top of the standings 1 lap clear. Bad news for local fans was that Robert Bartko had again been neutralised so De Ketele was paired with Peter Schep. The new team inherited some of the lap losses from Scheps partnership with Vermeulen and so went out of contention at 3 laps down.

The last half of the programme started with the Derny races and Steven De Neef took his 2nd win of the week behind Michel Vaarten. As always the second round was for the teams placed between 1st and 6th and unsurprisingly Iljo Keisse gave the crowd what they wanted with a last gasp win on the line from Risi.

Tonight's individual elimination race saw Marc Hester repeat his Thursday performance this time pipping Steve Schets.

The 500 metre TT again saw some great times and a close competition. Tonight it was won by Keisse-Kluge with 27.80 (64.748 kmph) from Risi-Marvulli 27.84 (64.655 kmph) and Rasmussen-Morkov 27.99 (64.309 kmph).

The last Madison before the 'finale' tomorrow saw Danny Stam and Leif Lampater again take a lap from the field which hoists them into 2nd place overall, albeit with a much inferior points total. Recognising his teams lap deficit on Risi-Marvulli, the local matador Keisse tried in vain to gain a lap but he was chased down for a number of laps by the Swiss from the front of the bunch, and was caught.

Looking Ahead

As ever we should expect a grandstand finish tomorrow. Keisse-Kluge will be trying to clock up enough points to get a bonus lap before the 'finale' and go back into the driving seat.

Risi-Marvulli have the experience and it seems the legs, should they arrive at the last laps of the 'finale' still a lap ahead.

Stam-Lampater came on strong tonight but still need a mighty effort tomorrow to gain the other lap they'll need to win the Six.

The Danes Morkov-Rasmussen have started to look tired and they may also need to gain a lap in the finale. To get to a bonus lap before then may take too much effort but they are game and will surely try to do whatever they can.

As reported sadly Kenny De Ketele is out of the running due to the injuries sustained by Bartko in Munich. He'll have taken heart from his strong showing and will surely return to win here one day but it won't be tomorrow.

Leaders at 01.15 local time:

Risi - Marvulli 333 points
Stam - Lampater 237
@ 1 Lap
Keisse - Kluge 359
Rasmussen - Morkov 346
@ 3 Laps
De Ketele - Schep 179


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Sunday - 69th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Ghent

by Steve Penny

Ghent, BE
30th November 2009

The final session of the Ghent Six is held during the afternoon so all concerned are back at the track just 10 hours after last nights programme finished. For the riders of course this is an especially gruelling schedule.

The eventual outcome of the 69th Six Days of Flanders, Ghent (to give its full title) is far from clear which will be pleasing to the organisation who'd put together what they considered there best field in years.

The World Madison Champions Morkov and Rasmussen have stayed at or close to the front all week. They did so in Munich too, but where beaten in the 'finale' by Risi-Marvulli. Other big names have come here on big contracts and really struggled in this most demanding of Sixes, but the Danes have justified there place amongst the favourites and no doubt the higher earners.

Before the racing today I asked Michael Morkov how they'd found the track and how it was going generally:

"It's going well. We have both ridden here once each as amateurs, me 6 years ago and Alex 5 years ago. The only thing is that we have found it more difficult than usual in the Time Trials. Normally on a 200 or 250 metre track we can win them all but here the track requires a lot more technique and you can't go at them with speed alone. We're really pleased with our performances in the Madison though, we've always managed to stay close to the front and most of the time we've been able to take laps quite easily"

And what of winning here and the rest of the Six Day season?

"The Swiss guys are really strong so it won't be easy but we think that we can get enough points before the 'finale' to get another bonus lap and be equal with them for the last chase. Whatever happens we'll have given 100% to try and be the winners. "We have contracts for Rotterdam, Berlin and Copenhagen so will be doing our best to win those Sixes too!!!"

In attendance analysing for local TV was former favourite of 'Het Kuipke' crowd Constant Tourne. 'Stan' as he was known won here twice with Etienne De Wilde during a long and distinguished career as a track and Six Day specialist. I asked him what he thought might happen today:

"Of course there are 3 very good teams, all of them showing they are strong. The Danes are good although with Rasmussen being a bit heavier than the usual Six Day guys he has a bit more difficulty on this very technical track.

Keisse is very strong and has the perfect style and qualities for this track and his partner Kluge is going well too. The Danes and Keisse will try and get a bonus lap before the final and then wait for the sprints in the last 50 laps.

Risi-Marvulli of course are looking good in first place for now but if the others get that bonus lap will have to go on the attack. Risi of course knows how to be tactical but I am not sure about Marvulli on this track. He is strong but I watched him yesterday and he does not always position himself correctly on this tight track and this could cause a problem. But it will be like a game of poker for them all, do they go on the attack or wait for the points?

Any one of these 3 teams could still win; even Stam-Lampater are still close and could try and go for the lap to win, but I've watched Lampater and he does not look to be so strong, Stam is good though."

I also asked Stam about Kenny De Ketele:

"He is a determined rider and his style on the bike is to pedal with a very high cadence which the crowds see and they like that. If he can race with a really fast guy, such as Keisse, then yes he can win here one day."

Sundays Racing

The Danes did as Morkov suggested and went after points in the programmes 'Point's Race' pushing them within 37 points of that all important bonus lap.

The team elimination gives 20 points for first place and the battle for the points was on here. As noted Morkov-Rasmussen need them as do Keisse-Kluge and these couples battled it out for the prize with Rasmussen getting the better of Kluge. Both teams are closing in.

In a switch from the usual evening programme the time trial order is swapped and the riders do the 500 metres first. That being the other event that offers 20 points to the winner and once again we had showdown between the top 3 teams. Although times were down on yesterday Keisse-Kluge won in 27.79 (64.772 kmph) from Risi-Marvulli 28.10 (64.057 kmph) and the Danes 28.31 (63.582).

The Derny races give one last chance at crowd to the riders and pacers alike. One man who takes this role literally is the favourite pacer of the Ghent crowd, the rotund Joop Zijlaard. He earned his stripes here pacing the local legend Etienne De Wilde on many an occasion. Today he took fellow Dutchman Danny Stam to victory in the first race. The second had the Belgians Keisse and De Ketele lapping the field before Michel Vaarten brought De Ketele around Zijlaard-Keisse in the last metres. As I said before, the Dernys have an air of show business to them, but it is no easy feat racing side by side at 60 kmph on this tight track.

Keisse-Kluge now have their bonus lap.

The individual elimination race was low key and the battle for points eased as the main teams went out early. Winning this one was by 20 year old Aussie World Omnium Champion Leigh Howard. He has had a tough Six with an injury but clearly has bags of talent.

The final flying lap time trial was another close run thing with Marvulli 8.71 (68.886 kmph) besting Rasmussen 8.76 (68.493 kmph) and Kluge 8.77 (68.415 kmph).

Rasmussen-Morkov also had there bonus lap.

There was a break in racing when Bruno Risi said his farewell to the Ghent public after 19 rides here. His wife and parents joined him for an emotional farewell where he said:

"The people have always been good to me here and you are the most sport friendly public of all the Six days. I will miss Ghent a lot. Thank you".

Without doubt he'd love to say goodbye with a 4th win here.

The 'Finale'

Leading standings at the start of Sundays 'Finale':
Keisse - Kluge 415 points
Rasmussen - Morkov 410
Risi - Marvulli 392
Stam - Lampater 244
@ 2 Laps
De Ketele - Schep 229

The 'finale' of this 69th Ghent Six was as exciting as one would expect with the standings so close. For a long time it was very much like a prize fight with the big guys going blow for blow or lap for lap as the case may be. But like many prize fights this one was eventually settled on points but without any controversy. In his last Ghent Six Bruno Risi did try for a fairytale ending, but it wasn't to be. His and Marvulli's do or die attack came just after the 2nd sprint. Morkov had taken the first sprint and Keisse the second. They tried for 10 laps even taking the third sprint but never got more than half a lap and were caught soon after that third sprint.

The Danish pair of Rasmussen-Morkov showed they could stay the course and Morkov took the fourth sprint to set up a grandstand finish between Iljo Keisse and Alex Rasmussen in a win or bust final sprint. Of course Keisse had the crowd roaring him on and as Kluge attacked with 4 laps to go they seemed in poll position. Michael Morkov closed some of the gap but not all and threw in Rasmussen with still a bit to do. He made it onto the wheel of Keisse and sat there until the last lap when Keisse started an almighty sprint. It was shoulder to shoulder down the home straight but Rasmussen had just enough speed left to haul himself across the line a wheel clear of Keisse.

Either of the teams would have been fine victors but perhaps Morkov-Rasmussen, after the disappointment of Munich, deserved this one, adapting well on Keisse's home track.

The home fans were not despondent though and many continued to sing for Keisse whilst the hall emptied out.

Final standings for the 69th Ghent Six:

Rasmussen - Morkov 450 points
Keisse - Kluge 447
Risi - Marvulli 408
Stam - Lampater 254
@ 1 lap
De Ketele - Schep 235
@ 17 laps
Van Bon - Muller 159
@ 19 laps
O'Shea - Howard 200
@ 20 laps
Aeschbach - Marguet 183
@ 38 Laps
Jonkman - Hester 114
@ 44 Laps
Depoortere - Cocquyt 86
@ 48 Laps
De Neef - Schets 133
Abandoned:
Bartko and Vermeulen

What they said:

Alex Rasmussen (winner with Morkov):

I asked him about that last few laps and the noise of the crowd?

"Yeah I was thinking it's a big gap to close but luckily for us I still had good legs at the end. Also coming from behind it's a bit easier!!! The noise was loud but you don't feel like your not on home ground you just hear the noise and it doesn't matter if you're Iljo or somebody else you just know that the crowd is in the race. In this Six we saved some energy for the final sprints that was our plan and not wasting too much of that energy chasing down everybody else"

Roger Kluge (2nd with Iljo Keisse)

"It has been a nice experience here the public have been fantastic and I enjoyed it... and 2nd is not too bad!!! I was actually here before with the amateurs in 2006 but the Galvez accident meant of course it didn't finish. I have contracts for 3 more Six Days and will be in Berlin for my last Six this season. In the future I will race the road more but will stay on the track too"

Franco Marvulli (3rd with Risi)

"What a 'finale' eh?... just not for us!!! If we could have made the 400 points before the 'finale' it would have been different. Our problem was also that the others chased us down but not them (Morkov-Rasmussen, Keisse-Kluge) and if that happens then it's always going to be hard"

Kenny De Ketele (5th with Schep)

He had great legs all week, so I asked him, "was he frustrated not to be able to challenge for the overall win?"

"Well it was just circumstances and as a professional athlete you have to learn to react to such things. Ok... it's not great because you are in front of your home crowd but I am still happy. I could show my strength to the Belgian public and in the end with Schep, it went okay".

And of his growing popularity with the Ghent crowd?

"I think that one year when the organisers make a team with De Ketele-Keisse there going to build a new roof!!!"

You couldn't describe it better, until 2010

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