An Introduction to the 70th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Ghent

by Steve Penny

Watford, UK
21st November 2010

70th Six-Days of Ghent

The 70th edition of the Six-Days of Flanders, Ghent (Zes-Daages Van Vlaanderen, Gent) begins in the East Flanders medieval city on Tuesday night. The crowds will once again flock through the doors, the beer will flow and the music pump as the annual winter cycling fest begins. When the gun sounds, the pedals will turn and the wheels spin as 26 riders begin another race to nowhere. However the lead up to this years race has not been without its problems although rest assured none of the problems have in any way affected the actual running of the event.

From the perspective of the Six-Day races, and their rich history, the cancelling of the Munich Six-Day after 46 editions was very sad. The Munich Six was for a long time seen as the blue ribbon event of the season and was described as the World Championship of Six-Day races. This cancelation follows on the heels of the loss of the Dortmund race in 2008 and has left a big hole in the traditional November calendar.

The second problem is actually more of an irritation for the organisation and concerns the lack of parking spaces in the proximity of Het Kuipke, the local velodrome. The city of Ghent has been restricting access to cars in central parts of the city for many years making it very difficult for visitors coming in for the Six-Days to find spaces. The organisation and city council agree that the Six-Days is part of the cities tradition and so discussions between the council (administration) and residents has taken place to find a satisfactory solution for all concerned. As noted this is surely just a minor irritation and the Six-Day supporters will no doubt find ways around any such issues.

The final, and biggest, headache for the Ghent organisers concerned the participation of local hero Iljo Keisse. After winning the event for the 3rd time in 2008 he tested positive for Cathine and Hydrochlorothiazide (HCT). After serving 11 months of a 2 year ban Keisse successfully argued his case that the positive test for Cathine came from a cold medicine and HCT from a food supplement. The doping charges were therefore dismissed by the Belgian Cycling Federation just before the start of the 2009 Ghent Six. His career looked to be back on the up when he signed with Quick Step for the 2010 road season, but his season was interrupted by a broken collarbone sustained while preparing for the World Track Championships in April. Things got worse in July when a decision from the Court of Appeal for Sport (CAS) reversed the Belgian Federation's dismissal of his doping charges and Keisse was ordered to serve the last 13 months of his 2 year suspension, seemingly unable to return until August 6, 2011.

Since July Keisse has continued to seek legal advice and last week had his ban temporarily lifted by the Belgian Court of Appeals, overturning the CAS decision from July; a final decision will be made in April 2011. With a weight off his shoulders, albeit only a temporary one, Keisse said:

"I'm more than relieved that I can ride again. Unfortunately the decision is not final, but I'm satisfied with what I have and I will ride the Ghent Six-Day with a very special and warm feeling. I have put a difficult period behind me. Since July I couldnt race and there were some days when I didn't touch my bike as I had an Achilles injury and some incredible black moments."

The decision was applauded by the Ghent Six sports director Patrick Sercu who commented:

"This is not only great news for the organisers of the Ghent Six-Days, but especially for Iljo Keisse himself. The public's favourite is now back in, which is a very good thing. It has all been long and drawn out, but now it has finally happened."

He had another reason to be pleased saying:

Of course, ticket sales are rising. With Iljo Keisse, we have added a very big name to the bill.

Teams and Riders

With the Iljo Keisse situation unresolved the organisation had to wait to announce the 13 teams, 26 riders from 8 countries, less than a week before the start. With the aforementioned loss of the Munich Six the riders come to Ghent without a top class Six-Day race since Amsterdam finished on October 23rd. Some riders were in Grenoble which ended on November 2nd but that event has, with all due respect, never been at the same level as Dortmund or Munich where. The lack of build up, and any pointers to form and rider condition could actually help the Ghent Six as a spectacle because the race appears fairly wide open.

Danish Dynamite

Despite the lack of Six-Day racing last years winners Michael Morkov and Alex Rasmussen from Denmark will start as the clear favourites, the 2009 World Madison Champions won 3 of the 5 Six-Days they raced in last season. Both riders have just completed their 2nd full seasons on the road with Saxo-Bank and won the summer Fiorenzuola Six-Day in July. As well as winning a World Scratch title on the track, Rasmussen gained some time trial and sprint victories in races such as the Four Days of Dunkirk that has earned him a contract with HTC-Columbia for 2011. Morkov has had more of a team role with Saxo-Bank but still finished his first grand tour at the Giro and has another contract with Bjarne Riis team for 2011. With the increased focus on the road and the lack of big Six-Day races on the calendar it is unclear if this pairing has much of a long-term future on the track, but theyll come to Ghent with the aim of performing well and winning.

Late last week I asked Michael Morkov how hes feeling and about his preparation and motivation for Ghent:

"Im excited to get back onto the track after I had a 3 week break following the road season and I started my training again on November 1st. I do feel pretty good now and with a race here in Copenhagen and the Manchester Revolution event on Saturday, the form should be back. Im definitely motivated as Alex and I had a sweet victory in Ghent last year so we are coming back to win again. Ive been looking at the peloton and there are a lot of good teams!!! So Im looking forward to doing the Six-Days again. I have a lot of friends in Belgium and since we won last year, this race is important for us. Also as we are only going to do 3 Six-day races this winter our chances for wins are limited."

Return of the Kaiser

As reported Iljo Keisse has had a difficult year but the Kaiser of the Kuipke is in the field and will, as always, be looking to show well. Without any racing on the road or track for a long time how well hell go is unclear, although the adrenalin will get him through the first few days at least. The long Ghent programme will test his reserves but as the other riders have not raced all month that may help a little. He will team up with Dutchman Peter Schep who is himself a strong classy rider with a very good engine. The weakness for Schep is his lack of speed however on paper that makes the pairing look good as the main Keisse strength has always been his speed, so important on the short 166 metre track. But without the racing in his legs getting that top end speed back, as well as the stamina, is going to be hard for Keisse so a place on the podium rather than the overall win is probably their aim, although theyll surely be doing all they can to win.

At the recent event press conference here is what Keisse said about his return in Ghent, about recently becoming a father and his condition:

"Ghent is mentally and physically a very difficult race and it's hard to say how I will feel but I will ride with the support of the audience and adrenalin from the feelings of becoming a father. A burden was lifted from my shoulders when I heard that my suspension had been suspended but I have another burden, that of having to perform. That was never much of a problem in the past, but the situation is different now because I've had so little preparation. Bear in mind that I have not raced since June, and Ghent is my first Six-Day so after the first hour on Tuesday I'll know more!!!"

The Other Belgian Challenger

The number two Belgian Six-day specialist and a very popular rider in his own right is the 25 year old from Oudenaarde, Kenny de Ketele. Over recent years in Ghent he has gotten stronger and stronger and looked to be in with a real chance for the home win when he was paired with Robert Bartko last year. Unfortunately Bartko came into Ghent having crashed in Munich and was unable to finish the Six-Days. The dream team for Kenny and the local fans would have been a pairing with Keisse but with all the problems and the need to maintain fan interest he is paired with Leif Lampater. The 27 year old German is a laid back character but a strong endurance rider with 6 victories at Six-Day races to his credit. He and de Ketele will be a strong team and should show well but neither of them is a strong sprinter and they'll struggle to score big points, so to win overall they'll have to gain laps on the other major contenders. Nevertheless Kenny de Ketele will as ever be giving 100% effort something the fans see and appreciate.

I asked him last week how he is feeling about his team and what it means to him to race in Ghent:

"I feel very confident about my team. Leif went really well in Amsterdam and he knows how to race on the Ghent track. I think we have a really good chance to win, and too at least end up on the podium!!! The Ghent Six is of course very important to me because I can show my abilities in front of my home crowd. It is also the best time for me to show off my teams sponsors in the media."

Other Potentially Strong Teams

The field this year is deep but without many other clear favourites in the field. The experienced Swiss team of Franco Marvulli and Alex Aeschbach could be contenders for the podium but wont start as real favourites. At 32 Franco Marvulli is no longer a young gun but with 31 Six-Day victories from around 95 starts he has a very good winning percentage and is the rider with the most wins still active on the circuit. Take into account that 18 of his victories came with recently retired Six-Day legend Bruno Risi, whose shoes are impossible to fill. Stepping in though is fellow Swiss Alex Aeschbach who at 36 has been around a while first racing at Ghent back in 1998. They know each other well and just won for the 5th time in Grenoble, but Grenoble is not Ghent so the bottom step of the podium would be a great result for the affable Swiss team.

I asked Alex last week about his pairing with Marvulli and their chances in Ghent:

"I like to be paired with Franco and we have shown in the past that we can do well as a team, we also want to be able to continue to ride together in the future. In Ghent we have a chance and have shown ourselves by winning in Grenoble already so we will be giving it 110%, also because we have Zurich starting straight after. Ghent is a really beautiful Six-Day one I have never won and it would be amazing to stand on top of the podium just once in my career!!! But the race in Zurich is really our number one objective and we want to work well together in Ghent to make sure that we are totally ready and dont make any mistakes at Zurich the week after."

The vastly experienced Dutch pairing Danny Stam and Leon Van Bon, both 38, are racing together at all the Six-Days this winter. They finished second in Amsterdam and Grenoble so will come into Ghent reasonably confident. The more experienced in Six-Day terms is Stam who won in 2005 with Robert Slippens. They combined really well with Stams engine and Slippens speed being the main ingredient, Slippens retired due to injuries in 2008. To have a chance to win Van Bon, a rider with a very good road career behind him, would have to match Rasmussen, Keisse or Marvulli on the short and fast track which seems unlikely, however they should not be written off. On many occasions Stam has shown that he can attack and chase as well as anyone in the Madisons.

The other team that the organisation is billing as a favourite is Robert Bartko and Danilo Hondo. The track specialist Bartko has won in Ghent twice with Keisse and comes in having won in Amsterdam with Roger Kluge. If there is a stronger man currently riding in the Six-Days than Bartko he hasnt yet shown himself but despite that, and those previous wins, the short and tight track is not ideal for such a big man. He needs to be with a fast man but with Kluge not contracted to ride he teams with sprinter/roadman Hondo. The Ghent debutant is a rider with some track experience, as well as a doping ban in his past. He is more of a lead out man on the road and without racing many Six-Days in his career it would appear that he is here for nothing more than a good pay day. Stepping into the much younger, but vastly superior in track terms, Kluges shoes as Bartkos partner will still be interesting to watch and if the Lampre roadman finds his track legs to match his road strength the Germans could yet make the podium, and prove me wrong.

Elsewhere in the field

The rest of the field seems to be fairly evenly matched this year so the battle for places from the middle to bottom of the standings on Sunday may be quite close.

The Belgium international rider Tim Mertens is one for the future and has shown well on his previous appearances in 2007 and 2008. He missed last year with a health scare and has had a couple of decent showings in Amsterdam and Grenoble so far this season with Kenny de Ketele. He is paired with young Dutchman Pim Ligthart and who had a good 5th place in Amsterdam. With the right condition and Mertens obvious home race motivation they could upset some of the more established and well known names to challenge for 4th-7th places.

Another Dutch team is Wim Stroetinga and Jens Mouris. Both went well with other partners in Amsterdam and they are a classic Six-Day pairing of sprinter, Stroetinga, and pursuiter, Mouris. Both of have ridden at World Championships on the track and Stroetinga has been making a career on the road without any significant results so far. This is a team that could start well and enter the weekend close to the lead but I think theyll probably fade away and end up racing for 6th-10th place.

Danes Jens Erik-Madsen and Marc Hester had a good race in Grenoble and will help to make up the strong peloton in Ghent. At 25 and with over 50 Six-days behind him Hester is an established member of the blue train without ever having challenged for a big win. He and, Danish Team Pursuiter, Madsen should be competitive but will likely compete with the aforementioned teams for the middle ranking places.

Unknown Quantities

An interesting looking team is Dutchman Jeff Vermeulen and Sebastian Donadio, the first Argentinian and South American to race at the Belgium Six since the Curuchet brothers back in 1996. An Argentinian of Italian descent, Donadio has won at Italian Six-Day races but is untested in the unique environment of Ghent. His partner Vermeulen showed well during the early stages of last years Ghent Six before going out with an illness. He looked like an exciting prospect and how he gels with Donadio will be interesting to watch.

Australian Luke Roberts returns to the Six-Day scene after a year back on the road in the Pro-Tour to team with another Ghent first timer Morgan Kneisky, the 2009 World Scratch race champion. The experienced Roberts is a solid track rider and will have been paired with Kneisky because the Frenchman is another one who is untried at this level of Six-Day racing. How theyll fair is unclear and only when the racing starts on Tuesday will we know.

Another team featuring an experienced and inexperienced rider is Andreas Muller and young Belgian Tosh Van Der Sande. The experienced Muller has close to 60 starts, including 4 in Ghent, behind him but this is a first for Van Der Sande. He was Junior World Champion in the points race as well as a winner of the Ghent Six amateur race in 2008. Hell just turn 20 on November 28th, the final day of the Six. It may well be a baptism of fire for Van Der Sande but director Patrick Sercu has given him the nod ahead of other older Belgians such as Nicky Cocquyt and Ingmar De Poortere who have struggled mightily on the occasions they started at Het Kuipke. The 30 year old Andreas Muller is a German from Berlin who now represents Austria in international competition.

Last week Andreas sent me an update on his progress, his thoughts on his team and the Ghent Six-day race generally:

Of course the basis for a good Six-day is always hard training. So far this year I won the 3 days of Aigle (Switzerland) as well as 3 titles at the Austrian Track Championship. I was also racing at the international Grand Prix Vienna (Austria) and will be at the Revolution Series in Manchester on Saturday. So I feel well prepared with enough track racing behind me.

I think its always a good idea to combine a young rider with an experienced one. We all started like that and learned the Six-Day business from an older cyclist. So I am happy to hand over some of my skills. If Tosh (Van Der Sande) and my legs are good it is possible to race for a good result. In 2007 I was with Tim Mertens at his first Ghent Six-Days and we finished in 6th place overall, so anything can happen!!!

For several years now Ghent has been my favourite Six-Day, even though there is one in my home town of Berlin!!! I like the very special, traditional atmosphere in Ghent as the people are more focused and interested in cycling than in any other country. And finally I always have my birthday during the Zesdaagse Ghent!!!

Lastly, and without wishing to tempt fate, the Belgian Steves Schets and De Neef will be trying hard to avoid finishing last in the standings. They have struggled over the years, especially Schets, but with a few more inexperienced riders in the field this year they might manage to dodge taking the wooden spoon but itll be a major surprise if there final placing is a single digit number.

Six-Day Season so far:

Amsterdam - 18-23 October 2010 Bartko / Kluge (Ger)
Grenoble - 28 Oct - 02 Nov 2010 Marvulli / Aeschbach (Swi)


Summary & Thursday - 70th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Ghent

by Steve Penny

Het Kuipke, Ghent, BE
25-26th November 2010

The Story So Far:

The opening two nights saw the pre-race favourites locked in a close tussle to top the leader board come Sunday afternoon. No one has dominated as yet but the fans will be happy that local hero Iljo Keisse, with Peter Schep, has come back from his ban to sit in 1st place albeit after just 2 days. He appears to have his old leg speed back but how his endurance will still be tested over the next number of days. Holding 2nd place in the classification was another local favourite Kenny De Ketele, riding with Leif Lampater. This pair will have been concerned about losing points to the faster guys but they've held their own. The team they'd have assumed would eat up points are last year's victors Michael Morkov and Alex Rasmussen who hold 3rd place. As it's still early the Danes may just be finding their track legs after long road seasons or they may be holding back a bit either way it keeps things interesting.

One lap in arrears are 3 teams the Swiss Marvulli / Aeschbach, Germans Bartko / Hondo and Dutchmen Stam / Van Bon. All these teams will be happy with there starts and Robert Bartko and Danilo Hondo are so far more than holding there own despite Hondo not having ridden a Six-Day for a number of years. Your correspondent may have called this one wrong as they look like they are going to be in this race right to the finish.

Elsewhere the other Danish team of Jens-Erik Madsen and Marc Hester will be pleased with 7th place just 2 laps in arrears but the same can't be said for Belgian Tim Mertens. The 24 year old missed Ghent last year with illness and he and his partner, Dutchman, Pim Ligthart would have hoped to at least remain close to the leaders going into the weekend instead they started 4 laps back. Another Dutch team Jens Mouris and Wim Stroetinga should feel the same as they have also lost too many laps already. The Milram professional Stroetingas indifferent form can perhaps be attributed to the fact he's been on holiday for 2 weeks before starting here.

The Australian Luke Roberts will be satisfied with the progress he and Ghent first timer Morgan Kneisky have made. The young Frenchman, Kneisky, has medalled at the last two World Championships but has no experience at this level of Six Day racing. The remaining 3 teams are seriously off the pace. It is disappointing to see Jeff Vermeulen and Sebastian Donadio a full 10 laps behind, Vermeulen went well here last year but most of Donadios experience has come at the more low key Italian Sixes and this is his first here with this difficult track and gruelling programme. Also at 10 laps are Andreas Muller and Tosh Van Der Sande the latter is a 19 year old Belgian who is cutting his teeth with the pros so they won't be too concerned. The Belgians De Neef and Schets are once again struggling in last place already a whopping 18 laps behind.

Leaders after 2 Days:

1. Keisse - Schep 134 points
2. De Ketele - Lampater 123
3. Rasmussen - Morkov 113
At 1 Lap:
4. Marvulli - Aeschbach 114
5. Bartko - Hondo 95
6. Stam - Van Bon 86
At 2 Laps:
7. Madsen - Hester 54

Thursday Night

The evening session began with the usual leg stretching point's race, the win going too Jens Mouris and Wim Stroetinga. Bartko and Hondo took the points they needed to gain a bonus lap and sat in 4th place on the same lap as the 3 leading teams.

Team Elimination Race: - The first big scrap of the evening came here as the main contenders are always interested in the 20 points on offer. The win in this one went to Rasmussen / Morkov from Keisse / Schep with Stam / Van Bon in 3rd. The 10 points for 3rd place gave the veteran Dutch pair a bonus lap and took them up onto the same lap as the leaders.

Flying Lap Time Trial (TT): - On the opening night Rasmussen was the fastest around the 166 metre track in 8.83 but Marvulli stormed back last night to register 8.77. Iljo Keisse has always done well in this discipline and had clocked 8.85 on both nights. Tonight saw these 3 teams again battle it for the 10 points and the bragging rights with Rasmussen taking top spot matching his 8.80 from yesterday from Marvulli in 8.85 and Keisse 3rd with 8.89.

1st Madison: - The first 40 minute Madison wasn't the most exciting you'll see but was as ever fast and furious. Three teams got a lap clear of the field with Bartko / Hondo taking the bouquet ahead of Lampater / De Ketele and Marvulli / Aeschbach. Worth a mention are Marc Hester and Jens-Erik Madsen. they look to be going well and hung in with the bigger names all the way through. Hester although only 25 has over 50 Six-day starts to his name but just one podium finish. That podium finish was in Grenoble a few weeks ago and word from an insider is that he is a much more mature person these days and could still fulfil the promise he showed as an amateur.

Derny Races: - Every night there are a series of Derny races on the programme and they are always crowd pleasing, especially if Iljo Keisse is riding. Tonight the wins went to Jens-Erik Madsen behind Belgian track coach Michel Vaarten, and an improving Danilo Hondo then his team mate Robert Bartko behind legendary showman Joop Zijlaard.

Individual Elimination Race 1: - The big boys eased off the gas here and allowed some of the other riders a piece of the limelight, Tim Mertens took the 10 points in the final two up sprint from Jeff Vermeulen.

500 Metre TT: - The battle for the 20 points had been won by Marvulli / Aeschbach on the first two nights. Tonight Iljo Keisse and Peter Schep laid down the gauntlet registering the fastest time of the week so far with 28.12, bettering Marvulli / Aeschbach despite them clocking their best time so far of 28.14. In 3rd where Lampater / De Ketele in 28.36 thus knocking over half a second off their previous best time. The Danish Dynamite, Rasmussen / Morkov, are not at their best in this discipline although 28.39 is no disgrace.

2nd Madison: - This race was when Iljo Keisse showed he's still the 'Kaiser of the Kuipke' as and Peter Schep seem to be working very well together and took laps with apparent ease during this 40 minute roller coaster ride. Hanging on for grim death once again were De Neef / Schets, Donadio / Vermeulen and Van Der Sande / Muller. Also finding the going tough this time were Roberts / Kneisky. Despite the impressive display by Keisse / Schep the two biggest men in the field, Bartko / Hondo, came on strong taking a lap gain towards the end causing alarm bells to ring for Lampater / De Ketele, Rasmussen / Morkov, Marvulli / Aeschbach and Stam / Van Bon. These teams all made it and the top 6 teams once again fought out the victory, Schep winning the sprint and the 20 points giving him and Keisse a bonus lap to send them back to the top of the standings.

Individual Elimination Race: - The lesser lights once gain had the chance to shine in the last elimination race of the night. The favourites slipped off the back and off to there hotels, with the exception of Hondo who took a few more points. The win went to Morgan Kneisky from Sebastian Donadio, who was no doubt tired from his singing exploits (see 'Around Het Kuipke' below).

Leaders after 3 Days:

1. Keisse - Schep 203 points
2. De Ketele - Lampater 177
3. Bartko - Hondo 154
At 1 Lap:
4. Rasmussen - Morkov 182
5. Marvulli - Aeschbach 152
6. Stam - Van Bon 116
At 4 Laps:
7. Madsen - Hester 64
At 8 Laps:
8. Mertens / Ligthart 113
9. Mouris / Stroetinga 57
At 10 Laps:
10. Roberts / Kneisky 54
At 18 Laps:
11. Donadio / Vermeulen 55
At 20 Laps:
12. Van Der Sande / Muller 32
At 30 Laps:
13. De Neef / Schets 36

Around Het Kuipke:

The track centre was bulging at the seams with the first sell out crowd of the week. Thursday night has become very popular with a younger crowd over the last few years. Perhaps the Six-Day offers a weekday night out for those looking for a different kind of entertainment as it doesn't interfere with their regular Friday or Saturday night plans!!!

Despite struggling in the race standings Argentine/Italian Sebastian Donadio showed he has other talents performing a couple of songs, including the Beatles 'Let It Be', playing piano and singing himself. Reminiscent of Danny Clark in his heyday, Donadio swapping the Clark moustache for the Latin footballer style long hair.

The cycling legend Eddie Merckx was in attendance tonight and as always turned heads as he chatted to old friends around the building. He is an annual visitor to an event he won 4 times, with Patrick Sercu, during his illustrious career in 1965, 67, 75 and 77. Also amongst the many former professionals taking in the atmosphere tonight was former Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix winner Peter Van Petegem who won the amateur Six (as it was then) in 1990 as well as competing with the pros a few times before his road career really took off. He must have enjoyed himself as he was still supping beers in the Middenplein (track centre) at 1.30am.

Being from the Liverpool area it was touching to once again hear our local football anthem 'You'll Never Walk Alone' perfectly sung by the late night revellers in Ghent.

UIV Cup for Riders Under 23:

The Toekomst Zesdaagse (futures Six-Day) was marred by crashes on the first two nights causing two teams to drop out due to the injuries they sustained. The Americans Williams and Marans both left Het Kuipke yesterday with broken collar bones. Thankfully tonight everyone stayed upright.

Last year the Australians Alex Carver and Scott Law dominated proceedings in every session. The impressive Carver is back again but this year teams with Jackson Law, Scott's younger brother. The boys from down under are not having it all their own way in 2010 although they do hold the lead after 3 days. The Swiss pairing of Claudio Imhof and Silvan Dillier won tonight's chase and are 2nd just 6 points behind. British Cycling's annual representatives are Jonathan Mould and Simon Yates who hold 3rd some 17 points out. These leading 3 teams are all on the same lap although the Australian and Swiss teams are picking up most of the points. Only one other team, Matias Greve and Christian Kreutzfeldt from Denmark, are still in any kind of contention for a place on the podium a lap behind in 4th.

The Italian team in the field have former Six-Day stalwart Marco Villa looking after them. He was due to ride a last season in 2009 but had to retire a year early due to a health problem. He won here with Silvio Martinello in 1998 during a very successful period of his career when he teamed with his fellow Italian to win over 20 Six-Day races and two World Madison titles.


Friday - 70th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Ghent

by Steve Penny

Het Kuipke, Ghent, BE
26-27th November 2010

70th Six-Days of Ghent - Friday

At most Six-Day races the big night is usually the Saturday but here in Ghent it has traditionally been Friday that is the time to bring the wife, girlfriend, brother-in-law, friends etc. to experience Six-Day racing Flemish style. Many of the fans will be coming out to cheer on Iljo Keisse and indeed his official supporters club were gathering at his fathers De Karper Cafe 500 metres from the track a few hours before the start. Looking back at yesterdays racing Robert Bartko and Danilo Hondo looked strong in the chases and Bartko, a winner here twice with Keisse, maybe motivated to prove he can win here without the Belgian. Gaining laps will be the only way they can win this Six though as neither man has the speed to get big points but they appear to be primed to try and spring a surprise. Despite his own form Keisse has stated that he still believes that last years winners Rasmussen and Morkov are the top favourites.

First Race: - The evening session began with the warm up point's race, 10 bonus sprints and no lap gains, the win going too Alex Aeschbach and Franco Marvulli. The Swiss remain close to the lead despite the fact that Marvulli has been suffering with an ear infection.

Team Elimination Race: - The first 20 points on offer came in the Team Elimination or Devil as it's known in English speaking cycling circles. The win went to Marvulli / Aeschbach from De Ketele / Lampater, Aeschbach got a good jump and held Kenny De Ketele off to finish the line. The 12 points for 2nd gave De Ketele / Lampater a bonus lap and they held the lead albeit early in the evening.

Flying Lap Time Trial (TT): - Tonight saw a surprise against the clock with Mouris / Stroetinga getting the best time of 8.83. The Dutch team have got faster each night over the first 4 days. In 2nd were Rasmussen / Morkov in 8.84 and Marvulli / Aeschbach 3rd with 8.92.

1st Madison: - The 40 minute chase gave the crowd what they wanted with a win and a bunny hop across the line from Iljo Keisse. His partner Peter Schep has always been a classy rider and will be looking to play his part in taking the win on Sunday afternoon. In 2nd were Bartko / Hondo who continue to show well in the long chases with Stam / Van Bon taking 3rd and staying in contention although most likely their final placing will be 4th-6th.

Derny Races: - Tonight's series of Derny races saw Wim Stroetinga continue his good session winning behind Ron Zijlaard, son of Joop. Then Kenny De Ketele and later Iljo Keisse both won, paced by Michel Vaarten, nearly bringing down the house in the process. Last but not least Danny Stam gave his Derny pacer and Joop Zijlaard yet another win in the small hours of Saturday morning.

Individual Elimination Race 1: - Once again big teams took it easy as two of the struggling teams riders battled it out, Jeff Vermeulen took it from Steve Schets continuing the misery for the Belgian.

500 Metre TT: - It was once again Iljo Keisse and Peter Schep who won setting the fastest time of the week 28.08, besting there own 28.12 from last night. It was Keisse himself who was roared around by another sell out crowd for the last 2 laps at a speed of over 63kmph. In 2nd were Mertens / Ligthart in 28.18, they need a win to boost their morale after disappointing again losing 3 laps in the opening chase. In 3rd where Lampater / De Ketele in 28.24, they're another pair who have gotten faster every night.

2nd Madison: - After a quiet night last years winners Rasmussen / Morkov won the chase. Coming into the late stages they were a lap ahead along with Van Bon / Stam and Madsen / Hester. It was pretty much a non-event though as Rasmussen out sprinted the other two to win by about 5 bike lengths. The performance of Madsen / Hester confirmed there promising week but the big losers were Marvulli / Aeschabch who slipped to 6th place overall a lap behind the 5 teams.

Individual Elimination Race: - With no singing tonight the Argentine Donadio took a much needed win ahead of Marc Hester in the two up sprint.

Standings after 4 Days:

1. Keisse - Schep 264 points
2. De Ketele - Lampater 232
3. Rasmussen - Morkov 230
4. Bartko - Hondo 185
5. Stam - Van Bon 165
At 1 Lap:
6. Marvulli - Aeschbach 217
At 4 Laps:
7. Madsen - Hester 98
At 9 Laps:
8. Mouris / Stroetinga 96
At 13 Laps:
9. Mertens / Ligthart 161
At 15 Laps:
10. Roberts / Kneisky 77
At 26 Laps:
11. Donadio / Vermeulen 92
At 27 Laps:
12. Van Der Sande / Muller 47
At 38 Laps:
13. De Neef / Schets 63

Around Het Kuipke:

This year the organisation are celebrating the 70th running of the Ghent Six-Day making it the 2nd longest running Six-Day on the calendar, the oldest being Berlin. Ghent is now tied with New York with 70 races but the Big Apple hasn't seen Six-Day racing since 1961. The event has been held in the Citadelpark since 1922 but the old 'Wintervelodrom' that was built as part of the 1913 World Fair or Exposition burned down in 1962. The new 'Gents Sportspaleis' as it was known opened in 1965, the first winners in the building were Patrick Sercu and Eddie Merckx no less, and the Six-Day race has been run here ever since. The name of the building has changed since the late 1990s to become known as Het Kuipke (The Tub - named so as the track is reminiscent of a bath tub). In the past Het Kuipke was just the name given to the actual track rather than the building. Over the years subtle changes have been made in the main bar area but the building and the unique steeply banked 166 metre track still make it feel old. This annual winter festival is still Six-Day racing without glamour, the public know what to expect but keep coming through the doors and over 40,000 visitors will again watch this great spectacle.

UIV Cup for Riders Under 23:

The British Cycling Federation team of Jonathan Mould and Simon Yates took the nights 200 lap Madison and moved clear in the overall standings. In 2nd are Claudio Imhof / Silvan Dillier then Alex Carver / Jackson Law, both these teams have a lot more points but trail by a lap. The young Australian Alex Carver was the latest faller but he got back on his bike almost immediately to finish the chase. His partner Jackson Law was starting to look tired but at just 17 years old he has more than held his own so far.

The British boys are managed by ever youthful looking Chris Newton, a rider who competed in 4 Olympic Games on the track taking 3 medals. He was a World Champion in the Points Race (2002) and Team Pursuit (2005) and has 5 other World Championship medals to his name. He raced a couple of German Six-Day races in 2002-2003 when he was World Points Champion but the scene and its hours weren't for him. Despite early promise he didn't ever ride for a continental team on the road but was a regular winner on the British road racing calendar.


Saturday - 70th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Ghent

by Steve Penny

Het Kiupke, Ghent, BE
27-28th November 2010

Standings at the start of Saturdays racing:

The end of the Six maybe in sight but there will be nowhere to hide for the 26 riders tonight with the main contenders looking to push on or consolidate there positions before Sunday afternoons final session. Who will win will of course won't be decided until tomorrow but a bad session tonight could mean kissing a podium place goodbye if any mistakes are made. This is probably the most open Ghent Six in recent years and although everyone has there own opinion predicting the winners on Sunday is still a tough call. In poll position are Iljo Keisse and Peter Schep but Kenny De Ketele / Leif Lampater, Alex Rasmussen / Michael Morkov, Robert Bartko / Danilo Hondo and Danny Stam / Leon Van Bon will be going all out to knock them off the top.

I got the thoughts of a few riders before the start today:

Kenny De Ketele: - "It's going really well. Of course there is a big fight for the win but that's Ghent, it's a Classic!!! We are doing well for points and this year no one is going to get too 400 so what we need to do is make sure we at least get to 300, which we should do, and stay on the lap as the other leaders. All we have to do then is gain another full lap on the field tomorrow, not easy but we're going to be giving it 100%"

Robert Bartko: - "Ghent is always a very hard Six-Day but I really like the track here and I have done well before. We're feeling good and of course we still have a chance even if our points are not so high and we'll be doing our best to get a good result"

First Race: - The session began with 10 bonus sprints (no lap gains) and Bartko / Hondo took the points they needed to gain a bonus lap and go to the top of the leader board.

Team Elimination Race: - the first test of the evening was left to the 2 up sprint between Morkov and Van Bon. Although not the recognised sprinter of his team Morkov was still too sharp for 38 year old former Tour De France stage winner Van Bon.

Flying Lap Time Trial (TT): - Most teams went a bit slower in the flying lap tonight except for Wim Stroetinga who showed last night was no fluke. Once he was thrown in by his partner Jen Mouris he flew around the tight track in the fastest time of the week 8.74 (68.375 kmph). In 2nd were Rasmussen / Morkov in 8.87.

1st Madison: - During the first chase of the night Keisse / Schep and Rasmussen / Morkov really put the pressure on the other contenders. They all finished on the same lap, just, but Rasmussen showed his sprint speed in the long races by coming from a long way back to cross the line first. The Danes have taken over 50 points already tonight and it'll be hard for anyone to beat them if it goes down to the bonus sprints tomorrow.

Derny Races: - The first series of Derny races saw wins for Morgan Kneisky and then Iljo Keisse again nearly took the roof off Het Kuipke as did Kenny De Ketele, all were paced by Michel Vaarten.

Individual Elimination Race 1: - With the majors players taking there foot of the gas it was left to Tim Mertens to out sprint Sebastian Donadio for a home win.

500 Metre TT: - It was Iljo Keisse and Peter Schep who won yet again delighting the crowd with a ride of 28.12 from Mertens / Ligthart. The 20 points gave them a bonus lap and first place. Despite there good night so far, Rasmussen / Morkov haven't done particularly well in this discipline over the week.

2nd Madison: - After a good start tonight last years winners Rasmussen / Morkov lost a lap to Keisse / Schep and De Ketele / Lampater in this the last chase before tomorrows finale. Even after taking a bonus lap, as they will soon, they have a lot of work to do if they are to repeat last year's dramatic victory. The 'home team' of Keisse / Schep looked very easy again taking laps quicker than any of the other team in the field and although the chase went to De Ketele / Lampater they seemed to find it hard to get big gaps when they went clear. Also losing out are Bartko / Hondo and Van Bon / Stam as these teams will need to gain 2 laps in the finale; a big ask. Out of the running for the podium went Marvulli / Aeschbach who are 6th at 3 laps down.

Individual Elimination Race 2: - In need of points unlike on other nights Michael Morkov took this one seriously riding off with veteran road pro Danilo Hondo (see below). The old head, Hondo, got the better of Morkov to finish the night well.

Rider Profiles:

The Lampre professional Danilo Hondo has 83 wins to his name on the road and has enjoyed a mini renaissance this season after riding with small teams following a doping ban in 2006 (that ban was eventually overturned in court). At 36 years old this is only his 7th Six-Day race although he has track experience as part of the German Team Pursuit squad that won gold at the Worlds in 1994, but that was a long time ago. This correspondent had doubted his motives but fair play to him as he has acquitted himself well on this his first visit to the Ghent Six. I asked him about his Ghent experience so far and although he was friendly he responded to that question with a shrug and a smile noting "it's ok". He explained that he sees riding Six-Days as good winter training but has no ambition to become a specialist although is motivated to do well because he is in a competition which always makes you want to do your best. He will go to Zurich next week to ride with Bartko but he is unsure of any January Six-Day rides as they are likely to interfere with the start of the road season.

A rider with a less high profile career behind him but is a true professional in the old school sense is Andreas Muller. Although being Berlin born and bred he now competes for Austria and took his first ever senior Worlds medal with a bronze in the 2009 Scratch Race. He has over 57 starts in the Sixes to his name but spends the summer riding in the USA usually without sponsorship but racing in the old school way, for prize money. As well as the States he spent time this year racing in Trinidad and Tobago and will go to Cali, Colombia soon to race in the Omnium at the Track World Cup. A case of have bike will travel. His ambition is to again ride the Scratch and Madison and the World Championships but he is another rider who has suffered from the UCI decision to replace the individual endurance events at the Olympics with the Omnium. The events against the watch are a struggle for him but it is the Olympic events that the Austrian federation support, so he is trying to qualify for London 2012. Despite his usual optimism and pleasant nature, you sense that he is resigned to the fact the Omnium is a long shot for him, as it is for most of the Six-Day riders.

Standings at 01:20 a.m. (5th Night):

1. Keisse - Schep 330 points
At 1 Lap:
2. De Ketele - Lampater 298
3. Bartko - Hondo 236
4. Stam - Van Bon 206
At 2 Laps:
5. Rasmussen - Morkov 296
At 3 Laps:
6. Marvulli - Aeschbach 255
At 6 Laps:
7. Madsen - Hester 128
At 12 Laps:
8. Mouris / Stroetinga 129
At 16 Laps:
9. Mertens / Ligthart 220
At 19 Laps:
10. Roberts / Kneisky 94
At 30 Laps:
11. Donadio / Vermeulen 111
At 33 Laps:
12. Van Der Sande / Muller 58
At 44 Laps:
13. De Neef / Schets 78

Around Het Kuipke:

All week 9 times winner of the Ghent Six Etienne De Wilde has been in the seats watching proceedings quite intensely with Stan Tourne, a rider he partnered for 2 of those victories. De Wilde hails from Wetteren just a few km from Ghent and was a real hero of the local public. He was a real entertainer, his double laps and Derny rides behind Joop Zijlaard are my earliest memories of the Ghent Six. He had a long career on the road and track winning a stage of the Vuelta in 1980 and later taking stages in the Tour De France and Paris Nice amongst others. He was a winner of a number of Semi-Classics and a Belgian National Road Champion. Despite being a regular Six-Day rider it was not until he was 35 that he won his first World Championship at Oslo, Norway in the Points Race. At the age of 40 he was 1998 World Madison Champion with Matthew Gilmore and 2 years later the same pair took Silver at the Sydney Olympics behind Scott McGrory and Brett Aitken.

Another visitor to Het Kuipke tonight was Kurt Betschart winner of a record 37 Sixes, including 3 here in Ghent, with his childhood friend Bruno Risi. He retired from cycling quite unexpectedly in the summer of 2006 and never had a farewell tour of Europe's velodromes like many of his contemporaries. He was perhaps underrated by the public who always recognised Risi as the guy because of his style and speed but Betschart was a strong and steady rider and one man alone can't win a Six-Day race alone.

UIV Cup for Riders Under 23:

After a week plagued by crashes tonight it was the turn of British rider Jonathan Mould to go down in the back straight. Like Alex Carver last night he got straight back on his bike and into the fray but also like the Aussies last night his team lost a lap and the overall lead. The winners of tonight's chase and the new overall leaders were the Swiss team of Claudio Imhof / Silvan Dillier. They are just 2 points ahead of the Australian team Alex Carver / Jackson Law and thankfully Carver didn't appear to be feeling the effects of yesterday's crash. It is going to be a 3 team fight between the Swiss, Australians and British for the 'Memorial Noel Fore - Toekomstzesdaagse', the Brits will need to gain a lap if they are to be victorious though..

As noted the British team are here under the watchful eye of Chris Newton who himself rode the Dortmund and Berlin Sixes in 2002-2003. Although he told me he enjoyed that experience the Six-Days never really fitted in with his programme of summer road and Track Championship preparation. He was a rider that could have potentially done well in this style of racing but the choice was obvious as his tally of 10 Olympic and World Championship medals show. The British Cycling Federation use some of the Six-Day races to work on the technical skills of their young riders, get used to the low gears and of course give them some international competition experience.


Sunday - 70th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Ghent

by Steve Penny

Het Kiupke, Ghent, BE
28th November 2010

Sundays Racing

After looking close all week, Saturday nights racing left the 70th Ghent Six looking like a two horse race between Iljo Keisse / Peter Schep and Kenny De Ketele / Leif Lampater. With the speed of Keisse and the endurance of Schep it is their race to lose. The De Ketele / Lampater team have worked well together but despite De Keteles determination and Lampaters class neither man looked as strong as the leaders and getting a lap clear looks a tough ask, but it's not impossible. After tiring late last night Rasmussen / Morkov have a mountain to climb, by gaining laps, if they are to pull off back to back victories.

I got the thoughts of a former winner of both the Pro and Amateur Six Marco Villa before the start of Sundays racing:  "I've watched every night until the end of the first Madison and I think that Keisse is racing angry, he really wants this one. De Ketele / Lampater are good too but not as strong. The Danes of course have quality but I think they had very long seasons on the road and are not as good here as last year. Of course Rasmussen is fast but I don't think this track suits him so much".

Sprints: - Starting the final session where the 10 bonus sprints, Marvulli /Aeschbach getting a win as they warm up for the Zurich Six-Day that starts on Tuesday.

Team Elimination Race: - Of the top 3 teams only Keisse / Schep made a run at this one with De Ketele / Lampater and Rasmussen Morkov no doubt trying to hold something back for the finale. The winners were Stam / Van Bon who've stayed close to the lead without ever being on top.

Flying Lap Time Trial (TT): - Once again Dutchman Wim Stroetinga showed he's got stronger as the week progressed and today clocked a blistering best time of the week with 8.70 (68,690kmph). He and his partner Jens Mouris are part of a large Dutch contingent here that will have their sights on the World track Championships on home soil next March.

Derny Races: - The final crowd pleasing races saw wins for Iljo Keisse (who else) and Kenny De Ketele both paced by Michel Vaarten.

Individual Elimination Race: - After a torrid week in the chases Steve Schets had some cheer by out sprinting the singing Argentinean Sebastian Donadio.

500 Metre TT: - It was once again Iljo Keisse and Peter Schep that won the TT in 28.15 from Mouris / Stroetinga who clocked the same time but were a few hundredths of a second slower.

Sprints: - As if the riders needed to, they have one last chance to just stretch their legs before the finale in a 60 lap race. With 6 bonus sprints the winners were the 'other' Danish team of Madsen / Hester who have had a good Six-Days.

Standings before the Finale:

1. Keisse - Schep 384 points
2. De Ketele - Lampater 325
At 1 Lap:
3. Rasmussen - Morkov 322
4. Bartko - Hondo 259
5. Stam - Van Bon 246
At 2 Laps:
6. Marvulli - Aeschbach 301

Finale of the 70th Z6daagse Vlaanderen-Gent:

With the standings not being as close as they looked like they were going to be a couple of days ago the final chase never really caught fire and Keisse / Schep looked in control from the start. Over the last few days Keisse has received all the public's adulation but he will be the first to recognise what a great job Peter Schep did in controlling the field time and time again. Every time De Ketele / Lampater tried to break away they were always reeled back in and although with 17 laps to go they made their best attack of the day they never gained more than 50 metres on the bunch. With Schep pulling the peleton around with 7 laps to go Keisse put the final nail in De Ketele and Lampaters coffin by flying past and he and Schep powered around finishing half a lap clear of the field for Keisses 4th and Scheps first win here. The only other change was for the 3rd podium place as the heavily marked Danes Rasmussen / Morkov were beaten by a strong finishing Bartko / Hondo. This just wasn't their race.

For Kenny De Ketele it was another brave effort and he and Lampater worked well but neither has the real zip to get a gap and hold the field off in the fast chases. To win here in front of his public, Kenny will need to be paired with a fast guy to match his obvious grit and determination.

After a torrid six months Iljo Keisse exorcised his demons, for the time being, and in the comfort of his home surroundings got his lap of honour to chants of "Iljo, Iljo, Iljo". He then spent more than half an hour doing interviews with local media and was able to leave Het Kuipke a very satisfied man.

What they said:

Peter Schep - winner: - "Of course I'm really happy winning a big Six-Day like Ghent. We just had to concentrate and try to control the other guys, which of course is not easy and we still had to ride hard. I'm off to Australia for the World Cup and training then we come back for our Nationals and then the Rotterdam Six where I am riding with Theo Bos".

Michael Morkov - 4th: - "Not such an exciting finale this year. We were not at the same level as last year when we were really super strong with 3 Six-Days already in our legs. The first days were ok but really in the end we played no part in the finale. Ghent is a hard Six-Day always with a strong field, so we knew it would be hard. Iljo was very good, better than I thought but also Schep was really strong and without him they don't win. I'm going to ride with Alex (Rasmussen) in Berlin and Copenhagen and we should be better then. I'm also in Rotterdam but I'm not sure who I will ride with."

Final Standings:

1. Keisse - Schep 406 points
2. De Ketele - Lampater 345
3. Bartko - Hondo 275
At 1 Lap:
4. Rasmussen - Morkov 346
5. Stam - Van Bon 254
At 2 Laps:
6. Marvulli - Aeschbach 301
At 7 Laps:
7. Madsen - Hester 149
At 14 Laps:
8. Mouris / Stroetinga 160
At 18 Laps:
9. Mertens / Ligthart 279
At 20 Laps:
10. Roberts / Kneisky 111
At 31 Laps:
11. Donadio / Vermeulen 155
At 35 Laps:
12. Van Der Sande / Muller 92
At 46 Laps:
13. De Neef / Schets 114

Around Het Kuipke:

With the Iljo Keisse doping case still not resolved, the organisation and riders had an unannounced visit from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) during the week. They took 6 riders from the top 6 teams away during the programme to be tested, including Keisse of course. The Organisation was not pleased with what they saw as an invasion and felt that the UCI has the doping control in order and in line with normal protocol. They also sent controllers around the cabins during the evening and Patrick Sercu noted that this noticeably unsettled the riders and contributed to some below standard racing.

Overall though, the Organisation said the Six-Days had been a commercial success with 42,000 spectators in attendance and all but Tuesday night was a sell out or close to sold out. They are happy that the tradition and culture of the Ghent Six remains intact and it was noted that the track centre is the hub of the spectators and will remain so and never be used for hosting corporate sponsors as is the culture at other Six-Day races. It was also noted that the track will remain permanent as it has always been and organisers of other events in the hall will have to adapt, having a removable track is not an option. On the sporting side Sercu declared that he was happy with all the top riders. The lead up to the Six-Days was very stressful for all concerned with the aforementioned Iljo Keisse situation. It was noted that a lot of the riders did come into Ghent after rest periods and so some took time to find there legs but overall he had no complaints. Sercu was happy with 19 year old Tosh Van Der Sande and he said it is not an easy Six-day to make your debut in, but Tosh impressed the public at times with his fight and this bodes well for future Ghent Sixes.

South Australian Luke Roberts has been away from the Six-Days for a couple of years, with the exception of Grenoble last year, after getting a contract with Milram to ride the road. He was finding the first few days a bit tough coming into such a hard Six-Day as Ghent but got better as the week progressed and is another of the riders starting in Zurich on Tuesday. After that he'll start to prepare for the road season and is looking forward to riding for and helping to build up the Australian Pegasus Sports team who missed out on a place in Pro-Tour for 2011.

UIV Cup for Riders Under 23:

Despite a hard fought final Madison without a big field on the track the 3 top teams just marked each other all the way and there was no change from last night. The Swiss pairing of Claudio Imhof / Silvan Dillier held off the Aussies Alex Carver / Jackson Law and Brits Jonathan Mould and Simon Yates, dominating the bonus sprints along the way. The Swiss team will fly home and have an altogether different proposition next week as they'll ride with the professionals in the Zurich Six-Day.

Final 'Memorial Noel Fore - Toekomstzesdaagse' Standings:

1. Imhof / Dillier (Swi) 121 points
2. Carver / Law (Aus) 101
3. Mould / Yates (GB) 66
At 1 lap:
4. Lander / Kreutzfeldt (Den) 49