MISCELLANY > REPORTS > Z6s-daagse Vlaanderen-Gent 2004

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November 23-28
Het Kuipke / Gent

by A. Devlin

One of the most exciting cycling events of the winter season in Europe is the 6-day racing circuit. The season begins in October and finishes in February/March. The 6-day format is based on the tradition of the early 20th century racing where a team of two riders would race for 144 hours around a wooden track in an indoor arena with thousands of spectators cheering them on. One rider of the two-man team had to be on the track at all times. Nowadays the 6-day racers will ride 6 to 8 hours every evening for six days in a row or 36 to 48 hours of intense fast-paced riding.

The racing includes flying laps, fastest time over 500metres, miss-n-outs (elimination), points races, derny races and the backbone of the 6-day racing; the Madison or l’american as the French refer to it. This is where for 30 to 60minutes the team of two riders will ride hard with one racer at the bottom of the track hammering in the pack while his partner is at the top of the track resting and catching his breath. After a couple of laps the rider circling the balustrade will come off the steep sides of the track usually at a high rate of speed and he will coordinate this move with his partner racing at the red line near the bottom of the track. As the riders come together the racer at the bottom will hand-sling his partner into the race. When executed with precision and finesse the hand sling of the Madison is a movement rivaling the modern dance maneuvers of a Cirque du Soleil performer. When the coordination of this move is well timed and executed the rider joining the racing is flung into the pack of riders and he hammers the pedals, attempting to break away from the pack and race to gain a lap. The average speed of the racing during the Madison is well over 50km per hour.

The queen of the 6-day races is the Belgian Gent 6-day or the Flemish z6s-daagse Vlaanderen-Gent. In the history of 6-day racing only two cities have staged more 6-day races than Gent. Berlin has staged 93 events beginning in 1909. In New York City there have been 70 6-day races between 1899 and 1961. The Canadian, William "Torchy" Peden had a special love for the Madison Square Garden track and won four 6-day races there between 1932 and 1939.

Third on the top cities list is Gent with 64 races. The first 6-day race was staged in Gent in 1922. Over the years some of the most prominent 6-day cyclists and road cyclists have raced in Gent: Rik Van Steenbergen (Bel), Patrick Sercu (Bel), Tom Simpson (UK), Danny Clark (Aus), Tony Doyle (UK), and Eddy Merckx (Bel). At the entrance to the Kuipke is a statue of Tom Simpson, one of the first Anglos to settle in the Gent area and immerse himself in the European cycling scene.

The track for the 6-day race in Gent is located at Citadel Park and is known as Het Kuipke. A literal translation of Kuipke is the tub or barrel. When you first see the Kuipke track you are immediately impressed with how they have managed to squeeze this wooden track into this old arena.
The track is only 166 meters long with steep 48% banks in the corners. Many of the riders have stated that banks are over 50%. In one way the Kuipke track resembles the slats of a wooden barrel, hence the name. For the 6-day riders this small track means a difficult technical ride, very different from the German and Dutch 6-day tracks that are a long and expansive 250m to 333m in length. For the 6-day racer the Kuipke track means short straight-aways and tight quick corners. The centrifugal force of racing the corners will literally whip the rider through the corner and then catapult him out down the straightaway. This especially occurs if you ride high on the corner and plunges off the bank into the straight.

The majority of the European 6-day races take place in Germany with five 6-day events during the 2004-2005 season (Dortmund, Munich, Bremen, Stuttgart and Berlin). The German races are known for they’re off-track spectacles during the 6-day such as restaurants, variety shows, music and dancing. On the other hand the z6s-daagse Vlaanderen-Gent is known for spectators who are knowledgeable of 6-day racing, a rowdy robust crowd that loves Belgian beer, a place where Anglophones from the UK, USA and Canada can feel at home, and 6-day racing that is challenging and demanding for the racers.

The 64th edition of Gent 6-day got underway with a sold-out crowd of over 7000 spectators. The 13 teams were introduced and included the top riders on the circuit.

The 2004 Amsterdam 6-day winners Robert Slippens and Danny Stam were present. Slippens and Stam were in good form having won on the previous weekend the Netherlandse Kampioenschappen 2004 Koppelkoers (Netherlands Madison Championship) at the Amsterdam velodrome. The Swiss duo of Alexander Aeschbach and Franco Marvulli, who were recently victorious in the 2004 Six Jours de Grenoble, were primed to go. The 2004 Dortmund 6-Tage-Rennen winner Scott McGrory from Australia was scheduled to team up with his Australian teammate Luke Roberts. As well, McGrory and his partner Gilmore had recently won at the Munich 6-Tage-Rennen. But McGrory has been ill with a 40-degree fever and unable to ride. Luke Roberts is to team up with the German Lars Teutenberg.

Matthew Gilmore (32), who was born in Australia is now a Belgian citizen is a fan favorite in Gent. Gilmore was originally paired to ride with the popular Belgian ‘bad boy’ Frank Vandenbroucke but alas marital difficulties, mental health issues and a court case on doping charges have preoccupied Frank as of late. Instead Matthew Gilmore is paired with the Potsdam flyer Robert Bartko (29). Bartko has won three Olympic track medals from the Sydney and Athens games. Also present are "The Alpen Express" Bruno Risi (36) and Kurt Betschart (36). This Swiss duo has the record for most 6-day wins of any active 6-day racers with 35 and 34 wins respectively. Other notables riders were the veterans: Italian Marco Villa (35) with 111 6-day competitions, Gerd Dorich (36)(Ger) with 133 6-day competitions, Andreas Kappes(39) (Ger) with 100 6-day competitions and the Danish rider Jimmi Madsen (35) (DK) with 107 6-day races (see 6-day racer chart).

At the start of each evening of the 6-day race there is a special competition organized by the Union International de Velodromes (UIV) of young up and coming riders of the future. This competition, called the UIV Cup is an opportunity for the young riders to experience 6-day racing. The racing takes place early in the evening and the riders participate in one or two of the 6-day sprint or Madison competitions each night. After the amateur competition the professionals were ready to go.

Opening ceremonies included a four-piece band and the introductions of the 6-day teams. Each of the teams had to sign-in on a large board similar to the for the professional road races. Tonight’s dignitaries included a trim looking Eddy Merckx, Patrick Sercu (the event organizer and winner of over 88 6-day races, including 11 wins in Gent), Ms Belgian Beauty 2005 and the Premier of Belgium Verhofstadt.

This was a special evening for Patrick Sercu as he recently turned sixty years old. Tonight there is a launch of a new book detailing his spectacular career as a cyclist both on the track and the road. Portret van een Puzzel (Portrait of a Puzzle) is a beautiful large format book with 184 pages and 175 photos of Sercu. Not to be out done the vendors were also selling a large format calendar celebrating the cycling career of Eddy Merckx. Merckx and Sercu partnered in 28 6-day races winning 15 times.

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