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November 22-27, 2005
Arnold (Devlin) had been trying for ages to get me to go to Europe to watch a 6-day event, but I always found some excuse not to go. My wife Roberta finally convinced me to go after mentioning she would also like to come along. Well... that's all it took. After a few days online on the computer, the three of us pretty well got everything we needed for the trip, the flight tickets, car rental and hotel. Bob Williams, sports director for the Blaine Velodrome, purchased all the tickets for us for the z6sdaggse event itself. Bob did this online, which saved us a bit of work. When we received the tickets we just re-imbursed Bob the money he originally spent. All we needed to do now was plan an itinerary for the sights and places we would like to see while there.
Not really knowing what I was getting myself in for when I decided to make the trip to Belgium for the Z6sdaagse Vlaanderan Gent, I was totally amazed at the spectacle of human effort and determination put forth by the riders. I had no idea how exiting 6-day racing could be until after watching a few hours of the professional 6-day racers on the track during the first night of racing at the Kuipke Velodrome.
The speeds are unbelievable. The riders are averaging 50+ kph all the time, with speeds reaching almost 70 kph during the sprints. The Derny races are yet another spectacle, with speeds nearing 80 kph. These races are continuous from 7 p.m. until 1 or 2 in the morning. There are usually two breaks during the evening to give the riders a chance to eat, drink and freshen up for the next series of races. The riders will also do this between events, if they have been eliminated from a race such as a miss-and-out.
No matter where you are situated at the Kuipke, there is a great view of the racing. The middenplein (center of the track), is where most of the drinkers end up (Belgians do enjoy their beer). The two end zones contained numerous keg taps with the bartenders constantly filling the plastic cups and passing them to the patrons of the middenplein. For viewing the race I didn't find it as good as the bleachers because you were constantly turning your head to follow the racers. It wouldn't take you long to get dizzy, which would be exacerbated with the amount a beer intake. Arnold was fortunate due to the fact that he had a press pass, which gave us access the end zone where the press sat and anywhere along the edge of the whole track. From here you had a means of getting right up to the racers, their bikes and their small rest/change quarters.
The atmosphere of the event was something else also. There was the constant primal drum beat, through all the overhead speakers, that steadily increased in volume as a particular event neared completion. At first it was a bit un-nerving, not being used to it, but the more you got into the whole scene, the more the sounds increasingly wrapped you up within it. The whole crowd all react the same way, yelling and screaming for their favourite riders as the final lap approaches.
The whole event is absolutely amazing. It's all the thrill of the Tour de France but this takes place right in front of you. It was well worth the visit.
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