An Introduction to the 66th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Gent
by Steve Penny
The 2006 edition of the Gent Six appears to be wide open, however due to injury and retirements it is also on paper perhaps one of the weaker and least experienced fields in memory. The 13 teams, 26 riders, taking the start line include four individuals who have previously won in Gent - Bruno Risi, Iljo Keisse, Marco Villa and Danny Stam. This year each of them is paired with riders who have just four previous starts in Het Kuipke between them - Leif Lampater, Robert Bartko, Marc Hester and Peter Schep respectively. Of the past winners who rode last year Matt Gilmore & Robert Slippens are out with serious injuries sustained in late summer road race crashes. Kurt Betschart & Jimmi Madsen retired after the 2005/2006 six day season at the time of writing and twice winner Scott McGrory's future is unknown.
The Six Day Season So Far
Overall the 2006/2007 Six Day season appears to be good news for track fans as there are now more Sixes on the calendar than we've had in many years, as recently as 2003/2004 riders only had a seven race Six Day season. With the arrival of Maastricht, the return of Zurich, a second ever Six in Hasselt and the relatively recent revival of the Sixes in Rotterdam, Copenhagen and Amsterdam there are now twelve events to ride and the scene would appear to be thriving. However, looking down the results sheets so far this season races have not always been close and there is a lack of obvious favourites on the start lists. In Dortmund & Munich the 'dream team' of Risi & Zabel won as expected, in Dortmund by 2 laps, in Munich by 1 lap and on both occasions with the highest points total. At both these big German Sixes there was gap of 8 or 9 laps between the winners and 5th place, in Amsterdam and Maastricht gaps were fairly close between the first few teams but as in Germany a look further down the results confirms a lack of depth. Perhaps another pointer to the lack of quality experienced Six Day riders competing has been the unusually large number of crashes we've had so far this season.
Victors in the Six Day season so far:
Riders can of course only gain the necessary experience by riding the Six day races and long time Gent Six organiser Patrick Sercu recognised this inevitable changing of the guard so to speak at the recent 2006 Press launch when he said:
This year only five teams can realistically be concidered contenders for the victory, with a slight edge going to Team 2 of 2005, winner (with Matt Gilmore) Iljo Keisse and the German strong man Robert Bartko. Iljo Keisse is having a reasonable season so far placing 2nd in both Maastricht (with Marco Villa) and Munich (with Franco Marvulli) . The 23 year old Keisse is born and raised in Gent and will have the full support of the Het Kuipke crowd; it will inevitably be his main objective for this Six Day season. His partner Robert Bartko - an Olympic and World Pursuit Champion - has not had the best of seasons so far after a crash in Amsterdam forced him to abandon and still suffering the effects of that fall he also failed to finish in Dortmund. Worryingly for Bartko, Keisse and the Gent organisation after winning in Munich last year he only managed 5th this year, at 8 laps down, racing with his preferred partner and fellow German Andreas Beikirch.
At the recent Gent Six Press launch Etienne De Wilde, 9 time winner and local hero for over 15 years, said that his favourites where - current World Madison Champions - Team 1, the Spaniards Isaac Galvez and Juan Llaneras. The pair had a good 2nd place in Amsterdam their only other start so far was in Munich were they finished 4th at 3 laps with a fairly low point's total. Galvez and Llaneras are a great Madison pairing but in Sixes they don't seem versatile enough in all the disciplines to accumulate points and gain the bonus laps available for every 100 points won. The points and bonus laps are what can ultimately win Six Day races, a look at Amsterdam and Munich's results show they finished with points totals in the 170's. This low points total cost them two full potential bonus laps to the winners of both Sixes; the winners had point's totals well into the 300's. At Gent, the winners always accumulate points totalling 350 plus and my feeling is that the Spaniards will finish at least a few laps and that elusive couple of hundred points down.
Team 3 is the Dutch duo of Danny Stam and Peter Schep who have already won in Amsterdam and finished 3rd at Munich and Maastricht. Danny Stam was the winner - with long time partner Robert Slippens - of four Sixes in January and February of 2006, which was a remarkable run of form. This potentially dominant partnership has of course been broken due to Slippens' serious injuries and this season - World Points Race Champion - Peter Schep has stepped into Slippens' considerable shoes fairly successfully. Although already 29 years old 2005/2006 was Scheps first full season of Six Day races and he has shown himself to be a rider of undoubted class. The 'Orange koppel' should therefore be there or there abouts at the Gent Final although their obvious weakness is the lack of a fast sprint, which was of course a Slippens' forte.
In years to come when people talk about great Six Day riders they will include Bruno Risi who in Munich last week won the 41st Six Day race of his career. Now 38 years old Bruno Risi has been the strongest (regular) Six day rider over the last 13 or 14 years, although Silvio Martinello was up there with him for some years before his retirement in early 2003. Risi missed all of the Sixes in January and February 2006 following a nasty crash in Gent last November. While he was returning to full fitness Kurt Betschart his close friend, brother-in-law and partner for 37 victories retired from racing leaving Risi to carry on with changeable partners. If Betscharts retirement was a blow it's not been noticed as Risi started this season by winning the European Madison Championship and the new Maastricht Six with fellow Swiss - and his partner in World and Olympic medal rides- Franco Marvulli. He then went on to totally dominate the Dortmund Six with German road star Erik Zabel. The pair, appropriately named the 'dream team', followed that up with a win in the prestigious Munich Six last week.
For Gent Risi has been paired for the first time with the 23 year old German team pursuiter Leif Lampater, a rider Risi himself tipped as a future Six Day champion last year. Lampater showed his talent with a win at Stuttgart and a podium place in Berlin last season but his only Six Day outing so far this year was a 2nd place finish in Dortmund (with fellow German team pursuiter Guido Fulst) albeit at 2 laps behind Risi and Zabel. Lampater is currently in Australia riding the UCI Track World Cup and hopefully won't be suffering the effects of jet lag following the journey back to Europe, he only arrives back a day or two before his first Gent start. Riding with Risi should be the ultimate motivation for a Six Day rider so if Lampater has recovered they should form a classic Six day pairing, Lampater being the strong pursuiter and Risi possessing electric attacking and sprint speeds.
The other team with an outside shot at the win are the Team 5 Swiss duo Franco Marvulli and Alexander Aeschbach. The pair have won four times in Grenoble but with all due respect Grenoble is by far the weakest of all the indoor Six Day races on the calendar. Franco Marvulli, now 28, is a talented and likeable rider who excels in the scratch, points and elimination races and has shown good form achieving podium places in the past alongside Marco Villa. Alexander Aeschbach at 32 years old is a solid and established rider on the circuit but is not seen as a real 'topper'. For Marvulli winning without Bruno Risi may prove a difficult task in a hard fought Gent Six Days, and he will have an eye on the return of Zurich in December where he resumes his partnership with Risi.
The up and coming Belgium Kenny De Ketele will be looking to build on his solid first pro Gent outing last year. De Ketele, aged 21, is paired with his fellow Belgium the 22 year old Steve Schets. The duo were consistent finishers in Amateur Six Days a couple of seasons ago and the Gent the organisation will be hoping they can gain further experience and progress in 2006/2007.
Another Belgian pairing is the two 25 year olds Dimitri De Fauw and Wouter Van Mechelen. De Fauw won five Amateur Sixes with Iljo Keisse in 2003/2004 and appeared set for a big future having made his pro Gent debut in 2002. In 2003 he showed especially well in the flying lap and 500 metre time trails (TTs) but having signed with Quick-Step in 2004 De Fauw was not allowed to ride the Six days in 2004/2005. He returned to the track at Gent in 2005 but seemed somewhat out of sorts not performing in TT's or any other disciplines. Having left Quick-Step and getting back on the track, the organisation and his local Gent crowd will hope Dimitri returns to his form of 2003 and is attacking the track record over the short distances.
Munich born Christian Grassman has had some decent performances this year and at 25 looks like a classy rider who could develop into a contender in years to come. This year for his 2nd Gent start he is paired with the Berliner, and Gent first timer, Andreas Muller with whom a place in the top half of the standings will be seen as a good result. Dane Marc Hester is still only 21 years old and is another rider with a bright future on the Six Day circuit. For this, his second, Gent appearance he is paired with veteran 37 year old Italian Marco Villa, a winner of 22 Six Days mostly alongside the great Silvio Martinello. With Villa's class and experience this pair should be looking to get into the top half of the standings but a podium place is still a few years away for young Hester.