An Introduction to the 67th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Gent
by Steve Penny
The 67th Zes-daages Van Vlaanderen, Gent (Six days of Flanders, Gent) begins in the Het Kuipke velodrome on Tuesday 20th November.
The second oldest existing Six Day race was marred by tragedy last year with the death of World Madison Champion, Isaac Galvez following a late Saturday night Madison crash. The tragedy could have brought an end to Six Day racing in Gent but the organization decided that the event should continue. So in honour of Isaac Galvez before the start of the 2007 race the organization will unveil a memorial stone in the velodrome. The cyclists will ride a commemorative lap as their way of honouring him before the actual start of the racing. Juan Llaneras, who was twice World Champion with Galvez and his partner at the time of the accident, has since returned to Six Day racing but will not race in Gent.
For this years race the Het Kuipke venue has made several improvements with safety in mind, these include a new operating theatre installed in the cellar, protective padding on the rails at the top of the track as well as increasing security measures to protect riders and fans alike.
The 2007 Gent Six appears on paper at least to be a straight fight between three or possibly four teams.
Gents own local hero, and expert on the tight 166 metre track, Iljo Keisse will once again be paired with German individual pursuit strongman Robert Bartko. The pair started the season well winning the Amsterdam Six last month. In 2005 Keisse had started to build a strong 'Belgian' partnership with Matthew Gilmore, winning his first Gent Six. But due to injuries sustained in a road race crash before the 2006/2007 Six Day season Gilmore has sadly been forced to retire from the sport. Since then Keisse and Bartko seem to have become decent partners and although Bartko is stronger on the longer tracks with Keisse's extra home town motivation they start as favourites for victory.
Second on the favourites list are the Swiss World Madison Champions Bruno Risi and Franco Marvulli. Since Risi's long time partner Kurt Betschart retired last year he has been on an incredible run winning eleven Six day races (ten indoor and one outdoor in Italy) as well as the 2006 European and 2007 World Madison titles. The latest win, with Marvulli, in Munich this week was the 49th of his career. Marvulli has always been a good track rider with a strong sprint but now at 29 and riding regularly with Risi he has really come into his own. They are currently far and away the hottest pairing in Six day racing and even at 39 Risi is still the Six Day boss. An interesting thing to look out for is whether or not Bruno really suits, or likes, the Gent track? In about 16 starts at Gent Risi 'only' has three wins compared with numerous victories in Germany and Zurich. But, paired for the first time at Gent with Marvulli, who should be able to pick up plenty of points in the race heavy Gent programme, the hunger for that 50th win will be there and they should give Keisse and Bartko a real run for their money.
Next on the list must be the Dutch duo Robert Slippens and Danny Stam. During the second part of the 2005/2006 winter season they won four of five Six Day races and seemed to becoming the top pair of the winter boards. However Slippens suffered serious injuries in the summer of 2006 and only rode one Six last season. The road back to form will have been long and hard for Slippens but a second and two third places so far this season suggest he is coming back strongly. The Dutchmen have always gone well on the short tracks having won twice in Bremen and once in Gent and this may be the race that completes Slippens' recovery with a return to the top step of the podium. Only time will tell us the answer though.
Brits are back
The only other team that could be considered amongst the real favourites are the British pairing of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish. Wiggins has plenty of Six Day pedigree his father, the Australian Garry Wiggins, is a former Six Day rider and it was while his father was racing that Bradley was born in Gent. Bradley has a great record on the track winning numerous World and Olympic medals in the Team pursuit and Madison. He is currently the reigning Olympic and World Individual Pursuit champion. Over the last few years he has also developed into a strong road rider winning short and medium length time trials at some big events. So with his concentration being on the pursuit and road racing we have not seen him in a Six Day race since he won here with Matthew Gilmore in November 2003.
Mark Cavendish has just completed his first full year of road racing with the T-Mobile team. He is developing into one of the fastest road sprinters around and had eleven wins this year including a handful in Pro Tour events. He first came into the limelight winning the 2005 World Madison Championship as a teenager with Rob Hayles, in LA. During that winter he had a baptism of fire riding three Six Day races as World Champion with Rob Hayles. He crashed out in Dortmund then still recovering came last in Munich and Gent at a massive 43 and 34 laps behind the winners. With his road career taking off in such a big way since Cavendish has come a long way in a short space of time though, and his newly acquired road pedigree means he will be expected to ride well on his return to the winter boards. So on their return to Gent and Six Day racing expectation will be high among the many British fans that annually make the journey across the channel, but can they make the transition? This will be the first time the pair has ridden together and the idea is to get some preparation in with the 2008 Olympic Madison in mind. Wiggins recently told a UK website:
This statement doesn't sound as if they are thinking of the win but perhaps he is playing things down a little. My thoughts are that Wiggins and Cavendish - who are a classic Six Day pursuiter / sprinter combination - are very competitive guys who will not want to just make up the numbers. Wiggins especially is very well suited to any track and will be much stronger all round than he was in 2003. If they find their track legs quickly, stay healthy and out of any possible crashes they could well challenge for the podium.
There are a couple of notable high profile absentees that has cut the list of favourites from five to four. German Leif Lampater and Dutchman Peter Schep both won Sixes last season but neither is on the Gent start list.
Peter Schep partnered Erik Zabel to third place at Amsterdam in October after standing in well for Robert Slippens as Danny Stam's regular partner last season. They won the 2006 Amsterdam Six and had a number of other podium places. At Berlin we had suggested Schep was going to become one of the regular riders and a force in Six Day racing and he will be missed. However just today Peter informed us that the reason he is missing is because he is going to the up and coming track World Cups in Sydney and Beijing as part of his Olympic preparation. He said that he will ride at the Maastricht Six, in December, and the Rotterdam Six in early January. He also noted his participation in other Sixes this winter depend on the success of his World Cup results which go toward Olympic qualification.
At the time of writing we have no information as to why Leif Lampater will not ride but one must assume it is for the same reason as Schep. Lampater is the biggest talent on the Six day circuit and won Januarys Berlin Six, with Guido Fulst. How highly he is thought of was proved when he was given the prestigious job of partnering Erik Zabel at the recent Dortmund and Munich Sixes, finishing second on both occasions. Hopefully he will be back at the German Sixes in January and we'll be able to report on his progress in Berlin.
A Chance to Shine
The rest of the field looks interesting but no one else appears to be ready to fight for podium places however a number of teams will look to get in the top half and remain a respectable number of laps down come Sundays finish.
One such team is that of Gent born and raised Dimitri De Fauw and the Swiss Alexander Aeschbach. Last November Dimitri De Fauw was in the form of his life winning all the Time Trials (TT) and attacking the track records. He actually told us in an interview on the Saturday that he was feeling great and could in fact go well in the Madisons but his remit was to give everything for the TT and entertain the crowd. Later on Saturday night De Fauw was involved in the fatal collision with Isaac Galvez and everything else was of course forgotten. For obvious reasons the interview was never put on our website and it will be interesting to see how Dimitri comes back this year. He had a reputation in Belgium for being a bit fragile mentally and psychologically it must have been very tough for him. But with the underrated Aeschbach he recently had his best ever Six Day finish, second in Grenoble. Although Grenoble didn't have a strong field they will be familiar and confident so could be a good bet to break into the top six. There final placing though could depend on whether the organisers want De Fauw to go for the TT records or race hard in the Madisons.
Best of the Rest
Before last years ill fated race Gent Six organiser Patrick Sercu recognised the need for young riders to come through when he said:
First among the promising young Belgians is Kenny De Ketele back here for a third start. He gained good experience riding a few other Sixes last season and is partnered with veteran Italian Marco Villa. Villa was absent from the Munich Six line up but was still riding the track, with Paolo Bettini no less, at a four day series during the Milan Cycle Show. This youngster / veteran partnership could go well and push to be in the top six overall.
The speedy Steve Schets also gets his third Gent start with Ingmar De Poortere who rode the pro event last year though he has only ridden the Under 25 competitions at other Sixes. Gent debutants this year are Nicky Cocquyt who is riding with veteran Steve De Neef and Tim Mertens, with German Andreas Muller. One would expect the main objective of the young Belgians will be to gain experience of Six Day racing with an eye on the future of the Belgium track squad.
The Berliner Andreas Muller returns to Gent for the second time. He appears to be established now among the regular Six Day 'train' and is given the role of experienced head to guide Tim Mertens around. Muller is a friend of our website who has an interest in travelling to Canada so we will aim to get some quotes from him during the week.
The German presence is completed by another veteran / youngster pairing of Andreas (Andi) Beikirch and winner of the Under 25 race here last year Erik Mohs. If there is to be a surprise this team may well provide it after finishing fifth in Munich just two laps down on the winners Risi & Marvulli. Top five may be a real possibility in Gent too.
Australians have always provided a presence at European Six Day races and this year former team pursuiter and CSC rider Luke Roberts lines up for a rare appearance having previously ridden at Het Kuipke in 2004. Roberts took fifth albeit eight laps down in Dortmund earlier this month but didn't get a start in Munich. He is with young Danish hope Marc Hester who after being guided around a few Sixes by, then retiring, Jimmi Madsen in 2005/2006. He rode regularly last season but does not yet seem to have stepped up a level from promising newcomer.