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An Introduction to the 68th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Ghent

by Steve Penny
Watford, UK
16th November 2008

Cycle racing has had another poor year in terms of public relations with doping once more making more headlines than racing. Germany, the home of the European Six Day scene, has been hit the hardest with the cancelling of the 2009 Tour of Germany, the Stuttgart Six Day and Tour De France TV coverage. News also indicates that the Dortmund and Munich Sixes had the lowest attendance figures for many years, perhaps ever, and the Munich events future is reportedly in jeopardy. All this is a fall out from the poor public image cycling now has in Germany following the boom years of the mid to late 1990’s when the nation followed the now disgraced Jan Ullrich at the Tour De France in numbers only usually reserved for football (soccer) World Cups. Of course Six day racing is not the Tour De France but historically Six Day racing actually precedes the Tour by around 25 years. Due to increased specialism, and money, the prestige of Six Day racing has been lost a little with riders increasingly aiming for glory on the road. They have still maintained their traditional place at the grass roots of cycle sport though and in spite of everything the Six Days in the German capital, Berlin and Bremen are still booming with seats and standing room still expected to sell out.

Another place witnessing no fall out from the ongoing scandals is the Belgium, Flemish city of Ghent where the 68th Six Days of Flanders, Ghent (Zes-Daages Van Vlaanderen, Gent in Flemish) gets under way on Tuesday, November 18th. Promoters estimate that 42,000+ of the knowledgeable Flanders cycling public will come to see the ‘Men of the Night’ speed around the local 166 metre, Het Kuipke track proving that even into it’s 3rd century Six Day racing is still alive and well.

This Years Ghent Field - Team Photos of the Z6s Daagse Website

Former king of the Sixes and Gent Six ‘Sports Director’ Patrick Sercu has the job of choosing the 12 teams to take the start line in Het Kuipke. He described putting his field together as “puzzle work” but is satisfied he has “good balance with 3 leading teams and a strong middle of the field!!!!” Leading light will be Ghent local hero Iljo Keisse who won here in 2007, to the delight of ‘his’ public, with German Robert Bartko. They really are the overwhelming favourites to repeat that feat again in 2008. They’ve become a very strong, and regular, partnership and started this winter season in good form winning the Munich Six last week and taking 3rd in Amsterdam last month. Keisse has developed into a real strong man of the winter boards and will be going for his 10th overall Six Day victory from just over 50 starts, a strong winning percentage, and he is still only 25 years old.

Normally amongst the top favourites for any event is the king of Six Day racing in the 1990s and new millennium (so far) 40 year old Swiss flyer Bruno Risi. He and Franco Marvulli had been tearing up the European tracks over the last two years (since Risi’s 15 year partner Kurt Betschart retired in 2006) winning 13 Sixes plus a World and European Madison title. After starting the 2008 World and Olympic Madison as favourites they went home medal-less. Since then unfortunately Marvulli has been taken out with a virus since early in the Dortmund Six and so Risi will race in Ghent with Alexander Aeschbach, also from Switzerland. Aeschbach is a strong rider in his own right, with 6 wins from over 60 starts to his name, and at 34 he will be looking forward to racing with the legend that is Bruno Risi; however they may not be strong enough to challenge for victory and a podium place would prove to be a good result.

Before the 2006/2007 Six Day season Dutch duo Robert Slippens and Danny Stam looked ready to become kings of the Sixes following four wins in 2005/2006 but Slippens suffered serious injuries in a summer of 2006 crash. In 2007/2008 he made what seemed a full return to racing but then missed the last 6 races of the winter season due to recurring problems. This autumn it looked as if he had come back to his best winning the Amsterdam Six with, of course, Danny Stam but after pulling out of the Munich Six he is not among the starters in Ghent and the latest news is that his career could be at risk. Stam will therefore renew his 2006/2007 winter partnership with former World Points race champion and regular Dutch National Track Team rider, Peter Schep. This pairing had a number of good places and a win during Slippens’ year out so they should be competitive but perhaps neither of them has the pure speed needed on the short 166 metre track. Like Risi / Aeschbach the Dutchmen will be going for the podium with anything else a big bonus.

Hello and Goodbye to Erik Zabel

During the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, big name road riders made regular appearances in Six Day Races. The king of cycling Eddy Merckx himself rode 35 Sixes. Since the early-mid 90’s, top road riders have been scarce on the Six day scene mostly due to the fact that teams pay more now but also due to racing schedules and team commitments. Erik Zabel is the one rider with major Tour de France and Classic credentials too, have ridden in the Sixes, starting 25 and winning 11 over the last 14 years. Most of those appearances have been in Dortmund (6 wins), were he is resident, and Munich (4 wins) plus a few rides in Bremen (1 win), Amsterdam and Rotterdam. But following his retirement from the road this October he has embarked on a farewell tour on the Six day scene, alongside young German Leif Lampater, riding in Amsterdam, Dortmund and Munich already. His 6th win in Dortmund and 2nd places at the other events shows he is still racing hard and will race for the first time in Ghent. The Belgian public will be pleased to have a chance to say ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ to Erik but will also be keen to see how he and Lampater shape up in what looks like a head to head with Keisse / Bartko for the win. Lampater at nearly 26 is along with Keisse the future of the Sixes and on his second start in Ghent will be motivated after the narrow loss to Keisse / Bartko in Munich last week.

Local talent

Iljo Keisse is, as noted, a star of the Sixes and Belgian track racing but there are a couple of guys who are looking to progress further over the winter albeit at slightly different stages in their careers.

Kenny De Ketele at 23 and with 18 Six Day races under his belt should be looking to break in as regular on the circuit this season. Kenny road to 4th place in the Olympic and World Madisons and won the European Madison title this year, all with Keisse, showing his one off Madison race potential. After a good ride last year with Villa taking 4th place he has once again been given a strong partner in Andreas Beikirch. The 38 year old German has ridden in 110 Sixes and should work well with De Ketele to achieve a good result, most likely 4th or 5th but with good form they could at least remain in the race into the final weekend. Tim Mertens made his indoor Six day debut at Gent last November and he road impressively to 6th place with the more experienced Berliner Andreas Muller, albeit at 15 laps behind the winners. Sercu has re-united the Belgo-German team and it will be interesting to see if they can go as well again this time. Mertens was drafted in as a late replacement in Munich and Sercu feels he has tremendous potential. He has gained international experience too riding World Championships and World Cup scratch races. He really could be someone that within a couple of years can challenge for high places in the Sixes, providing that is the direction he sees his career taking.

Turning Point for Dimitri

Gent born and raised Dimitri De Fauw is according to Sercu “at the turning point” and needs to work hard to resurrect a once promising career riding with fellow Belgian the veteran Steven De Neef. De Fauw did after all win the UIV Talents Cup (what was once the amateur Six that precedes the main event with a 60 minute Madison every night) for under 25’s with Keisse in 2002/2003. Since then he has raced for Quick-Step but has slowly fallen from grace and had no pro team contract in 2008. He was known to be a bit fragile mentally and one wonders if the psychological effects of being the rider Isaac Galvez fatally crashed into 2 years ago will have had caused irreversible damage. Last year he over trained in an attempt to ride well in the Madisons, but it looks like this year his remit will once again be to go fast in the Flying lap and 500 metre Time Trials races he excelled in during the ill fated 2006 race. He has a fan club who made themselves heard last year, so perhaps they can motivate him to kick start a once promising career, at 27, time is still on his side.

Best of the Rest

The other Belgians in the field are Nicky Cocquyt and Ingmar De Poortere who are both 24 and they have one and two Ghent starts respectively but elsewhere have not really raced at this level to date. De Poortere has ridden twice but both times he struggled mightily. Let’s see if there is any improvement this time around, that meaning, a win here and there in points races etc, as mentally, night after night off the back of the field would be demoralising for de Poortere. Australian team pursuit rider Luke Roberts comes in from the ‘new’ Milan Six day to once again race alongside 23 year old Dane Marc Hester. Roberts has proved a solid and fairly strong Six day rider before but this team looks like a middle to lower half ranked pairing. Also a former winner of the UIV Talents Cup Hester has now ridden around 30 Sixes with various partners and seems destined, without a regular partner, to be a bit part player and taxi driver at the Sixes. Experienced road pro Leon Van Bons best years are behind him but he has ridden a few Sixes. He teams with fellow Dutchman Pim Ligthart who despite being just 20 year old has already ridden Olympics and World Championships but other than an outing in Amsterdam, is completely untested in Six Days, so it will be interesting to see how he goes and what his future plans are.

Casper Jorgenson and Jens-Erik Madsen where part of Denmark’s Olympics and Worlds Team Pursuit silver medal winning squads this year. The more well known members of the squad, Morkov and Rasmussen have already won a Six in Grenoble this year but are now signed to Saxo-Bank (formerly CSC) and team commitments mean they won’t start here. Jorgenson (23) and Madsen (27) have ridden in Copenhagen, Grenoble and Milan but are fairly inexperienced in the Sixes and will probably be just looking to improve their endurance with a view to getting more starts this winter.

It is nice to see an Italian team included, but Angelo Ciccone and Fabio Masotti are really untested in the winter Sixes although they have rides in the Italian Summer Sixes, run on big outdoor tracks. Masotti, at 34, is no youngster either and after finishing 3 laps down in the Olympic Madison they look like a cheap option for the promoter to make up the numbers. Let’s see if they prove us wrong?

Ciao Marco

It seems as if every year we say goodbye to at least one of the Six Day regulars and this year is no exception. The Italian Marco Villa who rode 153 and won 24 Sixes as well as being twice World Madison Champion (with Silvio Martinello) had to retire on Doctors orders in the summer due to a heart condition. Although since Martinello retired in 2003 Marco spent a lot a time being a taxi driver for young or local riders. He was, still at the time of retirement, one of the best riders on the Six Day Circuit. We wish him all the best for the future

The Start List:
Iljo Keisse (Bel)		Robert Bartko (Ger)
Erik Zabel (Ger) 		Leif Lampater (Ger)
Bruno Risi (Swi)		Alexander Aeschbach (Swi)
Peter Schep (Ned)		Danny Stam (Ned)
Andreas Beikirch (Ger) 	Kenny De Ketele (Bel)
Dimitri De Fauw (Bel) 	Steven De Neef (Swi
Luke Roberts (Aus)		Marc Hester (Den)
Leon Van Bon (Ned)		Pim Ligthart (Ned)
Casper Jorgenson (Den) 	Jens-Erik Madsen (Den)
Nicky Cocquyt (Bel) 	Ingmar De Poortere (Bel)
Tim Mertens (Bel)		Andreas Muller (Ger)
Angelo Ciccone (Ita) 	Fabio Masotti (Ita)

The 2008/2009 Six Day Season (so far):
20/10 - 25/10 	Amsterdam - Stam / Slippens (Ned)
23/10 - 28/10 	Grenoble - Rasmussen / Morkov (Den)
30/10 - 04/11 	Dortmund - Zabel / Lampater (Ger)
04/11 – 09/11 	Milan – Bettini (Ita) / Llaneras (Spa)
06/11 - 11/11 	Munich – Keisse (Bel) / Bartko (Ger)