Thursday - 69th Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Ghent
by Steve Penny
Arriving in Ghent for Thursday nights racing I was met with strong winds and rain that seemed to have made a liar of the seemingly mild, for the time of year, mid 46-48% temperatures. The wind chill factor makes the temperature feel a number of degrees lower. Once inside Het Kuipke though I'm reunited with the somewhat tropical climate that is a permanent fixture of this historic venue. The temperature will slowly rise as the place fills and the sea of people that is the track centre will burst at the seams for what has become one of the most popular nights. The crowds that trudge through the fallen leaves of the Citadel Park (home of Het Kuipke) on Thursdays tend not to be 100% cycling fans as is the usual norm here. Many are students who come to drink the local brew, party and make noise which is of course also part of the Six Day experience. This younger crowd should also help to maintain the popularity of the event and will hopefully pass on their affection for the Flanders Six Day to the next generations.
The Story So Far
The 69th Ghent Six has started very competitively and the organisation will be hoping that all the top teams remain healthy and in contention through Sunday.
The World Madison Champions from Denmark, Alex Rasmussen and Michael Morkov, came out of the blocks well taking the opening chase of the Six and accumulating a good enough points total to sit on top of the standings. They haven't dominated the time trials as they have done at the last two Berlin Sixes but this is there first time on the tight 'Het Kuipke' track.
Local hero Iljo Keisse has had a very emotional couple of weeks. Within a few days of the high of been cleared of doping his friend Dimitri De Fauw had committed suicide. The riders and fans paid there respects to De Fauw with a minutes applause before the start on Tuesday. Keisse and De Fauw, both Ghent natives, had raced and won the 'UIV Under 23 Cup' series together before turning pro. So whatever his physical condition it must be a difficult time for him mentally going from a huge high to a low so quickly. Despite any emotions he has started well on his return to top level Six Day racing and he lies ready to pounce in second place with young German star Roger Kluge.
The retiring Bruno Risi is as always making his presence felt and he and partner Franco Marvulli have been taking maximum points in the flying laps so far. Those performances guarantee good points but also, most importantly at a Six, entertain the crowds. The other local star Kenny De Ketele with Robert Bartko has made a good start taking a chase last night. As feared though Bartko is carrying some injuries from the fall that caused him to leave the Munich Six on the first night and so he and De Ketele are not scoring a lot of points.
The top Dutch Six Day racer Danny Stam is going well with Leif Lampater and although not scoring as consistently as the top teams they start close to a bonus lap and would join the leaders early tonight by taking the 4 points they need. They could still be the sleeper team for overall honours if anyone else shows any sign of weakness. Compatriot and sometime partner Peter Schep is racing with another Dutchman Jeff Vermeulen. The latter was a late replacement for Belgian Tim Mertens who is having tests for a suspected heart condition. This pairing is the surprise team so far and won the last chase of Wednesday night. That win from under the noses of the big boys will have surely boosted their confidence as madisons tend to be won exclusively by the favourites and experienced teams. As Vermeulen was a late replacement there is no information on him in the programme so his history is a bit of a mystery for now at least although he has ridden a handful of Dutch Sixes.
Elsewhere the young Aussies Glenn O'Shea and Leigh Howard are at 5 laps behind, no disgrace in there first Ghent and 4th Six Day in total. Another Dutchman Leon Van Bon riding with Andreas Muller has had stomach trouble and noted his disappointment. He had expected to go better in what on paper was a good mid ranking team, they are at 6 laps but with stomach problems Van Bon will be suffering in what is an unforgiving race programme. The Swiss pairing of veteran Alex Aeschbach and 22 year old Tristan Marguet, in his 6th Six Day start, are also at 6 laps but there is a big gap to the next teams.
The inexperienced Geert-Jan Jonkman with the young but experienced Marc Hester are at 13 laps. Struggling once again though are De Poortere and Cocquyt but there woes are nothing compared to those of Steven De Neef and Steve Schets who are a whopping 25 laps in arrears. As noted in the preview Schets has struggled with back trouble since making a promising start to his Six Day career with Kenny De Ketele a few years ago.
Standings at the start of Thursdays racing:
Rasmussen - Morkov 160 points Keisse - Kluge 149 Risi - Marvulli 126 De Ketele - Bartko 84 @ 1 Lap Stam - Lampater 96 Vermeulen - Schep 69 @ 5 Laps O'Shea - Howard 61 @ 6 Laps Aeschbach - Marguet 40 Van Bon - Muller 24 @ 13 Laps Jonkman - Hester 37 @ 15 Laps De Poortere - Cocquyt 14 @ 25 Laps De Neef - Schets 22
The opening leg stretching point's race was won by De Poortere-Cocqyut who will be pleased as they prepare for what will inevitably be a struggle later on.
The team elimination went to Risi-Marvulli the later out sprinting Leif Lampater but the German took enough points to take him and Danny Stam onto equal laps with the race leaders. The bad news was that surprise team of the Six so far Schep-Vermeulen saw there challenge cut short when Peter Schep was worryingly taken out of the arena on a stretcher during this race. It seems likely that the 2006 World Points Race Champion is out of the Six as the rumour was he had experienced some chest pain, not good.
The flying lap or 'baanronde' as it is known locally was a battle between Rasmussen and Marvulli the Swiss having taken this race on Tuesday and Wednesday. Last year Iljo Keisse dominated this event and although no slouch in 08.92 (67.264 kmph) the lack of his old speed, as he talked about, shows. The Danes clock a fantastic 08.76 (68.493kmph) and tonight best the Swiss who clocked 08.79 (68.259 kmph)
In the first madison Keisse-Kluge and Risi-Marvulli stole a march on the other favourites gaining a lap to take them clear in the standings. It was Keisse that took the sprint with his trade mark bunny hop across the line ahead of Marvulli before the riders took a well deserved, but short, 20 minute break in the race programme. No further news on Peter Schep but Jeff Vermeulen rejoined the race albeit with Australian Glenn O'Shea losing two laps in another hectic chase.
The second part of the programme kicked of with the crowd pleasing Derny races the first won by Steven De Neef paced by fellow Belgian Michel Vaarten from Glenn O'Shea behind the legendary showman pacer Joop Zijlaard. The second, for the top 6 teams in the classification, had the local crowd going wild as Iljo Keisse won lapping the field with Kenny De Ketele following suit in 2nd spot.
The individual elimination race was won by Marc Hester from Berlin born Andreas Muller. The 24 year old Dane Hester is riding his 45th Six Day but has not yet shown, or had the chance to show, he can one day contend to win Sixes but he is certainly established and making his career in this traditional area of cycle sport.
The 500 metre Time Trial has been won by Rasmussen-Morkov and Keisse-Kluge respectively on the first two nights. Tonight saw another close run thing that went to Keisse-Kluge in 27.94 (64.424 kmph) by a whisker from Rasmussen-Morkov who clocked 27.95. That performance had 'Het Kuipke' swaying and chanting "Iljo, Iljo, Iljo" like a football (soccer) crowd. For the record 3rd went too Risi-Marvulli in 28.16 (63.920kmph)
The last real test of the night was the 2nd Madison which was, as ever, hard fought and close. The leaders Keisse-Kluge, Risi-Marvulli and Rasmussen-Morkov attempted to force home there advantage over the other couple of teams left in the running. Aware of the danger the more experienced riders Bartko and Stam could be seem gesturing, by hand, for there less experienced partners De Ketele and Lampater to stay closer to the front of the small but fast moving peleton. They heeded the warning and the top 5 teams contested the prize over the last fast and furious 10 laps with Marvulli taking the sprint from Morkov. The Danes went over 200 points and gained another bonus lap going back into 2nd place at 1 lap. But the Swiss combo Risi-Marvulli are also very close to a bonus lap too that would in turn put them on zero laps with Keisse-Kluge.
All still to race for then but the low scoring De Ketele-Bartko need lap gains to stand any chance of upstaging Keisse-Kluge, Risi-Marvulli or Rasmussen-Morkov for the podium places. A little further back at 2 laps my sleeper team of Stam-Lampater appear to be out of the running now though.