Tues/Wed Summary & Thursday - 71st Z6s Daagse Vlaanderen Ghent
by Steve Penny
71st Six-Days of Ghent
The opening two nights confirmed that the start list does not possess the strength in depth of the last couple of years with only five teams still within one lap of the lead. The overwhelming favourites Kenny De Ketele and Robert Bartko sitting in second place and by all accounts rode well within themselves during the opening two nights. The leaders are Dutchmen Peter Schep and Wim Stroetinga who have been collecting points in the time trials and staying close to the leaders in the chases. It confirms that the Dutch pair are in good form, Stroetinga has never challenged for the win at a Six Day before so it remains to be seen if he has the engine over the next few nights. The stamina of Schep is not in question as he won this event, alongside Iljo Keisse, last year and at 34 is now one of the top riders in the Sixes.
Aside from these two teams it’s difficult to predict who else may stay close enough to challenge for the winner rather than just a place on the podium. Thursdays racing will shed a little more light on who is and isn’t going to contend.
Without local top rider, and Six Day showmam Iljo Keisse in the field, the crowds have been down in numbers and apparently fairly low key so far this year. Tonight was the first sell out with over 2,000 VIP tickets sold, many of which spent the evening in the VIP tent. Inside the main arena the track centre was fit to burst, continuing the trend of recent years when Thursday night has proved popular with a younger crowd. Perhaps many are more interested in the beer than the bikes, but a Six Day always is more than just a bicycle race and this event is now seen locally as something of a ‘winter festival’.
Klassement Sprint (point’s race): - The evening session typically began low key, but it's important for stretching the legs. The win went to Marc Hester & Morgan Kneisky.
Team Elimination Race: - The first big scrap of the evening came here as the main contenders are always interested in the 20 points on offer. It was fast and furious and Schep – Stroetinga were not attentive enough and missed out on any points a were eliminated early. Their rivals De Ketele – Bartko did not make any mistakes though as they stayed close to the front all the way through with De Ketele out sprinting Franco Marvulli for the 20 points.
An honorary mention goes to 21 year old Swiss team Claudio Imhof – Silvan Dillier who stuck in the race taking 3rd. After winning the under-23 race last year they’ve stepped up this year initially finding the chases tough. They seem to have settled down though and their speed is unquestioned. That will help them pick up enough points to stay out of the bottom couple of places. A performance such as this one can only be good for morale.
Flying Lap Time Trial (TT): - Over the opening nights Wim Stroetinga has proved to be the fastest guy in against the clock. Tonight was no exception as Peter Schep set the pace for him to fly around the 166 metre track in 8.750 seconds (68.5687 kmph) beating De Ketele – Bartko who clocked an impressive time of 8.810 (68.1017 kmph). No one else finished in a time under 9 seconds.
1st Madison (45 minutes): - The big chase of the night was over 45 minutes and tended to confirm the talk around the place that the racing hasn’t been that great this year. This feeling, I believe, has a lot to do with the fact Iljo Keisse is not riding and no one else has the skills as a ‘showman’ that can lift the people and make the routine seem more exciting. The pace was high and the riders were still giving 100%, as there are no easy Madison wins on this most technical of tracks. The low key nature of the chase was summed up by the fact 10 teams finished on the same lap and winning with a whimper rather than a bang were Kneisky - Hester. After starting over 60 Sixes the 26 year old Hester seems to be on the up. A Danish colleague told me last year he had taken a more professional approach to racing and that seems to have been confirmed with his performance so far.
A cynic might suggest that the organisation asked De Ketele – Bartko to ease back a little to keep things close heading towards the weekend, but then again they may not be able to dominate things in the way Keisse has in the past.
Derny Racing: - Every night there is a series of four crowd pleasing Derny races spread across the programme. Tonight the first round saw a farewell victory for the retiring Steven De Neef, the second went too Peter Schep behind the ultimate showman pacer Joop Ziljaard. Going into the early hours of Friday morning Morgan Kneisky got another win for his team and former Tour de France stage winner Leon Van Bon came across the line first to complete the nights Derny racing.
Individual Elimination Race 1: - Following a good showing in the team elimination the young Swiss prospect Silvan Dillier, racing alone this time, followed up with a win from Robert Bengsch. The latter and his fellow German partner Marcel Barth are having a tough debut in Belgium and currently prop up the standings in 13th place.
500 Metre TT: - The battle for the 20 points had been won by Schep / Stroetinga on the first two nights and it was no different today, with the Dutchmen clocking 28.00 seconds dead (64.2857 kmph). Second went to the speedy Imhof – Dillier in 28.140 from De Ketele – Bartko with 28.260.
2nd Madison (30 minutes): - The second chase again saw most of the teams remaining within a lap of each other and no one is yet dominating this Six-Day. This race was won by Franco Marvulli and Christian Grasmann, the latter out sprinted Claudio Imhof to win, but it was the young Swiss team that impressed again. After a tough first night when they lost 3 laps they’ve gotten better and better and have not lost anymore laps in the overall standings.
Individual Elimination Race 2: - Australian Luke Roberts got a chance for a photo and a winner’s bouquet by holding off Leif Lampater.
Scratch Race: - A scratch race is just a chance for a bit of audience – rider interaction at a Six day and this one was no different as Marcel Barth led the riders up and down the track to the sounds of Techno music. After all that the riders got going in the last 5 laps and Franco Marvulli got the bunch sprint win.
Supersprint: - This is an elimination race until there are just 6 teams left followed by a final sprint, the main contenders called a truce and left it too Marcel Barth and Robert Bengsch to take a much needed win after a poor start to their first Ghent Six.
After a slow start to this Six, Marvulli – Grasmann appear to have found their legs and understanding as a team. They gained over 70 points tonight and reached their second bonus lap (gained for every 100 points) of the week to take an overnight lead. This pair could yet be a factor for the win and are certainly now contenders for the podium.
Standings after 3 Nights:
1. Grasmann - Marvulli 203 points 2. Stroetinga - Schep 183 3. Bartko - De Ketele 166 4. Mertens - Stam 126 5. Lampater - Van Der Sande 124 @ 1 Lap: 6. Kneisky - Hester 174 @ 2 Laps: 7. O’Shea - Roberts 109 @ 3 Laps: 8. Dillier – Imhof 146 9. Muller - De Neef 60 @ 6 Laps: 10. Van Bon - Aeschbach 71 @ 7 Laps: 11. Hacecky - Blaha 43 12. Edmuller - Morkov 33 @ 8 Laps: 13. Barth - Bengsch 50
Around Het Huipke
As usual, this is Belgium after all, former riders of various eras are in attendance throughout the week and tonight saw Lucien Van Impe present a prize and get introduced to the crowd. Recognisable with that most 70's of hair styles, the curly perm, Van Impe was a rarity amongst Belgian cyclists in that he was almost exclusively a climbing specialist. After racing until he was 41, Van Impe hung up his wheels in 1987. During his 18 year career he won the Tour De France in 1976, won 9 stages, had 4 other podium places and won 6 polka dot jerseys. These 'King of the Mountains' wins came during an era when the polka dot jersey was won by the races best climber, not just an opportunist who clocks up the points in early breaks.
'Memorial Noel Fore' – UIV-Under 23 Race:
The Toekomst Zesdaagse (futures Six-Day) had the customary crash but the British pair of Owain Doull and Simon Yates stayed upright to win the 200 lap Madison and take the overall lead. It looks to be a close fight with Dutch team Van Zijl and Caspers on the same lap as the Brits and four others just one lap behind. If everybody avoids the inevitable crashes it could well be tight chase for the winner’s bouquet on Sunday afternoon.