Belgium Peregrinations

by A. Devlin

The De Karper Café is located less than 1 km from Citadel Park and Het Kuipke. This is where the z6s-daagse Vlaanderen Gent takes place, along with the start of the spring classics road races Het Volk and Gent-Wevelgem. One stop on the tramline toward the Centrum is the famous Plum Cycling Shop. Ronny Keisse, former Belgium track racer and coach owns the De Karper Café. His son Iljo Keisse is an up and coming 6-day star. Bicycles hang in the café windows and the walls are adorned with photos and cycling jerseys. The whole family participates in the management of the café and Iljo's sister acts as a server.

During the Gent 6-day the De Karper is the late evening early morning headquarters for the 6-day aficionado. One evening during the 6-day races, Bob Williams, Cycling Coordinator at the Blaine Velodrome in Minnesota, and I visited the De Karper after the last derny race at Het Kuipke. Bob is a former road and track cyclist who raced and lived in the Gent area during several periods in the 1980's. Bob loves to travel to Gent and almost every year he bring's a group of Minnesota cycling enthusiasts to Gent to witness the 6-day spectacle. Sitting at a table close to the window was Gustaaf Boone, cycling coach and promoter. Gustaaf would assist the foreign racers who would settle in Gent and help them to get into the local racing circuit by participating in kermesse events. Also at the table was a police chief of one of the Gent area communities. The discussions focused on the cycling scene, 6-day racing and the changing fabric of Belgian cities as East Europeans locate to Belgian cities in hopes of making a better life for themselves and their families.

One of my personal passions is to locate and purchase a Flandria road or track-racing bike. Flandria was a prominent bicycle factory located in Zedelgem in the West Flanders area during the 1970's and early 1980's. I believe they closed their doors in 1981. In the De Karper above the bar is a 1930's track bike. Asking Ronny Keisse if he knew of anyone who may have a Flandria; he suggested that I visit Fietsen Plum and check in their basement. The Flandria bike was a Columbus steel frame that was well suited to the cobbles and roads of the Flanders and of course they sponsored a professional cycling team in the 1970's with Freddy Maertens as their star.

Sunday evening after the end of the Gent 6-day the spectators retired to De Karper to review the outcome. While at the bar I met two Gentenaar who were speculating on the withdrawal of Gilmore from the 6-day and the victory of the Dutch riders Slippens-Stam. In our discussions I was introduced to Roland Boulard a former racer and trainer who was part of the 6-day racing scene in Canada during the 1970's. He was a trainer at Delhi in 1974, a short 125m track in southwestern Ontario that had been built as a community effort by a group of Belgium farmers in the area. Roland spoke of how dangerous it was and that some of the riders crashed over the steep corners. Roland is still exercising and appeared very fit. As we were standing at the bar and reminiscing about the Canadian 6-day scene, Roland introduced me to Norbert Seeuws a 61-year-old man from the Gent area who is a former 6-day racer that was very successful in both Belgium and Canada.

In the 1960's and 1970's the stars of the European 6-day circuit would race in Canada after the European 6-day season was finished. Promoters would stage 6-day races in May at the end of the European 6-day season and again in September and early October before the European 6-day circuit recommenced. Professional 6-day racers from Germany, Holland, France and Belgium made the journey to North America and thrilled the Canadian crowds. Between 1966 and 1980 there were twenty-one 6-day races held in Canada; seventeen in Montreal, thirteen in Quebec City and one in Delhi Ontario.

Norbert Seeuws spent a good part of his professional 6-day career in North America. He is 47th on the all-time list for 6-day races with 92 starts (6 Daagsen Statistieken 2004). Seeuws won three 6-day races: 1969 he was victorious at Charleroi with Patrick Sercu, 1970 at Milan with Dieter Kemper and in 1972 at Montreal with Julien Stevens. Seeuws raced the Gent 6-day 12 times between 1965 and 1976. His best showing was in 1972 when he and Alain Van Lancker from France came in second behind Patrick Sercu-Julien Stevens. Seeuws raced 10 times in Montreal and 10 times in Antwerpen. In Antwerpen and Zurich he raced 8 times as part of trio teams.

Norbert raced the 6-day racing circuit in Canada 12 times from 1966 to 1974. He raced in Delhi, Quebec City and Montreal. From 1963-1980 the European racers were exciting 6-day racing in Montreal.

The following is the placing of Norbert Seeuws in Canadian 6-day races:

    1. Montreal, May 8-14, 1966 4th place with Emiel Severeyns (Bel)
    2. Quebec, May 18-24, 1966 7th with Valere Frennet (Bel)
    3. Montreal, Sept. 18-24, 1966 5th place with Robert Lelangue (Bel)
    4. Montreal, May 22-28, 1967 6th with Robert Lelangue (Bel)
    5. Montreal, Sept. 27-Oct.3 1967 abandoned
    6. Montreal, May 22-28, 1968 5th place with Klaus Bugdahl (Bel)
    7. Montreal, Sept. 23-29, 1968 6th place with Romain Deloof (Bel)
    8. Montreal, Sept. 15-21, 1969 6th place with Romain Deloof (Bel)
    9. Montreal, October 25-31, 1971 2nd place with Julien Stevens (Bel)
    10. Montreal, October 15-21, 1972 1st place with Julien Stevens (Bel)
    11. Montreal, October 12-18, 1973 3rd place with Julien Stevens (Bel)
    12. Delhi, May 10-15, 1974 2nd place with Eddy Demedts (Bel)

Norbert also raced in Detroit and Los Angeles in 1973 when 6-day racing was attempting to make a renaissance in North America.

    1. Los Angeles, May 18-23, 1973 5th place with Douglas Downen (USA)
    2. Detroit, September 26-2 October 1973 5th place with Robert Van Lancker (Bel)

Norbert Seeuws is a handsome man who was known as an elegant and stylish 6-day racer. His trademark was a black jersey and he was especially skilled in maneuvering in and out of the bunch during the Madison. His forte was being able to accelerate out of the pack to gain laps. Throughout his career he was partnered with some of the best racers on the 6-day circuit : Patrick Sercu (Bel), Peter Post (Hol), Rene Pijnen (Hol), Klaus Bugdahl (Ger), Dieter Kemper (Ger), Emiel Severeyns (Bel), Freddy Eugen (Den), Willy Debosscher (Bel), Walter Godefroot (Bel) and Tommy Simpson (GB). His favorite partners were the Belgians: Theo Verschueren (12 times), Romain Deloof (9 times) and Julien Steven (6 times). Norbert stated that he was especially fond of his racing in Quebec and Ontario.