The crowds filed into Het Kuipke in the thousands to meet friends, drink a beer or two and watch the 72nd Ghent Six as it approached the all important weekend.
Before the racing started it was announced that Wim Stroetinga was out of the race – for now – with a stomach problem. This would explain why he and partner Peter Schep had not been scoring many points over the first two nights.
The programme started with the Team Elimination (or Devil as old school English speakers call it). The 20 points on offer went to Iljo Keiise / Glenn O’Shea, the local hero (Keisse) out sprinting Gijs Van Hoecke. The World Madison Champions, Van Hoecke and Kenny De Ketele, have made a good start and are going toe to toe with Keisse / O’Shea in what appears to be a two horse race this year. Points Race: – After taking 2nd in the first race the Belgian World Madison Champions Van Hoecke / De Ketele got back to winning ways in the points race.
Flying Lap Time Trial (TT)
Wednesday saw Tristan Marguet break the track record posting a stunning 8.57 seconds. Tonight normality was restored when Iljo Keisse won in 8.74, although not a time to be scoffed at. The Swiss had Franco Marvulli on the last lap and the time, 8.80, shows he is going well but it wasn’t enough to beat Keisse. Meanwhile it was interesting to see that each night 7 of the 13 teams has gone under 9 seconds. Not something I recall happening before and if Stroetinga was healthy you could almost certainly make that 8 teams.
1st Madison (45 minutes)
The first Madison wasn’t the most exciting you’ll see but was, as ever, fast and furious. Four teams went a lap clear of the field with Keisse / O’Shea taking it from Dillier / Bartko and Van Hoecke / De Ketele. The Kaiser of Het Kuipke, Iljo Keisse, won the sprint with a trade mark bunny hop across the finish line. He and a strong Glenn O’Shea really look like they are the clear favourites to be the Champions in 2012.
Every night there are a series of 4 Derny races on the programme. They are traditionally crowd pleasing affairs and don’t affect the standings too much. That said they are still a feat as the riders hold onto their pace maker at around 50-60 kmph. The wins tonight went too Jaspar De Buyste – acquitting himself best of the young Belgians, Kenny De Ketele, Gijs Van Hoecke and last but not least Tim Mertens – making it a Belgian sweep. The story this week though is the last appearance of the legendary showman Derny pacer, Joop Zijlaard. Described in the programme as a ‘monument’, the Rotterdam native has been pace making since 1970. He bids farewell to Ghent where he is best remembered (by me anyway) for his antics pacing the local legend Etienne De Wilde to win after, crowd pleasing, win in this very building. His final appearance will be, fittingly, in Januarys Rotterdam Six when the family Derny baton passes onto his son Ron who himself is now a pace maker.
Individual Elimination Race 1
The big boys took their foot off the gas here and allowed some of the other riders a piece of the limelight, this one going to Andreas Muller. He will have enjoyed a morale boosting win as his partner Max Stahr is having a baptism of fire in his first ever pro Six.
500 Metre TT
The reason Tristan Marguet let Franco race the flying lap became apparent when he broke the 500 metre track record with 27.03 (66.59 kmph). Together they broke a record held for 10 years by Marty Nothstein and Jimmi Madsen. The 25 year old Marguet now holds both the Six-day Time Trial records on this track. Can he better them before the finish on Sunday? Watch this space. 2nd Madison (30 minutes): – This chase was one were the leading teams Keisse / O’Shea and Van Hoecke / De Ketele let 5 teams take a lap and scrap for the bouquet. The 3 time Ghent Six winner Robert Bartko won the sprint for his partner Silvan Dillier. During the victory lap Bartko seemed to be giving Dillier, 15 years his junior, a bit of advice, no doubt wise words from a double Olympic and 4 time World Champion. Not too mention 19 Six-day race victories. Individual Elimination Race 2: – This was a race the leaders once again left to the riders from the middle to bottom end of the standings. The winner on this occasion was Steve Schets, who unfortunately has followed up my preview notes by again propping up the standings on his return, a huge 25 laps in arrears.
Rounding off the programme where sprints and looking for a rest the big boys again sat up during the eliminations and left for an early shower, if 01.40am is early? The winner was Team 11 Schets / Breyne giving them a 2nd bit of cheer in the last few races after an otherwise miserable few nights. Summary after 3 Days: At the end of the night as expected the two favourites topped the standings and will fight it out all the way to the finish. The half-term report looks favourably on Hansen / Hester going well in 3rd and Bartko / Dillier will also be pleased but neither team has built up enough points and would need to gain laps to be victorious. Marvulli / Marguet have broken 2 track records and are getting into form for Zurich, no surprise there. Schep / Stroetinga are not a factor due to illness, a disappointment as they would have been seen as the main challengers. The organisation would probably award B grades to De Buyst / Mertens and Kneisky / Brisse who are holding there own albeit 4 laps down. The team earning below average marks are, notably, Van der Sande / Lampater who are 9 laps down after starting the week looking for a podium finish, perhaps one is ill. More news tomorrow. The rest are teams made up of experience and novice so their results so are altogether expected although losing 8 laps a night is pretty poor.
Standings after 3 Days
1 Keisse (Bel) – O’Shea (Aus) 232 points
2 De Ketele – Van Hoecke (Bel) 226
3 Hansen – Hester (Den) 154
4 Bartko (Ger) – Dillier (Swi) 124
At 3 Laps
5 Marvulli – Marguet (Swi) 167
6 Kneisky – Brisse (Fra) 102
7 Schep – Stroetinga (Ned) 84
At 4 Laps
8 De Buyst – Mertens (Bel) 130
At 9 Laps
9 Van der Sande (Bel) – Lampater (Ger) 72
At 13 Laps
10. Grasmann (Ger) – Hoffman (RSA) 47
At 14 Laps
11 Coquyt – De Pauw (Bel) 50
At 20 Laps
12 Stahr (Ger) – Müller (Aut) 38
At 25 Laps
13 Breyne – Schets (Bel) 68
Around Het Kuipke
The track centre was bulging at the seams with the first sell out crowd of the week. Thursday night seems to be the busiest in the track centre, going back about 10 years. I’m not sure they are all cycling fans, like they are on a Friday for example, but they certainly spent money on beer and make themselves heard. Being from the Liverpool area it was touching to once again hear them sing our local football anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ word for word in the early hours of Friday morning.
World Madison Champion Kenny De Ketele is sporting a very 1970s looking moustacheKenny is perhaps paying homage to Urs Freuler or even Danny Clark, although he has a way to go to match the Tasmanian devils soup strainer!!! . Joking aside it would appear that as in the UK people are getting sponsored to grow a moustache for charity, ‘Movember’ we all seem to call it.
The Sport Directors of the Berlin (Dieter Stein) and Bremen (Erik Weispfennig) where in attendance tonight no doubt running the rule over riders for their own events. Its interesting too as the German Six-days being part racing, part show are very different events but have had trouble with ticket sales in the last few years. This is a trend in Germany that saw the Stuttgart, Dortmund and Munich Sixes lost to the calendar over the last 4-5 years. With no pomp or show Ghent is able to stay successful based on the racing along but then again this is Belgium, home of bike racing.
The most unusual sight of the night, and of my 17 years coming here, was of two streakers running around the track in between a race. With no security on hand, it’s not an event that normally requires bouncer type security, they had a free reign to cheers from boozed up track centre revellers but looks of disgust from the organisation, last seen with mobile phones in hand calling that elusive security maybe?
A special mention is reserved for a guy I met tonight – Ray Rogers from Novato, California (40 miles north of San Francisco). Ray has travelled here for the 4th time, a 16 hour journey. Good to see that despite little or no mainstream cycling media coverage people who know about the sport and its history know and still come to the Ghent Six. This is a ‘classic’ event in its own right and one that started 90 years ago in 1922 no less.
Meeting a North American enthusiast brought back memories of my late reporting mentor, Arnold Devlin. We miss him and his zeal and knowledge of all things Six-Day and cycle racing.