Sunday, December 5, 2021
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Six and the City

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I’ve been involved in track racing in one way or another for just over ten years – and had a passion for bike racing that goes back further than that. It’s eight years, this year, since I attended my first World Cup race and five since I attended my first World Championships. By then I was photographing and reporting on events and thoroughly immersed in the lore of the sport. But, despite that, until last night I had never been to a ‘Six’.

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Oh, I’ve watched a few – Rotterdam, in particular – through the excellent live streaming feeds on the internet but the closest I’d come was attending just over half of the 39 Manchester Revolutions (and, of course, John Scripps’ superb Dave Creasy Memorial Six at Herne Hill). and everything I’d seen suggested that these Six Days inspired events – good as they are in their own right – are a pale imitation of the real thing, but I wanted to find out for myself.

For the last four or five years, a trip to Gent has been… well, not quite planned, but thought about. Usually in about June and then again the day before it starts when we’ve realised it’s too late and we’ve missed it again. This year, though, a strange set of circumstances found me heading to Berlin for a completely different reason at the tail end of the Sechstagesrennen. It had to be done. I extended my trip – initially for three days but, in the end, just for the weekend – and set out for the German capital.

 Traveling light, I didn’t have my normal camera equipment with me – just a nearly pocketable Fuji with 18, 35 and 60mm lenses which was really intended to be used for street and landscape photography. Great, I thought – I’ll relax and take in the racing. I’ll be working, but it won’t feel like work. Right…

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I arrived at the Lansberger Allee velodrome round 4pm. It’s a strange – and strangely impressive – building. It’s built alongside a deep railway cut and, although it’s clearly visible on Google Earth, you’d struggle to find it without the copious signage. From railway track level, it’s a huge, rectangular steel and glass sports complex – there’s a swimming pool and sports hall, too. Quite unremarkable. But higher up – at ground level – there’s a huge depression into – but just barely above – which rises the vast circular roof of the velodrome.

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Inside, it probably feels like most other 250m indoor velodromes, most of the time. But for the Six it is absolutely crammed full of trade stands, bars, concessions, bars, food outlets, bars and the odd bar, just in case you haven’t had a drink a while. The inside of the home straight – and a third of the track centre – is taken up with the VIP area. There’s a stage in the D at one end – where some truly excruciating German bands play that unique blend of 70s MoR-meets-sing-a-long-oompah music. The unfortunately named Sera Lee dropped from the ceiling to screech the opening while a band in their 60s played songs almost as old during the interval. The crowd loved it.

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And the crowd is a good half of what makes the event what it is. Accompanying every attack on the track – and half the songs – with over 10,000 LED encrusted referee’s whistles. You couldn’t – wouldn’t – make it up. And at 1am, they were all still there – and still whistling.

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And the racing itself is superb. Superb in its variety, in the level of entertainment and in the sheer speed. These guys are on it.  And as well as the endless variations on Madisons, the enthusiastic and, mostly, knowledgable crowd are treated to derny racing, stehers racing, a sprint competition featuring Robert Foerstemann, Max Levy, Rene Enders and Stefan Nimke – among others – a full under 23 program – including Reading Track League regular Stephen Bradbury –  and a couple of ladies races featuring local favourite Lottie Becker and, this year, British Derny Champion Hannah Walker.

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Saturday night was drama, glitz, glamour, beer and bratwurst. Sunday afternoon is families’ day and I’m looking forward to seeing how that’s done. The huge crowd outside as I arrived this morning certainly looked up for it.

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