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The State Of The ‘6 Day’ Scene
6 Day Special: Now the that the '6 Day' season is over and Ed Hood is looking forward to the Classics, he has time to consider the condition of the winter track scene. Ed has been working the boards, below stairs, for many a season and is in the perfect position to get the lay of the land and sum up the failures and successes of the Six Day circus.

It’s all Greg Lemond’s fault! Or maybe Bruno Risi’s? What is?

The decline of the six days.

How come Greg?

Hoogvliet - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Archive - Archief - Stock - Greg lemond - foto Cor Vos ©2006Lemond - All his fault... maybe

Lemond it was who first negotiated the big bucks deal which centered around a good performance in the Tour de France. Once the peloton’s big guns caught on that as long as you delivered a good Giro/Tour you could demand – and get – mega bucks, the stars no longer needed to pad out their earnings on the winter tracks. But how come Bruno, he was a six Legend?

Indeed he was – and who replaced him? No one.

Rotterdam - Ahoy - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -  baan - bahn - piste - track - sixday of Rotterdam - Rabobank Zesdaagse van Rotterdam - Bruno Risi - foto Cor Vos ©2010Bruno Risi - Where are you now?

Big bucks on the road, no Capo in the peloton and no regular awe inspiring name for the public to flock to see – two of the main reasons for the slow erosion of the six days place in the cycling firmament. But there are other reason; one of the main ones being the changes in society itself – there are so many more things to do/see/spend money on than there has ever been, it’s a much more sophisticated world than it was during the six days last major ‘golden time’ in the 70’s.

For instance, one of the reasons folks used to attend the Zurich Six Day was that the city had strict licensing laws and the six was one of the few places you could go to drink and party into the wee small hours. But the sixes themselves have changed over the years, from tests of human endurance where one man was on the track for six days solid; then came the introduction of two man teams; eventually one rider didn’t have to be on the track at all times for 24 hours – then finally today’s format of six nights of racing, pioneered by Australian Ron Webb in the early 70’s.

Zurich - Zwitserland - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme  -  Züricher 6-Tage-Rennen 2009 - Zesdaagse van Zurich -  Sechstagerennen - 6 Tage Rennen - Sixdays - Bahn - Bahnrad - Baan -  Bruno Risi en Franco Marvulli - foto Cor Vos ©2009The Zurich 6 Day, very popular for the drinkers!

The Madison Sports Group who now have full control of the London, Amsterdam, Berlin and – to an extent – Copenhagen six day races are making more changes. But I’m not the only one convinced that some of them are not changes for the better. We’ll look more closely at those in a moment but first let’s look at the ‘Lemond/Risi syndrome’ and the season just past, the lack of road stars and ‘pure’ charismatic six day men.

London started the season and with Cav & Wiggo riding it was guaranteed to sell out – which it did despite the ‘club’ music which just isn’t right for six days, and the continual interruptions in the programme. Cav may well be back this year – and they may even tempt cycling’s ‘Golden Couple’ Jason and Laura Kenny to ride the supporting sprint and ladies’ races to keep the gates up. The race will survive, despite no Wiggo.

No win for Wiggins/Cavendish, but still a celebration in London

The Six Days Ghent, word is that it’s almost sold out for this November – cycling heartland with a rich tradition, a proper six day track, Patrick Sercu at the helm, Iljo Keisse as a massive local hero and you can even go and watch the cyclocross on Saturday. The tunes are authentic, the programme snappy – the last of the ‘real’ six days, it marches on. A Wiggo/Cav win in Ghent saw the droves of English fans leave happy and very merry.

Gent - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Mark Cavendish (GBR) and Bradley Wiggins (GBR) pictured during the first day of the 76th Lotto Six Days Vlaanderen on November 15, 2016 at Het Kuipke velodrome in Gent, Belgium - photo NV/PN/Cor Vos © 2016Then in Ghent, the city of Wiggins birth, the win and retirement

Amsterdam’s future is a different matter, whilst ‘home boys’ Wim Stroetinga and Yoeri Havik are highly accomplished track riders they’re not ‘household names’ to draw the crowds in – and ‘making the field up’ with lower ranked riders doesn’t fool the public. Belgians Kenny de Ketele and Moreno de Pauw won this one as they did in London but despite their being accomplished six day men their name – Ghent excluded – will not draw the crowds. No stars, poor racing, gaps in the programme and an uninspiring venue mean this race is doomed; Eurosport ‘pulled the plug’ on their six day coverage after this race – coverage which was supposed to have continued through Berlin and Copenhagen.

Rotterdam - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - baan - track - piste -   Pim Ligthart (Roompot - Nationale Loterij)  and Ron Zijlaard pictured during the Zesdaagse 2017 in Ahoy - Rotterdam - foto Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos ©2017The dernys are always popular in Rotterdam

Like Ghent, Rotterdam is not part of the Madison milieu and despite not having the greatest of fields it does have a committed sport director in former World Points Champion and six day ‘name’ Peter Schep who demanded and got ‘no choreography’ in the racing. The crowds were decent in sport-mad Rotterdam and the racing tough with big Roger Kluge (paired with Christian Grasmann) in full Terminator effect. The race looks solid.

Amsterdam - Netherlands - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Kenny De Ketele (BEL) - Moreno De Pauw (BEL) pictured during 6 Six Day Amsterdam day 6 - photo Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos © 2016Kenny de Ketele and Moreno de Pauw in Amsterdam

Bremen, similarly is not part of the Madison plan and has found its own path as the ‘party six’ where the racing competes with every form of food, drink and music known to man in the huge exhibition halls in the home city of Beck’s beer. Marcel Kalz is something of a ‘local hero’ and paired with the inimitable Iljo Keisse took the honors. When Iljo’s days on the road come to an end we can but hope that he comes back to his roots on the boards. . . And if anything lets Bremen down, it’s the state of the track which gets more like a ploughed field each year; the first night it was so bad that the riders couldn’t contemplate racing ‘full gas’ – let’s hope the organizers sort that out for 2018.

Bremen - Germany - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - bahn - bahn - liste - Bremer 6-Tage-Rennen 2013 - Bremen - illustration pictured during the Sixdays of Bremen - foto HR/Cor Vos ©2013Bremen: The home of a certain beer

Berlin and back to the Madison Formula – club deejay, big breaks in the programme and a prize money rather than contract based remuneration package for the riders.

The Devil of Berlin

Let’s take these one at a time:
Club deejay – the time was that Englishman Pete Traynor was ‘Mr. Music’ on the six day circuit playing an eclectic but totally appropriate mix of tunes – complete with a ‘theme tune’ for every rider when they went on the attack. The right choice of music is vitally important in a six day but what works in a club at 2:00 am with an audience of 20 year-olds simply doesn’t cut it in a ‘chase’; have the man who spins the discs visit Ghent and Copenhagen, listen and then compile his play list.

Taking the winning riders off the track into the centre for mini interviews is not a good idea, it breaks the ‘rhythm’ of the race and lets the tension seep away; do it ‘Ghent style’ – one lap warm down, flowers and photos on the line and onto the next race.

Whilst a ‘prize money’ biased system of recompense for the riders may seem like a good idea, it isn’t. Pay the riders their contracts then let them entertain – Berlin was super negative with lap gains at a premium as just about every move was closed down by riders jealous of losing their spot in the rankings. Whilst the Berliners love their sprinters and motor paced racing; they want to see good chases in the six day, not processions as we had this year. And this race misses local hero Big Bob Bartko so much. Stroetinga and Havik won in what highly experienced soigneur, Kris described as; ‘the worst six day I’ve ever seen.’

A night out in Copenhagen

Copenhagen is on the Madison band wagon, but has retained a much of its independence with a snappy programme, longer chases, good tunes and of course, ‘local heroes’ in winners Michael Mørkøv, Lasse Norman and a new wave of riders like Mørkøv’s younger brother Jesper, Casper Folsach and Fred Rodenberg on the way up to replace the retiring Alex Rasmussen. It’s just a pity that the Ballerup track is so far out of town.

The derny battle in Copenhagen

Lots of words – how about some Conclusions?
# if organizers can tempt the big name road riders onto the boards then ‘just do it !’ it’ll pay back in the attendances.

# it’s not Formula One; don’t over analyze with riders hauled off the boards to be asked inane questions about meaningless minor races – keep it snappy.

# lose or educate the club deejays – Ibiza isn’t Berlin on a Saturday night with a mixed crowd.

# remember the sport’s roots, 20 minute chases are not the answer, 75 minute madisons are still very well received in Copenhagen – the public want to see lap gains not ‘follow my leader’.

# pay the guys their contract fees and let them entertain, not cancel each other out.

But for all my comments above, when the Dernys buzz in Ghent, the aroma of beer and burgers filling the air; the sprinters wind it up for their flying lap as AC/DC pumps and the crowd goes crazy in Berlin; or the cannon fires, the ‘Cara Mia’ bongos rattle and the first madison in Copenhagen roars into life, like the song says; ‘No place I’d Rather Be’.

Berlin Velodrome, one of Ed Hood's second homes

It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he's covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,200 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself - many years and kilograms ago - and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site where more of his musings on our sport can be found.


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