We spent a few days in Belgium last week to take in the Gent Six Day and the World Cup Cyclo-Cross at Hasselt. In the UK it’s not and never will be like it is in Belgium; here cycling only gets decent media coverage during the Tour and Olympics; the Classics, Giro and Vuelta are largely ignored by the Press, and forget about it in the winter – unless Brad has a new tattoo.
In Belgium it would be unthinkable for cycling not to be a 365 day consideration by the media – true, it helps to have a sporting legend such as Nys resurgent but the front page of this Monday morning sports pull-out speaks for itself.
In the Soudal ‘cross at Hasselt there was a huge pile of soil heaped up as part of a building project – too good an opportunity for the organisers to miss and it became part of the parcours.
High, steep, muddy; most competitors had to run it whilst Nys powered up it every lap – so impressive.
The genes were always going to be a big help for the Van Der Poel bruvs – with Pou Pou for a gramps and Adrie for a dad.
Adrie still looks fit and mechanics for sons David – who was well in the mix here at Hasselt – and world champion son, Mathieu who came back from injury – and to the podium – the next day at Koksijde.
The attention to detail on the ‘cross bikes is stunning – there can be no ‘spongy’ back brakes like you’ll still find on some World Tour bikes due to convoluted cable runs – brakes have to be smooth and powerful.
Brakes have to be 100% and everything has to be trimmed neatly so there’s minimal mud build-up.
Often in Scotland we struggle to get volunteers to marshal/steward; it’s not a problem in Belgium where there’s a never ending supply of ‘worthies’ keen to be part of the spectacle – maybe the packed lunch and arm band helps?
Before we consider the racing in Gent we have to think about the entertainment; whilst Belgium is a modern country and advance technologically we still marvel at the track-side entertainment; it’s like stepping back to a miners’ welfare in the 70’s – but the crowd loves it…
And of course, you have to eat; meat content for the burgers was unavailable – but after a few pils they tasted just fine to us.
Then you have to consider attire, what statement you wish to make – but like Viktor always says; ‘you can never wear the wrong thing in Belgium!’
Refreshment is a big factor – readily available here in Bonnie Scotland, Leffe is a lovely beer, named after the Notre-Dam de Leffe Abbey founded in 1152 which was renowned for it’s hospitality and still going strong – it goes down just so easily.
‘Kuipke’ means tin bath – like the miners used to use – and from the ‘gods’ that’s what it resembles.
At 166.6 metres it’s a ‘proper’ Six Day track – like the one in Bremen – the fans pile up from right beside the track, all the way round to give it that intimate, immediate atmosphere which you just don’t get on a 250 metre bowl.
To celebrate this 75th running of the race the organisers invited all surviving previous winners to attend, not many made the effort – but Don Allan did, coming all the way from Melbourne.
So too did Danny Stam, Robert Slippens, Jimmi Madsen, Bruno Risi (sad to report, the mullet has gone), the dapper Stan Tourne and living legend, Patrick Sercu.
But things have moved on since Don and Patrick’s day; and now we have ‘bike cams’ and vélos straight out of Star Wars – this is Iljo’s Dolan.
But those Roberts, Condor, Masi and Luders creations from the 70’s remain my vision of the perfect Six Day machine.
Scotsman Mark Stewart and Londoner Germain Burton dominated the U23 Six Day, winning every night except the last when they hit the boards, twice.
After their strong rides in London this result has bolstered their growing stature on the winter boards.
The only other GB rider was soon to be JLT-Condor man, Chris Lawless – he was never going to set the boards alight in the madisons, not with the Belgians battling it out but showed well in the eliminations, Dernys and points.
You have to – if you want to come back.
Did someone say ‘Derny?’
They still love the little monsters in Gent – never tiring of those last minute comebacks for the Home Boy to win on the line.
Sometimes I think those finishes might be arranged beforehand – surely not?
The field is introduced to the crowd with a rolling presentation where the each team does a lap or two at the front as the speaker gives the crowd their SP – rap finished, they swing up and return to the rear of the string.
The riders like it because it’s a good leg loosener; it’s simple and works well – London, take note.
Jasper De Buyst is one of the ‘new wave’ of Belgian track men; just 22 and already twice a winner in Gent he’s won World Cups and stood on the Worlds Madison podium – Iljo’s successor?
And on the subject of Mr. Keisse, he shows no signs of his love affair with his home Six waning just yet; this was win number six – and let’s not forget he’s been second four times, too.
With a win in the Rotterdam Six at the start of the year then a big road win in the Delta Tour Zeeland and the last stage of the Giro it’s not been a bad year for Gent’s favourite son.
But ‘no man is an island’ and that’s never truer than in a Six Day where a good partner is essential.
There’s none finer than immaculately smooth perfectionist, Michael Mørkøv who took his second win in Gent, the first coming in 2009 with fellow Dane, Alex Rasmussen.
After spending all of his full pro days with Saxo he starts a new adventure with Katusha on January 1st – we wish him well.
But least you think it’s all glamour; Callum took this shot as the boys helped Kris load the camper van after the race.
Those builders Portacabins on the left of the pic are in fact the riders changing rooms – and yes, it’s as bleak as it looks.
But that’s Gent; King of the Six Day world and the only place we’ll be come next November.
See you there?