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Scrapbook: the Gent Six Day and Hasselt ‘Cross, 2015

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.

Gent Six Day

Nays is the cover star this morning. Photo©Ed Hood

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.

Gent Six Day

Nys hammered up the muddy slope every lap. Photo©Callum McGregor

Gent Six Day

It was a 'run-up' for the rest of the riders. Photo©Ed Hood

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.

Gent Six Day

Adrie Van Der Poel. Photo©Ed Hood

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.

Gent Six Day

TRP cantilevers on Kevin Pauwels bikes. Photo©Ed Hood

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.

Gent Six Day

One of very many volunteer helpers at the 'cross. Photo©Ed Hood

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?

Gent Six Day

'Old school' singer. Photo©Ed Hood

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...

Gent Six Day

Burgers and 'dogs, just great. Photo©Ed Hood

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.

Gent Six Day

Anything goes in the Kuipke. Photo©Ed Hood

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!

Gent Six Day

Leffe! Photo©Callum McGregor

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.

Gent Six Day

The Kuipke bowl. Photo©Ed Hood

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.

Gent Six Day

Previous winners of the Gent Six. Photo©Ed Hood

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.

Gent Six Day

Setting up the camera on Iljo's bike. Photo©Ed Hood

Gent Six Day

Iljo's beautiful unbadged Dolan track bike. Photo©Ed Hood

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.

Gent Six Day

Germain Burton and Mark Stewart dominated the U23 Six Day. Photo©Ed Hood

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.

Gent Six Day

Chris Lawless and soigneur Kris. Photo©Ed Hood

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.

Gent Six Day

The Derny drivers watch the action. Photo©Ed Hood

Gent Six Day

The Derny races are very popular at the Gent Six. Photo©Ed Hood

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?

Gent Six Day

The introductory 'race' is called a 'Balustrade Sprint'. Photo©Callum McGregor

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.

Gent Six Day

Jasper De Buyst. Photo©Callum McGregor

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?

Maybe.

Gent Six Day

Iljo Keisse. Photo©Ed Hood

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.

Gent Six Day

Michael Mørkøv. Photo©Ed Hood

Gent Six Day

Michael and Iljo start their madison time trial. Photo©Ed Hood.

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.

Gent Six Day

The Six Day circus packs up. Photo©Callum McGregor

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?



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