Ace photographer John Pierce, not content with sending us those cracking shots of 70’s/early 80’s Six Day men, has sent us another batch of track images which bring us right up to the present day.
Again, we thought you’d like to see them…
But first, on the basis that you can never have too many pictures of Eddy Merckx:
Merckx won 17 Six Days: Antwerp x 3, Berlin, Dortmund, Gent x 4, Grenoble x 2, Maastricht, Munich, Rotterdam and Zürich all with Sercu except for – Charleroi where he rode with ‘home boy’ Ferdi Bracke and Milan with Julien Stevens.
He also won the European madison championship with Sercu as well as four Belgian madison championships, again with the ‘Flemish Arrow’ – and he was twice Belgian amateur madison champion with him for good measure.
When Merckx climbed off a road bike with a race number on it for the final time on 19th March 1978 having abandoned the Omloop van het Waasland it’s safe to say that he could have ridden as many Six Days as he wished for years to come with organisers and fans desperate to see the great man on the boards.
But he knew there had already been the dreaded ‘one season too many’ and his time was done.
Danny Clark’s career span is simply staggering; he won the silver medal in the individual pursuit in the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970, took the World Professional Motor Paced Title some 21 years later and was winning Six Days into the mid-90’s with the story being that the only reason he had to quit was that the Six Day organisers thought it was bad for business to see him kicking the backside of men half his age.
He’s still racing – and winning.
He took two of those motor paced world titles, two world keirin titles and medals in the world points champs as well as an Olympic silver in the kilometre in 1972.
As well as the above and his 74 Six Day wins off a record 235 starts he was European omnium, madison, derny and motor paced champion – remarkable.
And he managed an Australian penny farthing title, too!
For a while he even managed to infiltrate the closed order that is the world of Derny driving – however, the rest don’t like incomers and if they didn’t sabotage his Derny then they flicked him.
When Sercu retired a gap was created; The Six Days of Gent with no home favourite – unthinkable!
Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Etienne De Wilde is perhaps overlooked in the firmament of Six Day men but on all time wins he ranks ninth on 38 victories off 197 starts (the sixth highest ever).
In Gent he ranks second only to Sercu in terms of success – who’s 11 wins, five second places, and two third places off 18 starts will probably stand forever – but with nine wins, six second places, two third places, a fourth and a fifth off a remarkable 22 starts De Wilde’s home record is another which will almost certainly endure.
The absolute record for rides in the one Six Day is Reggie MacNamara of Australia who started in New York 34 times – albeit this statistic has to be viewed in light of the fact that in the ‘Golden Days’ of the Sixes there were often two races each year in the big cities.
There were two Six Days in Berlin as recently as 1970.
De Wilde was a world champion in the points race and in the madison with Matt Gilmore as well as European omnium and madison champion and took Olympic madison silver with Gilmore in 2000.
He was also a prolific winner on the road, especially early season; he’d hit the road flying off his Six Day fitness – wins include, Het Volk, the Scheldeprijs, GP Isbergues, Nokere Koerse and the Belgian Championships.
Matt Gilmore had the genes and choice of nationalities; Aussie like his Six Day man dad, Graeme [read our interview with Graeme] – 12 wins off 100 starts – or Belgian, the land of his birth.
Matt beat his dad’s stats with 17 wins off 107 starts and partnered De Wide to the world madison title in 1998 and an Olympic madison silver in 2000 – as well as taking individual medals in the Worlds points and scratch.
A tad ‘spiky’ as a rider he mellowed after retirement – I even saw him smile a time or two.
Marco Villa was the consummate Six Day professional; 24 wins off 153 starts puts him well in the major league of Six Day men.
His usual partner was the super cool Silvio Martinello with whom he won the world madison championship in ’95 and ’96.
I caught the tail end of Villa’s career in my job as Six Day runner and when he was mellow he told some good tales off his days in the sport.
He said that the fastest roadman sprinter he ever encountered was former world junior sprint champion, Ivan Quaranta – for whom he acted as a lead out man – the little Italian was quicker than Cipollini but lacked dedication with Villa having to drag him out training each morning.
And we’re up to date with Gent’s favourite son, Iljo Kiesse. With Danish partner Michael Mørkøv he’s the most stylish man on the boards and with 21 wins off 76 starts he’s currently the most successful rider on the circuit.
Gent was anxious – maybe too anxious – to find a replacement for De Wilde and latterly Gilmore and much expectation and pressure was placed upon Keisse’s youthful shoulders, but he’s gone from young prince to reigning monarch of Het Kuipke with six wins and four second places to make him the sixth most successful rider ever in Gent behind Sercu, De Wilde, Clark, Rik Van Steenbergen and Bruno Risi.
There are also 14 Belgian track titles, a European Derny title and three European madison titles – but Gent apart, QuickStep’s management aren’t too keen on their stars messing about on velodromes with the risk of crashes and injury.
Keisse’s road palmarès get glossier every year; with the last stage of the Giro going his way back in the summer and before that the Delta Tour Zeeland in the spring.
Whilst it’ll hopefully be a few years yet before we witness Iljo Keisse and Kenny De Ketele’s ‘farewells’ to Gent the organisers are already thinking about the line of succession.
Jasper De Buyst? Moreno De Pauw? Otto Vergaerde or maybe this strapping young man – Gijs Van Hoecke?
Twice a silver medallist in the junior worlds madison, he landed the senior title with Kenny De Ketele in 2012 in Melbourne.
Gijs’ 2015 winter campaign has started well with third in London with Iljo and second in Gent – the win in Rotterdam in January?
But despite his track talent he has to ride a full road programme with Topsort Vlaanderen, on tarmac he’s not yet realised the potential which saw him win the prestigious Giro Della Toscana as a junior.
Whilst best known as a bestially strong road rider, Niki Terpstra was part of the silver medal winning Netherlands quartet in the world team pursuit championships in 2005.
He’s also been Dutch scratch, madison, pursuit and points champion and has four Six Day wins to his name – as well as Paris-Roubaix…
Originally a national squad team pursuit and madison rider, Leif Lampater is an accomplished Six Day man with nine wins off 82 starts, but his career has been a little bit of a roller coaster.
Strong years are followed by less powerful years; but when he’s good, he’s excellent – an old school, compact, strong, fast, chase all night kind of rider.
But the Six Days have lost him back to the national squad this winter– an experienced and strong hand on the team pursuit tiller.
We could have done with his chasing power in Gent – which he won with De Buyst in 2013 – and his presence will be missed in Rotterdam, Berlin and Copenhagen.
But those national coaches know best – training camps are better than a Six Day ‘stage race’ conducted at high speed, they contend.
And to close we couldn’t let these beautiful shots of the recently deceased Eric De Vlaeminck en route his seventh world title in London in 1973 – taken by John, of course – not be seen by our readers.
Rest in peace, Eric De Vlaeminck the greatest cyclo-cross rider, ever.
With thanks again to John Pierce for entrusting us with his wonderful images.