Everything is irrelevant on the final night at the Berlin Six Day, except the last chase – and it wasn’t a bad one. Going in it was Kalz/Bengsch topping the board – great time trial riders and strong in the chases – but a Six is almost always decided in the avalanche of points sprints in the final laps. Neither rider – for all their power – is a great sprinter. I had been thinking that maybe Roger Kluge wasn’t quite as smooth and fast as he used to be, but in that last chase he was good, very good.
A crowd of around 12,000 filed into the Landsberger Allee Velodrome tonight. The large numbers continued a trend for the Six Days - with an estimated 70,000 coming through the doors - attendance figures are up rather than down, a good sign going forward. On the track, following Mondays racing the standings were tighter than they looked on Sunday afternoon with Kalz / Bengsch, Kluge / Schep and Müller / Marvulli all gaining a lap on the weekend leaders De Ketele / Roberts. So with four teams in the hunt here is how the final night in Berlin went.
So there I was in Berlin and it's the ladies’ Six Day - well, three days, actually - and I hear one of the lasses waiting to go to the line speaking in a good Lancashire accent. Check the numbers, #7: Hannah Walker, GB. At the risk of incurring the wrath of our hard-core readers Viktor, Ivan and Dave , I thought we'd best have a chat with her.
There’s no wi-fi in the stadium at Berlin, you have to go up to the press room; it’s quiet up there, there’s hard wired internet which has your pictures flying in a nanosecond and a fridge full of soft drinks and beer – a runner/journalists Nirvana you might say. Forgive me if I digress, but my mind goes back to the first time I covered the Tour of Flanders – used to cabinets full of lukewarm mineral water at the Grand Tours, imagine my delight when I opened the chiller cabinet in the press room to find it packed with cold tins of beer – that’s one of the reasons it’s the Heartland.
Twice World Madison Champion, twice World Scratch Champion, Olympic silver medallist in the madison and the winner of 33 six days off 115 starts - Franco Marvulli is the most successful rider on the Six Day circuit. Over the last few seasons there have been times when it looked as if the genial Suisse's star is in the decline - at Gent in 2011 it looked like his best was behind him. He took time to talk to us on Sunday's 'Familientag' - Family Day - at the Berlin Six Day - his 11th start in the race.
Sundays at German Six Day races have always traditionally been ‘Family Day’ with the programme of sport and entertainment held during the afternoon rather than in the evening / night. With temperatures outside now (just) above freezing, making it a relatively mild Berlin winter afternoon, local families came along to the Landsberger Allee Velodrome to celebrate the past, present and future in this their 102nd Six Day race.
I remember interviewing Andreas Müller a year or two ago and him telling me that he'd be happy to emulate the career of German former Six Day rider Gert Dörich, who was the 'Taxi Driver' par excellence during his long career which took in 163 Six Day races. 'Taxi Driver' is the term used to describe solid, experienced riders whose job is to partner riders who are new to the world of the 'races to nowhere.' But Andreas’ sights are set higher, these days. We spoke to the 33 year-old on the eve of the Berlin Six Day.
First up on Sunday was the team picture, like one of those shots of the ‘class of 1955’ or whenever that they take at expensive schools. The only photos the guys I went to primary school with had taken were on an individual basis with the each of them holding up a card bearing their name and number. Sunday afternoon sessions are always pretty lackadaisical, it’s as if subconsciously we all know it’s the Lord’s Day and we shouldn’t really be drinking beer and arranging who wins the Derny races.
Any talk of decline appears to have been, thankfully, premature as 25,000 people had visited the 102nd Berlin Six over the first two days. Tonight was ‘Golden Night’ and another massive crowd of around 13,000 trudged through the ice and snow in temperatures of around -13 to cheer and, in Berlin’s inimitable style, whistle the riders around the 250 metre track.
Saturday and the first Madison was a ‘potato chase' – best expressed as a ‘non-death’ race as the minnows were allowed to pull a lap back here and there. As well as the men who ride behind the big bikes, the crowd’s darlings are the sprinters. The noise when the crowd roars its’ approval of some fancy bit of speed is deafening – Max Levy was the man turning up the volume with a track record.
Sometimes in January there’s a depressing grey half light, the clouds sit low and the dampness eats into you. But today was beautiful, even though the cold nips at the inside of your nose. And it was good to get off the plane. I was in the middle of a ‘stag party’ bound for the bars and clubs of Berlin; they were all merry when they boarded and well on the way to be being wasted by the time they we disembarked. They were loud and sweary; but there was no reprimand from the cabin crew – probably due to their healthy consumption of over-priced baby tins of Stella for the Easyjet coffers.
The 102nd Berlin Six Day (Berliner Sechstagerennen) starts in the German Capital on Thursday night. This event is one of the classics of the winter track calendar but despite that unfortunately Six Day racing continues to be in decline. This is not just something that can be laid at the door of the global economy, rather just a fact of life that times change. As events have left established Six Day cities such as Dortmund, Munich and Stuttgart in recent years due to lack of sponsors and public interest it is left too Berlin, and Bremen, to fly the flag in the country that was once the European home of Six Day racing.
Yorkshire rider Adam Blythe first grabbed the big headlines when he won two stages and the GC in the 2010 Circuit Franco-Belge; a UCI 2.1 stage race with a history stretching back to 1924. Blythe became one of the youngest-ever winners in the event, beating Sep Vanmarcke (Topsport Vlaanderen) by six seconds and Jakob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank) by seven. This winter saw him line up for the Sixday Nights of Zürich where VeloVeritas took the opportunity to get his thoughts on the winter boards as well as his road career.
As a web site which tries to keep its readers in touch with what’s happening on the winter boards; it’s remise of us not to have spoken before now to Britain’s greatest ever Six Day rider – Tony Doyle, MBE. Other ‘Brits’ rode the ‘races to nowhere’ – Tony Gowland even managed to win two Six Days (off 31 starts); London (with Patrick Sercu) and Montreal with (Gianni Motta). Nigel Dean and Hugh Porter both rode the winter boards – whilst Maurice Burton forced his way into the inner circle, starting 46 Six Days and riding with honour, but never pulled off a win.
It's 05:30 CET Monday in the North Sea, somewhere. Our epic through the night time snow of Central Europe was rewarded by a nice autumn morning in The Netherlands, even if the coffee was extortionate at the services. We were in plenty of time for the 17:00 ferry to Newcastle. I couldn't keep my eyes open after 20:00, so that's why I'm up and about at 05:00 am - and that North Sea air is fresh. But let's talk winter track racing - I can't say 'Six Days' in this case.
Germany, somewhere near the Taunus mountains at 09:22 Sunday. We left Zürich at 03:00 and there are still 400 kilometres to go to the ferry at Amsterdam. It began to snow like Hell about an hour into Germany; there were roadworks, we were diverted off the motorway and there were either no diversion signs or they were snow bound. Whichever it was, we ended up hideously lost and dropped a chunk of time. But once the sun comes up, it all doesn't seem quite as grim: despite the spray and demented German drivers. We passed the emergency services at one incident where a hot hatch was lodged in the branches of a tree - crazy. And on the subject of dangerous surfaces, Kenny De Ketele and Peter Schep confirmed that they were the strongest pair on the rattling boards of Zürich to relegate Roger Kluge and Danilo Hondo to third.
Snapshots from the Gent Six Day 2012, as we roam around the city and spend time with the winners in the bar. On Sunday it was a steam train – the sound took me back to when I was a boy, and it was nicer than Dave’s snoring. A centre for the Art Nouveaux movement, rich industrialists commissioned the ‘hot’ architects of the day to make sure the world knew that they had taste – and money. If you look up as you walk around the city, your eyes will be rewarded.
Stephen Penny last report from the Gent Six Day; The final day of the Gent Six promised a big tussle between the Belgian World Madison Champions De Ketele / Van Hoecke and local hero Iljo Keisse with Glenn O’Shea.They didn’t disappoint.
Dave and I saw our first Six Day in 1973, the Skol sponsored London Six Day - Sercu, Pijnen, Duyndam, Van Lancker . . . This is Callum's first trip to the Kuipke but Stuart's umpteenth. The Adoma has been our base for years - it's a great jump off for Het Nieuwsblad, Gent-Wevelgem and the Koksijde 'cross.
Stephen Penny files another report from Het Kuipke; There are tired legs in the bunch but on a wet and windy Saturday night in Gent all roads again led to the track for another sell out beer and bike racing fest.
Here in Gent Friday night has always been the big night of the Six. It's not just about the beer, it’s about the cycling and fans of all ages bring the wife or girlfriend to what is for all concerned a big night out. A number of the revellers are ex-riders many of whom no doubt spend the night reminiscing on their time pedalling around the hollowed boards of Het Kuipke.
Contributor Steve Penny summarises the action for us from Het Kuipke (the little oval) last night, as we reach the halfway point in the Gent Six Day. The crowds filed into Het Kuipke in the thousands to meet friends, drink a beer or two and watch the 72nd Gent Six as it approached the all important weekend. Before the racing started it was announced that Wim Stroetinga was out of the race – for now - with a stomach problem. This would explain why he and partner Peter Schep had not been scoring many points over the first two nights.
Englishman Steve Penny is a long time track enthusiast and writer - this will be his 17th consecutive edition of Flanders' mythical Six Day. Here's his take on the 72nd edition of what is now unquestionably the hardest six day race on the calendar. VeloVeritas will be there for Sunday afternoon's Grand Finale. Champions of the World, or The Prodigal Son - that's the question which can only be answered on the steep bankings of the Kuipke velodrome.'
The first major competition on the brand new Sir Chris Hoy velodrome in Glasgow was the three-day UCI Track World Cup. We've been racing the Wednesday night Track League here since early October, and the Scottish Championships were held a few weeks ago, with the invitational two hour 'Thunderdrome' event taking up an afternoon and covered live on Radio Scotland, but this was something else.
Watching a dream die is never nice, but if it's done quickly and clinically, then it's humane, at least. Iljo Keisse and Kenny De Ketele were ruthless executioners in the last chase in the small hours of Sunday morning. Bryan Coquard and Morgan Kneisky rode with panache and bravery, in what I believe was a 100% 'straight' finale. Inside the last 50 laps of 180 the Belgians attacked - we were waiting for it. Keisse thunders round the track like he's on a monorail, the ultimate stylist. De Ketele isn't as smooth but the power is there - he has those super fit riders' 'roadmaps' on his inner thighs. They took the lap quickly, cleanly - beautiful to watch.
Vik phoned me this morning; ‘the racing can’t be very good if you’re spending so much taking pictures of boys on the trapeze!’ If I could get him down here it would be different, it’s not just a bike race; if he was here, eating the nice food, drinking champers with friends, with the race whizzing around him and the amazing shows, it’d be different. He particularly hates the magic acts and the girl who does the balloon figures; I asked him if he wanted me to bring back a balloon puppy dog or a monkey – that got him off the line.
The trouble here is that when folks see you with a camera and hear you write for a website, you've had it. I spent a chunk of the afternoon taking pictures of Gunther, one of Iljo Keisse's soigneurs. He's back on the bike as a 'master' and has the track bike down here with him, he trains on the boards in the afternoon and actually looks good on the bike. And five minutes ago I was collared by Laurent Biondi to take pictures of his laddie who's in the 'Cadets' race.
I haven’t taken any pictures of the Paris Folies girls yet - I got into an awful bother last year with those topless shots – and decided to wait and see what the outfits were like before I reached for the Nikon. The first routine was a ‘no, no’ – there was silicone jutting everywhere! They’re fully clothed for their second number – you could see the disappointment in the riders’ faces as they looked at the big screen. Yes, we’re at the Grenoble ‘Six’ – only it’s no longer a ‘six;’ in line with Zurich, they’ve cut back to four days.
It's been quite a season for Saxo-Tinkoff's former world madison champion, Michael Mørkøv. The man from just north of Copenhagen was the prime animator in the Spring classics; wore the polka dot King of the Mountains leader's jersey in the Tour de France for the first week; was in the Danish team pursuit squad which dipped under the magic four minutes in London and he was back off 'up the road' in the late season Northern European classics. And now, he's just won the first Six Day race of the winter - Amsterdam, with former Netherlands elite road race champion, Pim Ligthart.
On a beautiful Scottish Borders Sunday morning, Boardman Elite’s versatile mountain biker, Grant Ferguson turned around a 10 second deficit at the top of the steep section of the Stow climb to win the Scottish Hill Climb Championship by three seconds from up and coming Steve Lawley (thebicycleworks.com), with the bronze going to Jamie Kennedy (Glasgow Couriers).
'It's not a competition any more, it's a personal time trial,' the words of Tour de Trossachs organiser, Janette Hazlett after she had to void the result, following a serious crash. David Clark of the Stowmarket & District CC was involved in what appeared to us to be a head on collision with a car on the Loch Venachar road and had to be helicoptered to hospital. The ensuing traffic chaos meant that top seeds Ian Wilkins, Arthur Doyle and Ian Grant were all held up as the police closed the road.
In a day of torrential downpours Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) secured his place in the history books as the first Spaniard to win the Giro di Lombardia, with a beautiful solo victory ahead of Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky). The wet weather played a significant role on the day, particularly as the riders negotiated the soaking and glassy, deisel-splashed descents, with several of them taking a tumble, most notably new World Road Champion Philippe GIlbert (BMC) who subsequently abandoned. We didn't manage to attend the race ourselves this year, but our pal Dave Martin (theBicycleWorks.com) did, and he has kindly shared his photos with us.
The ‘best world championships ever’ the organisers are saying – but I guess they would say that? It was certainly a good race; and if last year’s race in Copenhagen was a model of GB team work for Cav, then this year was all about Belgium and ‘Phil.’ Having walked the parcours and seen all of the road races up to and including the U23 end in a bunch sprint, I thought that it would be a bunch sprint. The parcours weren’t as tough as we all thought – the surfaces were good and two bergs apart, it was very fast. But when I saw Marianne Vos win on Saturday afternoon, I got to thinking; ‘Gilbert could do the same thing, maybe?’ And so it proved.
It's a nice afternoon in Limburg for bike racing, the sun is out, there's not a lot of wind and The Netherlands' Olympic road race champion Marianne Vos has just bridged up to the break; so the crowd is happy. Yes, yes, I'm watching another women's race. No report though, I'm just out of the press room. I had the report to write up and pictures to process for the U23 race from this morning. It started at 09:00 am so I had to leave the camper at 07:30 to work the start area.
When you write and then put your words out there into the ether, you set yourself up. Whilst there’s nothing better than someone taking the time to say that they like your work. On the other side of that coin is that there will always be folks who have a real go at you. I understand and accept that, but what’s difficult to accept is uninformed criticism, where people don’t really understand the situation.
There are time trials – and then there are time trials. Dual carriageways with high traffic counts on balmy Essex afternoons are one thing; Limburg in the autumn rain with a parcours which includes the Cauberg is another. The VV camper is parked on the road race parcours on the opposite side of the circuit from the finish/press centre tented village. The elite TT parcours merges into the road race circuit just 200 yard from the campsite, making it easy for us to pick up the route and walk perhaps the last seven kilometres.
Did I say that having the camper van here meant that I didn’t have to walk to the press room? Cancel that - I’d forgotten that the protocol is once you hook the van up to the electrics, you’re here for the duration. Kris has his electric bike – I have my shoes. A three kilometre walk through the back roads of Limburg to the press room and back is good for the soul – I suppose.
The party’s over, there’s no more nice wee room in Valkenburg and ambling down for breakfast, with the patron asking if you’d like a fried egg to go with your rolls, cheese and ham. Its camper van time – but at least I won’t have that four kilometre forced march to the press room, we can drive. There were two races today, the junior time trial and the U23 time trial.
I resisted the bars of Valkenburg and was in bed not long after 10:00 on Saturday night. The body clock woke me for 06:15 and I was on the Cauberg before 07:00. I decided to do my Cauberg piece early on Sunday because the junior time trial starts early on Monday and the police won't let you walk on the parcours, so best to get a bit of peace and quiet whilst I could.
Degenkolb made it five; it was no surprise - we all knew the break was doomed. But it was good for the estimated 100,000 spectators around the course - and for the TV. It's never a chore to watch the best riders in the world hammer round the streets of a beautiful city. There were photo ops aplenty on the finish circuit; beautiful buildings, street cafes, fountains - not just 'boys on bikes.' And we won a watch with the finale; ambling onto a grandstand with 100 metres to go as the last lap desperation reached fever pitch.
The rain stings past the entrance to the ski lift at 45 degrees and tries its damnedest to puncture the metal sheets on the roof; thunder roars in and echoes around the concrete walls, lightning sparks across the dark sky, the air temperature has dropped from a pleasant Spanish summer's afternoon to January on Porty Prom. Welcome to the Bola del Mundo; they say it's the toughest climb in European cycling - we believe it. We've been up to Covadonga a time or two and the Angliru, plus most of the Giro and Tour 'biggies', but this is evil.
Hola ! It's a bit like being in a Vuelta sprinters' stage, this morning. Dry tundra, deserted low rise blocks to the left and right and all under a cloudless high plains sky. It just needs us to catch sight of David Moncoutie sitting at the back of the peloton. Yes, VeloVeritas is in Spain, headed for the Bola del Mundo.
Daniele Bennati saved his season and Radio Shack’s Vuelta with a perfectly timed sprint into Valladolid on Thursday afternoon. The perma-tanned fast man with the religious bent was just too quick for Sky’s Ben Swift who looked under-geared in the charge for the line. Sky got Swift’s lead out just right but ‘Benna’ was the smartest, freewheeling a few times in the finale to keep the heart rate down and then timing his bike through perfectly to pip Swift on the line.
There were no ‘pistolero’ gestures – it wasn’t a moment for playing to the photo opportunity. Just sheer joy of a man being back where he belongs – if you’ve taken the knocks and clawed back, then you’ll know that feeling. Alberto Contador Velasco has taken the knocks; he was close to death in 2004 when he suffered a cerebral cavernoma during the Vuelta a Asturias; in 2009 he had to fight not only the other 21 teams in the race but also half of his own Astana team as Lance made his ill-starred return; and he had to watch as his name was crossed off last year’s Giro result as a result of a controversial ‘positive.’ A slight, wiry man, simpatico and approachable, he’s not a seeker of the limelight off the bike – but on that Specialized he’s a ruthless, killer.
Dario Cataldo (QuickStep & Italy) took the biggest win of his life; Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM & Belgium) had his heart broken; Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha & Spain) took a huge step towards winning his first Grand Tour; Chris Froome (Sky & GB) realised you really can’t race the Tour and Vuelta to win in the same season and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff & Spain) reminded us how champions race. Many are saying an ‘epic’ day – I’m not so sure; perhaps I’ve spent too much time with Viktor but the rush to find ever more dizzy climbs leaves me a little cold.
We’ve all had them, those days when the pedals just turn and the sensations are good – Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural & Spain) had one, today. The 26 year-old from Seville was part of a break which went away early; originally 19 strong it split on a climb, with 10 making it all the way to the 13 kilometre slopes which lead 1135 metres up to the glacial lakes of Covadonga.
It's been a while in the Vuelta since anybody won (at least) three stages whilst in the leader's jersey - in fact we reckon the last time was in 1995 when Team ONCE rider Laurent Jalabert won a total of five stages, four of them whilst in the race lead, on his way to dominating the event by winning overall, leading his squad to the Team Competition, as well as taking the Mountains and Points Classifications too. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) may well be intent on replicating that feat this year, as today he took his third stage, taking the race to the others and exploiting his amazing uphill sprinting abilities by out-kicking Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) at Puerto de Ancares, the first of three consecutive stage summit finishes.
‘It’s awfully early,’ I thought to myself when I saw Degenkolb’s Argos boys commit with 50 K to go. And so it proved, there was a lot of fire power in the seven man break; Italian fast man Elia Viviani (Liquigas), hard working Linus Gerdemann (Shack), harder than nails Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), Giro podium finisher Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), GreenEDGE flyers Cameron Meyer and Simon Clarke – the latter already a stage winner in this race. And a certain Mr Steve Cummings from the BMC Racing team.
A four minute lead for a breakaway with 20 K to go would normally be a pretty safe bet – but not when Katusha and Movistar go on the rampage. Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Cameron Meyer (GreenEdge), Amael Moinard (BMC) and Kevin De Weert (QuickStep) weren’t pottering along, they were spelling hard and all of them were committed to the move.
How could we overlook Fred? He won the TT in the Tour of Switzerland - beating Cancellara in the process - then pushed TV hard for the polka dot jersey in le Tour. He says he's no 'pure tester,' but if there's a big climb and a technical descent then Fred's your man.
John Pierce is one of the world’s great sports photographers, he’s a friend of VeloVeritas and in our site’s best tradition, the man can RANT about the sport he’s been a part of for 50 years. We had a good long chat with John about his racing and photography careers - here in Part One, John tells us about his early successes and how he became interested in photography, his first equipment, his travels and adventures.
Steve Cummings? He’s the real deal; a world champion on the track in the team pursuit; he paid his dues with Landbouwkrediet and Barloworld; rode for the ‘mega’ teams, Discovery, Sky, BMC; was part of that famous team which carried Cav to a rainbow jersey in Copenhagen but now he’s found his true niche – with South African squad Dimension Data. Last year the team raced as MTN-Qhubeka with Cummings netting a brilliant stage win in le Tour; this year the squad, with new sponsors has taken Cav on board and moved up to the World Tour.
The last time we spoke to Dan Bigham (Brother NRG Wattshop) there was just a chance that he’d have to line up for the hill climb championship to net a record breaking EIGHTH British title of the year - to go with the kilometre, pursuit, team pursuit, team time trial, CTT 25 mile title, CTT 50 mile title and CTT circuit time trial title. But on the tough Cockermouth 10 mile time trial course, the day was saved when the CTT ‘10’ championship went his way too – so that’s title number eight!
It’s not just the boys which the Rayner Fund supports, the young ladies get their opportunities. Here’s what 19 year-old Miss Henrietta Colborne from the north of England had to tell us...
If there’s a rider more closely associated with a city than Iljo Keisse is with Gent then I can’t think of it. Born and bred in the capital of East Flanders, raised on the boards of the Blaarmeersen velodrome, the Gentenaars love him and he loves them. Iljo's dad, Ronie Keisse owns the legendary Café de Karper, a favourite student haunt in Gent, just a five minute walk from the Kuipke and the only place to be on a November Sunday evening when the Six Day finishes, so we sat down with Ronie on the Monday morning after the Six to discuss the life and times of his boy, one of the very last real ‘vedettes’ – star Six Day men.
The Gold Coast Commonwealth Games next year is an interesting proposition for Scotland, with Katie Archibald and Callum Skinner now Olympic champions, Mark Stewart a double under 23 European Champion and Neah Evans on the top step of a World Cup podium - and don't forget 'left fielder' Jonny Wale, reigning British team pursuit champion and 1:01 kilometre man. VeloVeritas spoke to all of them about their 2017 seasons and prospects in Australia come the spring, and we start with Callum Skinner...