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You’ve got to get here first, right? Even by Ryanair punishment flight standards, it was a sore one. The lady in front of me, I’m sure was taking her kids to audition for; ‘Devil Spawn of Berlin, The Revenge’ – they’ll get the parts, no problem.
This year saw edition 105 of the Six Days of Berlin, VeloVeritas had the good fortune to be there helping soigneur Kris look after Messrs. Germain Burton (GB), Daniel Holloway (USA), Mathias Krigbaum (Denmark) and Mark Stewart (Scotland). Here’s a selection of images from under the largest unsupported steel roof in Europe on the site of what used to be the Berlin STASI Headquarters.
Watched by 75,000 spectators over the course of the event in the velodrome Landsberger Allee, Andreas Müller and Kenny de Ketele won the 103rd edition of the Berlin Six Day. On the last day and the last race they overtook the long-time leaders Leif Lampater and Jasper de Buyst with a race winning attack - exciting stuff. Third place went to Robert Bartko, which was his last time in Berlin at the Six with his young partner Theo Reinhardt. VeloVeritas were at the race, working for the young American pairing Guy East and Daniel Holloway - here's Ed's look back at some of his favourite moments...
Steve Penny has been bringing you the race reports, John Young the action images, so I thought we'd look at the people who make the "Berlin 6 Tage Rennen" such a unique affair. At the start of each evening they have a 'Vorstellung der Parade der Asse' - a parade of champions. This year there was only one bona fide senior rainbow jersey holder - World Madison Champion, Kenny De Ketele. Charlotte Becker was wearing a rainbow jersey, too - initially I couldn't figure out what for.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The line of taxi lights stretches back into the darkness like a string of pearls, it's beautiful in an a big city kind of a way - it could be a scene from a Woody Allen film; but it's not Manhattan, it's Berlin at 01:40 am. The beige Merc cabs get to drive down to the underground Velodrom entrance to pick up ViPs, meanwhile the support staff - that's us - have to hi-jack a supermarket trolley and use the lift to take our stuff up to the camper.
It's gone 1:00 am, the Dernys buzz their 'Ipcress' noise, Brad eases down off the fence, he takes the sling off Jackie, tucks in behind the little monster and Mr. Simes is done for the night. Brad has 25 laps to go with just a few knots of hardcore fans in the stands to watch him-and the drinkers in the track centre, naturally. 'That's the first time this week the driver hasn't ripped the legs off me!' says Jackie as he gets ready for the dash to the cabin, a shower and then the peace of the hotel room.
Sundays at German Sixes are and have always been 'family day' (Familientag) when the programme of sport and entertainment is held during the afternoon rather than in the evening or night. On a cold wind-chilled winter afternoon, local families came along to the Landsberger Allee Velodrome to enjoy the racing and pass on the tradition from one generation to the next. The race programme kicked off with a series of Sprints won by Kalz - Bengsch who are looking like the real deal this time around and should continue to challenge for a podium place.
Jackie summed it up best when I asked if he'd slept well; 'yeah, but just not long enough!' But Dirk had a take on it too; 'why can't we just go straight from Saturday to Monday?' There's always a down beat Johnny Cash kind of vibe to Sunday afternoons sessions; 'the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad, so I had one more for dessert.' But once the shower blasts and the coffee blends, it's not so bad.
The 101st Berliner Sechstage Rennen started on Thursday and according to reports the crowds have been down a little on last night. On the track big gaps have already appeared as the top five teams have started the fight that will conclude in the final hour long Madison on Tuesday night.
'Just Another Tequila Sunrise,' it's ironic that the covers band who kick off as soon as the racing finishes at gone 01:00AM aren't half bad - but it's time for me to disappear down the tunnel to hang up the washing etc. etc. The track centre party goes on 'til 02:30 am but I hope to be in a coma by then.
I'd forgotten the raw horror of a Frank Zander gig; 'If I Had a Hammer' was blasting out at around 11:00 pm and it occurred to me that if you're a bad musician then Germany is the place to be. Frank sounds like a guy with a really bad throat infection singing the 'Worst Europop Album in the World, Ever' on a karaoke night at the Lochore Miners Welfare-but the crowd love the man, so who am I to criticise?
I'm standing on the chair so as I can see over the cabin, Leif Lampater and Roger Kluge are the only pair left to ride in the 1,000 metres time trial. Roger is smooth, fast, the sling to Leif isn't perfect but it's not too bad. Leif drives but he's not at his best - it seems like no one is on this first night in Berlin - the digits whirl on the lap board, he sprints up the home straight, 58 seconds.
The Berlin Six Day reached a golden milestone last January with its 100th edition, and the annual festivities will return to the German Capital for the 101st time on Thursday. Unfortunately Six Day racing continues to be in decline and it's not something that can solely be laid at the door of the global economy rather just a sad fact of life that times change.
The stadium in Berlin is spectacular, with a 142 metres span it boasts the largest steel roof in Europe; the crowd has to be seen to be believed, on the last night there were certainly more fans than there were seats; the noise is deafening-and for a fan it's just like you dreamed of. But if you were on the inside it wasn't a happy race; to get the World Champions on board the organisers had to pay big bucks. I can't quote figures or it would be no more sixes for Ed, but it was serious money, 'that's fair enough' I hear you say. But it's not...