Englishman Steve Penny is a long time track enthusiast and writer – this will be his 17th consecutive edition of Flanders’ mythical Six Day; Gent Six Day 2012. 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.’
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Once again the wheels will whirr, the crowds will flock and the beer will flow at the 72nd Six Days of Flanders, Ghent (Zes-Daages Van Vlaanderen, Gent) starting in the legendary Het Kuipke tonight.
With the big Germans sixes in Dortmund and Munich consigned to the history books ‘Ghent’s Classic’ status is now undisputed and is the main event of the pre-Christmas European track calendar.
An estimated 36,000+ fans will create the atmosphere from the seated stands and, in something unique to Ghent, the standing room only track centre.
On the old 166 metre boards the 26 cyclists will embark on their race to nowhere. That journey is never easy as the programme is loaded with racing that by the weekend lasts for six hours each night.
The start list Sports Director, Patrick Sercu announced last week does, like last year, lack big names. However, the return of local hero Iljo Keisse to that list should be enough to keep the knowledgeable local fans happy.
This is Flanders after all and a bike race is still a bike a race but this Six like any other needs a star attraction. Being born and bred in Ghent Keisse is undoubtedly that. So despite a below par event, by the usual high standards, last year I will be heading out to Ghent for the 17th consecutive year hoping to see fast and furious racing.
The aforementioned Iljo Keisse starts as the favourite although his 2012 partner, Glenn O’Shea, is not exactly a Six Day veteran and has no victories in his palmares.
That said Australians have a long history of success in Ghent and his pursuit strength and Keisses’ speed on his home track seem like a good match.
After 130 days racing this year Keisse said he isn’t sure how well he’ll be going but is aiming for his 6th win in Het Kuipke. If they gel stopping them may be tough as the rest of the field doesn’t throw up an obvious winning pairing.
Kenny De Ketele fulfilled his dream and conquered the Kuipke in his 7th start last November alongside Robert Bartko. The affable 27 year old from Oudenaarde has had a great year.
He and partner Gijs Van Hoecke became the first Belgian World Madison Champions since Six Day legends Etienne De Wilde & Matt Gilmore in 1998.
Following a serious crash Gilmore was unable to race with De Wilde in the 1998 edition.
They are being touted as being among the favourites based on De Ketele’s pedigree in Het Kuipke but Van Hoecke is an unknown quantity in Six Day racing.
The rainbow stripes are no guarantee of Six Day success as the Worlds are won in one full-on hour, not six tactically hard nights / days. That said, the jerseys alone should provide the extra motivation to get them close to the podium
The big German Robert Bartko was described by Keisse at the press conference as ‘strong like a V8 engine’.
The native of Potsdam has three career wins in Ghent to his name, and despite being a big man he copes very well on the short straights and tight bends.
His partner Silvan Dillier from Switzerland is at 22, in only his second year racing with seniors but has track speed so with the experience of Bartko, not to mention that V8 engine, they remain close come Sunday afternoon.
The runners up last year were Dutchman Peter Schep, who was a winner in 2010, and Wim Stroetinga.
On paper they are a classic Six Day pairing of endurance man, Schep, and sprinter, Stroetinga, so they will rack up points and post fast times in the time trials (TTs) on the 166 metre track.
Stroetinga does have a self professed dislike of, the important, elimination races so he will need to do better their in the chase for points.
Last year he was sick during the race but maintained his speed, if not his stamina, for the first time at this level showing he can now last in the up and down, none sto