This Six Day season marks the end of an era. Depending upon which source you consult, Franco Marvulli of Switzerland has ridden somewhere between 112 and 117 Six Days, this makes him the most prolific rider on the circuit by a considerable margin – Robert Bartko for example has ridden 75, Iljo Keisse has 72 starts.
When it comes to wins it’s a similar story, Keisse and Bartko are on 19, with Big Bob’s tummy getting that wee bit bigger every season it’s unlikely he’ll add to that score; and with Iljo’s road commitments limiting his winter board appearances he can only win a couple each year, at best.
And Gent was ‘only’ Leif Lampater’s seventh Six Day win off starts in the 60’s.
Marvulli has won 32; not to mention four world titles – two in the scratch and two in the madison and Olympic silver in the same discipline.
So how come his ‘goodbye’ isn’t a bigger deal?
When his compatriot Bruno Risi retired there was a weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
But Risi was the ‘Capo’ – the boss on the circuit and a highly driven individual who quit at the very top when he could still ride most of the peloton off his wheel with 60 wins off 184 starts and fifth place in the all time rankings.
Marvulli is a different animal; he had no desire to be the new Capo, leaving that job to Danny Stam – but the Dutchman could never be Bruno…
And these last two seasons we’ve never really seen the real Franco Marvulli – not the Franco of those Risi/Marvulli days when you’d stand and stare in wonder at their speed, skill and sheer genius on the boards – he’s been easing out of the scene.
Copenhagen will be his last ever Six Day.
We caught up with him on the massage table at Gent as he prepared for his last jousts on those tricky 166 metres of the Kuipke velodrome.
The stats please, Franco?
“I think I’ve ridden somewhere around 112 Six Days with my first in 1998 in Zurich and my second in Munich in ’99 – but at the start I only rode one or two each season.
“There were two Worlds scratch titles and two Worlds madisons.
“As far as Swiss titles go, I think it’s 46 at last count?”
Your finest hour?
“My first Worlds scratch title; I couldn’t really believe it or enjoy it – it was surreal.
“In 2002 when I won it again that was very satisfying, some people had said that it wasn’t a ‘proper world title’ the first time I won – and we won the madison that year, too.
“And of course the Olympic silver with Bruno in the madison was wonderful.
“The president of Switzerland telephoned me to congratulate me after the race but I was drunk so I had to tell him it wasn’t a good idea for me to talk too much!
“Later, I met him in person and apologised; but he just shook my hand, laughed and put us on first name terms, telling me to use his first name, not ‘Mr. President.’
“That was a really nice experience.”
“Oh! Bruno, of course!
“We were such a good match; the technique the timing were perfect.
“But I have to say that latterly I’ve enjoyed being paired with younger guys like Kalz and Müller and being able to help them develop.
“But really, I’ve had dozens of partners, apart from Bruno I’ve never really stuck with one partner.
“It’s a challenge to ride with lots of different guys; but I have to say that I enjoyed riding with Marco Villa – he was the first real champion I raced with and he taught me the business.”
Why quit now?
“In my life I have to have a sense, a feel for what I do; I’ve had 20 years of cycling and now it’s just too routine, the same hotels, the same food – it’s time to move on.
“There’s so much else I can still achieve at 35 years-of-age – recently I’ve been working in children’s education and have really enjoyed that.”
Your first Six Day in ’98 – how does the scene back then compare to Gent 2013?
“It’s tougher, there are a lot less races now so it’s a difficult decision to commit yourself to be a being a full time track professional.
“When the UCi moved the track Worlds and World Cups to the winter it changed the rhythm of everything for the worse.
“It’s very difficult to be competitive in the Six Days and at the World Cup and Worlds – apart from anything else the gears have changed so much; it’s not 52 x 16 in a World Cup madison any longer.
“Even in a race like the Four Days of Grenoble you’re riding 54 x 15, now.”
The last time we spoke you were involved with organising the revamped Championship of Zürich.
“Yes, it was very successful for 2013 with everyone from social riders up to elites able to take part.
“We had 1,000 riders a start/finish village, food stands and a DJ there to make it a real occasion – in 2012 there was just a start/finish line.
“In 2014 we plan to make it even better – it’ll be the 100th edition of Switzerland’s oldest race.”
What’s the Swiss cycling scene like?
“There are less and less races so it’s hard to make the jump to being an elite rider – to do that you have to stop working and that’s difficult to justify if you can’t get the racing.
“You have to remember that the jump from amateur to professional is huge – you can’t compete against the top guys working full time and doing two hours training each day after work.
“It’s a hard sport and an expensive sport to get into – not like soccer where you have a team so it’s not just your performances in the spotlight.
“That’s one of my reasons for ending my career now, I find it hard to motivate myself to train as I should – when I think back to when I was young, training after work with lights on my bike…”
What about the decline of the Six Days?
“I think I’ve said to you before that there’s so much else for people to do now than there was when the Sixes were at their peak – they may come back up a little but they’ll never be like they were.”
Why did you not take the roll of ‘Capo?’
“It’s a tough job and my personality isn’t really suited to it…”
What do you think of the UCI rule changes for the track?
“There are various ways to look at it – sure you have to ride at least two World Cups to get to the Worlds – but the UCI are trying to make it so that each nation has to promote track races; they can’t just ‘go to the Worlds.’
“But it means that because you have to ride these races the organisers don’t have to pay start money – and for a professional that make life more difficult again.
“You have to rely more on sponsors – who aren’t easy to get in the current financial climate.”
I have to ask – Lance?
“He was far from being the only guy and if you were in the sport then you pretty well knew what he was doing.
“Personally, I think the Festina and Puerto affairs were more damaging to cycling.
“In Germany the drug scandals have done big damage – look at what’s happened to the Six Day scene there and so many of the big road events have gone too.
“That damage can’t just be undone over night.”
Will you keep riding the bike?
“For a while – but I’ve started doing in-line skating and I’ll ski more, something I haven’t done for a long while.
“But sure, I’ll go out on the bike when the weather is nice – just not so many miles!2
Looking back, is there anything you’d do differently?
“Yes and no.
“I think I said ‘yes’ to people too many times.
“But I’m not your typical Swiss athlete who comes across to an interviewer as 100% focussed on his training – totally serious and disciplined.
“My father is Italian and I have that aspect to my personality – I’m more outgoing than many Swiss.
“I think some journalists thought that I wasn’t serious enough about my trade – but they didn’t know me.
“I never wanted to change myself and I never played at who I was – like they say; ‘if you don’t lie then you have to remember less.’”
We’ll miss you Monsieur Marvulli – especially those long, relaxed breakfasts down in Grenoble with coffee, Kris’s omelettes, blue cheese, fresh baguettes from the bakers across the street and endless Six Day chat.