Sunday, July 25, 2021
HomeInterviewsRobert Bartko - World & Olympic Champion and Six Day Star Retires

Robert Bartko – World & Olympic Champion and Six Day Star Retires

-

Robert Bartko
Robert Bartko.

It’s a term bandied around a lot; ‘legend’, too often in fact, in a world where superlatives fly around – but this gentleman really does deserve the title. Robert Bartko has been at the top of his trade for two decades and on Tuesday night in Copenhagen’s Ballerup Super Arena he went out in style with his 21st Six Day win off 79 starts.

It was just a matter of hours before the Copenhagen finale when his big frame filled the doorway of the VeloVeritas cabin before he sat down to chat to us about his career.

At this stage we usually take you through a rider’s palmares, “Big Bob’s” would take us all day to list, the summary is:

  • Olympic Individual Pursuit Champion 2000.
  • Olympic Team Pursuit Champion 2000.
  • World Individual Pursuit Champion – three times.
  • World Team Pursuit Champion.
  • European Madison Champion.
  • German Champion 18 times across pursuit, team pursuit, madison, Derny and points race.
  • Multiple World Cup wins in the pursuit, team pursuit and madison.
  • And a plethora of podium places from national to Worlds level.

Robert Bartko
Robert looks smooth at the Rotterdam Six on 2011. Photo©John Young

Your Six Day stats, Robert; 21 wins off 79 starts?

“I don’t know about the starts, you’d have to check that – but 20 wins, yes.”

How did you get in to cycling?

“I rode a bike before I could walk and at 14 became part of the sports training centre in Potsdam before going to Sports School in Berlin.

“I never felt that the discipline in the system was too hard; it’s what I always wanted to do – live the life of a professional athlete.”

You were German Team Pursuit Champion for the first time in 1994 and the last in 2010.

“Yes, I rode with a lot of different riders along the way.

“Germany has a great tradition of individual and team pursuiting – and I always wanted to be part of that.

“The British guys were the ones who really changed the team pursuit – it was them who started to ride the bigger gears and go really fast.”

Robert Bartko
Robert has 20 wins from 79 Six Day starts. Photo©Ed Hood

How did you prepare for pursuiting?

“I did a lot of road work and only at the last minute went to the track for my short, hard work.

“I did all of that preparation on the Frankfurt Oder training track.”

In 2002 you rode and finished the Vuelta.

“Ha! Yes, with Telekom, that was crazy but a nice experience.

“I only rode that one Grand Tour but I am happy that I did – it was very hard but a special memory.”

Robert Bartko
Robert even rode Paris-Roubaix for Telekom. Photo©AP

And you won the Three Days of West Flanders in 2004.

“Yes, that was with Rabobank; it starts with a short prologue – which I won and then the rest of the stages were in the cross winds but no hills.

“With my team pursuit experience I know how to position myself in those conditions so the stages suited me.

“That I was my third year full professional, I rode really strongly, that year.”

But no contract for 2005?

“That was the year the UCI changed the points system and didn’t have the points to get a good contract.

“I made the decision to go back to the track – and I’m happy that I did.”

Your first Six Day season, how many did you ride?

“I only rode three but I have ridden as many as 10 in the one winter – Amsterdam, Ghent, Zürich, Dortmund, Munich, Rotterdam, Bremen, Berlin, Copenhagen…

“It’s hard but good for the bank balance, in three months you can do well financially.”

What do you put the decline of the Six Days down to?

“The 2006 doping crisis with Ulrich was very bad, we lost three races immediately.

“And then came the world financial crisis; no money, no Six Days!

“I think the situation is now stable, not the best, not the worst and we must hope for things to improve.

“It’s still a great concept with the sport, the shows, the restaurants, the bars…”

Robert Bartko
Robert and Iljo, partners at the Copenhagen Six in 2010. Photo©Ed Hood

Who’s your favourite partner?

“Iljo Keisse, he’s the perfect partner; fast and strong – and a nice guy.

“But I’ve been enjoying riding with Marcel Kalz, he’s the same big build as I am – this means I get good hand slings.

“Usually it’s my partner who gets the good sling – but I don’t get such a good one!”

The wins you are proudest of?

“The two Olympic titles in Sydney; there’s nothing bigger in the world of sport.

“Six Day-wise it would be my home Six in Berlin.

“That’s a special race with the big crowds – and in my home town.”

RObert Bartko
Robert and Marcel Kalz celebrate a win at Copenhagen. Photo©Ed Hood

How do you get in shape for the Sixes?

“Now I ride many kilometres on the road and I have a race programme with a German Continental team.

How many days racing?

“Not enough!

“For the last two years I have been riding and training on feeling.”

You’re still at the very top, why quit now?

“This year I will have been competing on a bicycle for 30 years; I have the condition and the legs but not the motivation.

“I have my studies, my family and many other projects.

“It’s the end of an era for me and time to say; ‘good bye’ while I’m still at the top.

“No one needs to come to me and say; ‘stop now, Robert!'”

Robert Bartko
Robert victorious at the Berlin Six in 2011, paired with Kluge. Photo©Ed Hood

We hear that you are going in to sports administration?

“Yes, but a voluntary post as a sporting ambassador.

“I complete my studies for my degree in Sports Management in September and then will take up my post.”

When you’re not Terminating on the track, what do you like to do?

“It was the commentators who gave me that name – it’s not something I started.

“I have three children and I like to spend time with them – go out riding on the bike with them.

“I like to swim and I like to horse ride – cycling is not everything in my life.”

Robert Bartko
Copenhagen 2014 was Robert’s last Six Day ever. Photo©Ed Hood

Regrets?

“No – I’m really happy with how the course of my sporting life has gone.”

The end of an era, indeed – but that must be one damn big horse he rides…

Ed Hood
Ed's been involved in cycling for over 45 years. In that time he's been a successful time triallist, team manager, and sponsor of several teams and clubs. He's also a respected and successful coach, and during the winter months can often be found working in the cabins at the Six Days. Ed remains a massive fan of the sport and couples his extensive contacts with an inexhaustable enthusiasm for the minutiae and the history of our sport.

Related Articles

Gent Six Days 2011 – Night Five

We used to get to park the camper inside the old exhibition hall which ajoins the velodrome - but 'safety' means we have to park outside, adjacent to the old hall. In the morning it means you have a long walk to the shower, previously you could lurch the 10 metres, zombie-like, to the shower cubicle and be reborn.

Ryan Oelkers – “I wouldn’t have changed a thing”

With the World Track Championships only a few weeks away, we thought we'd talk to some top riders who you may know not much about, guys with interesting stories to tell, our "left-field' stars. Here's Ryan Oelkers tale...

Copenhagen Six Day 2018 – Nights Four, Five and Six; it’s Mørkøv and De Ketele!

In a classic Six Day finale points shoot-out with the result not confirmed until the finish line, classy Home Boy Michael Mørkøv paired with the current Capo of the Six Day boards, Belgium's Kenny De Ketele to land his seventh Copenhagen Six Day at midnight on Tuesday on the wide boards of the 250 metre Ballerup track.

The First Three Nights of the Rotterdam Six Day 2019

Dutch 15 times former motor paced world champion Bruno Walrave is the man with the plan - and the keys; but he's, 'in a meeting... Bruno is pushing 80 years-of-age but let’s just say that; “age hasn’t mellowed him.” Eventually the door opens and we're in business – handshakes, the key, creds and unload the mobile home.

Andreas Kappes

It’s with much sadness that we report the death of former Six Day and road star, Germany’s Andreas Kappes at just 52 years of age. He was stung by a bee whilst on cycling team management duties and died from ‘allergic shock’ on 31st July. Kappes was one of the all-time great Six Day men, rated 18th in the last edition of the Six Day results ‘bible’ – ‘Statistieken.’

Copenhagen Six Day 2013 – Day Two

There’s a boxing ring in the track centre here at the Copenhagen Six Day, apparently there are matches taking place on Saturday evening – and they present the riders up there.

At Random

Christopher Jennings – From Rapha to VC La Pomme

Christopher Jennings is best remembered by Scottish readers as the winner of the 2012 Davie Bell Memorial race. We interviewed him just after his win, back in the summer and used his biog, from the Rapha-Condor website to do the introductions. A slight rider and strong climber Jennings can also perform on the pave, and will be a useful addition to the team’s stage race potential in 2012.

Bikes of the Tour de France

Bikes of the Tour de France, 2008: Bicycles, we love them! With the Tour well underway, we thought it would be interesting to take a first look at some of the bikes being used by the teams making the news. When we join the race next week we will of course be bringing you more bike-geek articles!

Paul Kimmage in 2006 – “Stop treating people like me as pariahs”

Paul Kimmage has been a near-lone voice in the wilderness for a long time, questioning the ethics in cycling and railing against the alleged corruption amongst the riders and the people charged with running the sport for over 20 years. We thought it would be interesting to revisit a couple of interviews with Kimmage, to see if his position and message have changed any in the interim.

Giro d’Italia 2012 – Stage 1: Herning (ITT) 8.7km. The Head Says Phinney

'My heart says Alex, but my head says Phinney,' my statement as I walked out the door of our rented cottage in search of a stable wi-fi connection. I would have loved Alex Rasmussen to win, but something told me that he wasn't 'sparkling' for the Giro d'Italia 2012 - Stage 1.

Duelling Trains

Duelling Trains. There's something about certain sporting moments when two competitors meet each other in their pomp and just go head to head. There's a minimum of tactics, and a maximum of fireworks, and we, the interested onlookers can only marvel at how good this is, and wonder who will crack first?

Christina Mackenzie – Attempting the End to End Record in August

Christina Mackenzie is holder of the British ladies veteran [41 years-old] 24 hour record with 431.64 miles – and she’s currently preparing for an attempt on the End to End, or LEJOG (Lands End to John O’Groats), all 874 miles and 10,373 metres climbing of it. We got in touch to find out more...