Third in London with Moreno De Pauw; winner in Gent again with De Pauw; encore in Rotterdam with De Pauw; the win in Bremen with Home Boy, Theo Reinhardt; second in Berlin with De Pauw and looking well on the way to the top of the podium here in Copenhagen with Michael Mørkøv – it can only be Topsport and Belgium’s Mr. Kenny De Ketele.
The undisputed current King of the Six Day Boards took time to chat to VeloVeritas, between races here in the city with the mermaid.
Tell us a little about Kenny De Ketele, the man.
“I’m from Oudenaarde and have a daughter from my marriage but I’m divorced for four years now and have been with my girlfriend that length of time – almost like being married I think?”
What about when you’re not ripping round the boards?
“I have too much to do!
“I coach the National Junior Team from May until the end of August but outside of cycling I enjoy watching football.
“I support Gent but find myself going more to Anderlecht games, Tino my soigneur works as a masseur with the team so it’s easy for him to get tickets at short notice.”
Do you remember your first bike race?
“It was an omnium for kids at the Kuipke track in Gent, 1999 – there were too many entries so they had a 500 metre time trial to select who could ride.
“I wasn’t fast enough- so that was that!”
You started in the days of Bruno Risi, the Sixes have slipped since so much since then – why?
“A question I get asked a lot!
“The world economic crisis didn’t help – the last thing there was money for was Six Days.
“The German doping scandals was another reason; so many German race disappeared including the most famous of all – Munich.
“But fortunately we still have Bremen and Berlin.
“And there’s a big change in mentality; when I started the young riders like me were scared to upset the big riders like Bruno and Marco Villa.
“Now the young guys just push me out of the way!
“I’m not comparing myself to Bruno but I think I can say safely say that I’ve been the most successful rider on the boards for the last few years – but there’s so much less respect.
“I also think that the young riders are much less conscious of their responsibility to entertain the public.
“I fully approve of hard, fair racing – but big gear negative chases where everyone is marking and no laps are taken are not what the crowd wants to watch.”
Gears; here in Copenhagen you’re restricted to 51 x 15, what’s your opinion on that?
“I don’t mind it, if you’re a good rider then you should be able to cope with it.
“It’s also much healthier on the body, big gears take a lot out of you, especially in the last few days of a Six.
“I also think it makes for better racing; on the big gears you can ‘surge’ and close a gap quickly but you can’t do that on a smaller gear – it makes for better racing to watch.”
How do you cope with the jump from Six Day to World Cup gears, which are much higher, 100” plus.
“It’s not so much trouble for me because I train on the big gears and I’ve ridden the road enough to have built a good engine to handle the big ratios.”
How did you prepare for London, the first Six Day?
“I have a rest in the summer then start my build up after the Belgian Elite Road Race Championships with the European Championships as my first goal then from there straight into the Six Days and World Cup series.”
I’m guessing Gent will be your favourite race – why does it retain it’s popularity when many Sixes struggle to fill the seats?
“I think a big reason is that the public can get so close to the riders; in the track centre the people can talk to the riders over the fence – in many Six Days the centre is just for the V.i.P’s
“Also the stands are right beside the track so the public’s relationship with the riders is close and special.
“If you look here, in Copenhagen the track is so big and wide, the public can’t really get up close to the riders.”
After Gent, which is your favourite race?
“Rotterdam, we have a special bond with the sponsors – it took me few years to win there but I was something I always wanted to do.
“The public speak the same language which is nice and I just like to ride there.
“I hope we can win here in Copenhagen, it’s the only one of the current races which I haven’t won.
“I would love to have won in Munich but I wasn’t at the level to be capable of doing that before the race finished up.”
You and Moreno have become a formidable pair.
“It’s just a natural bond we have, that’s four years we’ve been roommates and raced together – I chose Moreno as my partner for the first London Six Day and it was a good decision!”
What’s it like riding with Michael Mørkøv?
“We’ve connected well, we’re the same kind of rider, he has more speed than me but like I say we’re a very similar kind of rider in that we like to attack, to dominate rather than follow.
“I’m understanding now how important the number seven tricot is in terms of history – it’s an honour to wear it.
“The public here were pretty ambivalent about me in years gone past but this year because I wear number seven they have embraced me much more.”
Do you have a coach?
“No, I do my own thing.
“After Copenhagen I go to Portugal to prepare for the Worlds, riding on the road and track.
“I hope to ride the Madison, points and team pursuit.
“We’re starting to get somewhere with the team pursuit, we’ve twice dipped under four minutes in the last year.
“We’ve broken the national record something like 10 or 15 times, I’ve lost count but I’ve been in the team every time we’ve done it.
“The objective is to qualify for the Olympics.
“I’ll have a rest after the Worlds but haven’t decided how long I’ll take.”
What’s still ‘to do’ for Kenny De Ketele?
“As a rider I’d like to ride the Olympic Madison and team pursuit.
“After my racing career is over I would like to remain in cycling as a coach, helping the young guys avoid the mistakes I’ve made and the struggles I’ve gone through.”