Last weekend we set out on the Yellow Jersey Belgian road trip, to take in some of the Best European spectator cycling available over the winter. First stop of the weekend was Ghent, and the Six day track cycling.
Watching cycling in the UK tends to be a fairly civilised experience. We sit or stand, we’ll cheer the riders as they pass and maybe shout out a name or two if we happen to know them. The first London Six since the 1980’s last month was a great event, all be it a little reserved.
The Ghent Six might be a little more old fashioned than the new London event. It has been running since 1927 after all. They serve frites and bratwurst, not pulled pork and posh pies. Their half time entertainment consists of an elderly couple singing euro hits rather than some fancy London DJ, and they won’t be entertaining the crowd with any choreographed light shows in between races. But what Ghent has got in spades, is atmosphere. Atmosphere and beer.
We’re used to looking down at the centre of the track. Riders will be warming up with their teams while a lucky few corporate customers mill about, networking and mingling. This idea is turned on its head for the Ghent Six.
The centre of the track attracts hordes of revellers and party goers. The only comparison to a UK sports event would be a test cricket match just after lunch, after a full morning of rain. The beer flows freely, the Euro-pop plays all night, and the crowd become increasingly rowdy; singing, dancing, and revelling in the experience of the racing. You might question whether the crowd have come to watch the cycling at all, or if it is incidental; something happening in the background as an added interest.
As is always the case with a Six day race it seems, the final result could have gone any number of ways, right up until the final race. Take it as you will, as a concept, six day cycling has always been as much about the show as it has the sport of cycling. Like the x-factor of its day, the crowd want to see tension right up until the end, and the competition delivers that.
Despite a spectacular crash on the first day of racing, local rider Iljo Keisse and his teammate Michael Mørkøv won over the audience, stealing sprint points in events throughout the week. Each time their lead slipped they would take off, clawing back their point’s advantage. But the result was not sealed until the final Madison.
A late break away saw the pair gain a lap over the rest of the field. With the number of laps completed in a Six day the key to victory, and points difference just used to rank pairs with the same number, their win was assured. Despite a huge effort from the riders on the track, they were unable to prevent Keisse and Mørkøv’s break away, and before they could react, it was all over.
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