What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ In The Trenches: Hasselt Six Day

It all kicked-off back in September last year at Maastricht in Holland. Since then it has visited Amsterdam, Dortmund, Grenoble, Munich, Ghent, Zurich, Rotterdam, Bremen, Stuttgart, Berlin and Copenhagen. It will be all over in six days time; here in Hasselt, Limburg, Belgium: the 2006/2007 Six-Day circus will finish its tour of Europe.

Of the ten events it would be possible to win so far (Grenoble/Dortmund run concurrent and Ghent was abandoned in tragic circumstances when Spanish world madison champion, Isaac Galvez died in a crash), one man has been on the winning team on seven occasions – Bruno Risi of Switzerland. Risi with brother-in-law, Kurt Betschart, formed the most successful team in six-day racing history with 37 wins. Risi’s individual total, coming in to Hasselt stands at 45 wins from 152 starts. This puts him fifth in the all-time six-day winners league, behind Peter Post, Holland (65), Rene Pijnen, Holland (72), Danny Clark, Australia (74) and “record man” Patrick Sercu, Belgium (88 wins from 223 starts).

But 2005/2006 wasn’t Bruno’s best season; he was side-lined by a bad crash and Betschart’s repeated “false starts” to summer training last year meant it was no surprise when Kurt announced his retirement to start a career in the media. It looked like the writing was on the wall for the man with the unwavering commitment to the mullet. Instead he’s back, fitter and faster than ever.

Risi does a good job with partner selection – you could do MUCH worse than one Erik Zabel.

Rather than being floored by the retirement of the man who he was born within a month of in 1968 in the same small Swiss town of Erstfeld, he’s been rejuvenated by riding with two, new, dynamic but very different partners. For his wins at Munich, Dortmund and Bremen, Bruno teamed-up with cycling’s answer to the late, great James Brown – “the hardest working man in show business” – Erik Zabel.

The Berliner’s love affair with training and racing shows no sign of fading and he’s the ideal six day man; stamina and speed aplenty – as long as you have the legs to live with him. At Dortmund he was so strong he was riding the string off his wheel.

For the other four wins Bruno was paired with classy compatriot (and PEZ-scribe employer), Franco, “Marvelous” Marvulli. At the Athens Olympics in 2004 this pairing took silver in the madison. In Beijing next year, silver won’t be good enough – everything the two men do is aimed at Olympic gold. This is the key to Risi’s resurgence; a new, younger partner and strong goal orientation. They triumphed in Maastricht, Zurich and Copenhagen, with fellow-Swiss, Alexander Aeschbach joining them in Stuttgart, where it’s a three rider format. (Marvulli and Aeschbach also won in Grenoble).

And then his OTHER partner just happens to be the OTHER best Six Day rider in the world – Franco Marvulli.

Marvulli has undergone a transformation this season: always good – with three world track titles to prove it – this season he has lifted his game, conscious of the golden opportunity afforded him to ride-with and learn from “The Master.” Risi’s dominance has been helped by the absence of two other big players in “the race to nowhere” – Australo-Belgian, Matt Gilmore and Dutchman, Bob Slippens have both been out as a result of serious road race crashes. Both men had hoped to make it back before the end of the season, but neither did.

Iljo Keisse remains the standout upcoming star in Six Day racing, but he’s been cast a bit adrift without his usual partner.

Their respective regular partners and compatriots, Iljo Keisse and Danny Stam have not been their usual selves without their henchmen. However, Stam paired with another Dutch flyer – world points champion, Peter Schep to win at home in Amsterdam whilst Keisse and German pursuiter, Robert Bartko took the laurels in Rotterdam. Slippens and Stam were the dominant force last season and if Slippens makes a full recovery for next winter then look-out for big battles between the Orangemen from the polders and the Swiss Guard from the mountains. Slippens actually hopes to return to competition today in Hasselt.

Danny Stam has been good this year, but not nearly as good as last year when he rode with his longtime Six Day partner, Robert Slippens.

The only race which slipped away from the “heads” this season was Berlin, where home-boy Guido Fulst and fello young German Leif Lampater triumphed.

That just leaves Hasselt to be decided. This is only second running of the race and word is that it better do good business or it will be the last. Last year Keisse and Gilmore triumphed, this year Iljo teams-up with Italian stalwart, Marco Villa but that doesn’t look strong enough to beat the Swiss, or can Slippens perform a miracle come-back? Over the next six days we’ll be right on the spot to keep you posted as PEZ-man Ed Hood gets his plastic pails and spin-dryer ready.

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