What's Cool In Road Cycling

GentSix’09: All Good Things Come To An End

And here we are – the final night of racing in one of the finest racing venues on the planet. It might not be the prettiest, the cleanest, or possess even a comfortable temperature – when it comes to atmosphere and spectacular bike racing though, you just can’t do better than the racing on Gent’s track. It’s the Alpe d’Huez of Six Days. Come join us one more time in Gent as Ed takes us trackside for the finale.

Iljo has been quick all week, ‘super motivated.’ It’s the last lap and he’s clear at the front, back flat, face a mask of pain; the crowd is going crazy – cow bells, air horns, whistles. He’s going to take his fourth Gent six, in great style.

Iljo Keisse’s beautiful Merckx.

But wait, Alex is coming late, over the top, he’s been wasted, these last ten minutes; but he swerves, rocks, rolls, digs deep, deep – arches his back, kicks. Michael throws his arms high; so do I – Alex Rasmussen and Michael Morkov have won the 2009 Gent six day ! Kris wells up: the boys come in, we hug them, so does Franco – it doesn’t get any better !

It was a short sleep on Saturday night; that’s why I put those two ‘Burn, intense energy shots’ in the fridge.

No sleep? Late nights? High stress? Try some Burn.

Bed was at 03:30 – the Risi party was still in full effect – the killer alarm came at 09:00 for the 13:00 start, glug, caffeine! ah! that’s better !

To say the banking is steep is putting it mildly.

Day six; the big one, and the air is charged, will it be the Swiss? Franco is flying, fastest lap again tonight, and Bruno? – he’s still the Capo.

Keisse and Kluge are flying too – the place is long sold out to see the return of the prodigal son.

Or will it be our Danes ? Alex with his raw power and Michael the super stylist, deceptively quick and a flashing sprinter in his own right.

Before I’ve even showered, we get some Team Sky gossip; they’re getting 400 frames, free, from Pinarello. They’ll be equipped with Shimano electronic – again, all free. That’s unusual, pro teams normally have to pay ‘cost’ price for their equipment – even the big teams.

There’s a tension in the air – and the smell of frying burgers, at 11:00 am on a Sunday morning.

Bruno Risi’s Swiss contingent was out in full force: more cow bell.

Alex and Michael are duelling for points with Keisse and Kluge – our boys are second in the points race, win the devil and are third in the flying lap. Franco pulls 08.71 to win – outstanding !

The Derny, and Sash belt out; ‘Encore un Fois’ a great tune for bike racing.

The Kuipke Gatekeeper.

We’re live on TV now, must remember to watch my scratching habits.

De Ketele wins the Derny, from Iljo, the drivers of the little motor bikes should all be on the stage, with their theatrical gesticulations and facial expressions.

The greatest Six Day racer ever, Patrick Sercu, shakes the hand of the greatest Six Day of our time.

There’s no ‘entertainment’ tonight – but there is Bruno’s farewell. An all time great, the best six day rider of his generation, he’s still at the very top; there won’t be that shaky, ‘one season too many.’

The mechanics pay homage to the capo.

Respect, Bruno.

The scratch race, YMCA is the tune, and it’s worrying that Pete Jacques knows all the moves.

I have to go to the cabin, there’s Robert Slippens with Cokes for the kids – still slim, but grey haired. With Danny Stam, he made a great six day team – Danny must miss him.

And finally, it’s here, the 60 minute chase which closes the 2009 Six Days of Gent.

Bruno Risi’s family.

I miss the start of the chase because I have to start breaking camp.

When I do take up my, ‘bottle station’ beside the track, the noise is deafening. It’s ‘oom-pah’ music coming over the PA, there are whistles, cow bells, air horns, people screaming themselves hoarse; you can barely hear the thunder of the Continentals and Schwalbes on the boards, but strangely, you can hear the chains rattle – and feel the air move as the string flashes past.

It’s a good race, few lulls and constant attacks, Patrick Sercu will enjoy his cognac, tonight – a strong field, a full house and great racing. All the top teams are on the zero lap – it’s down to sprints.

Of course it was a sellout crowd on the final night.

The lap board changes from elapsed minutes to laps to go – 50, then sprints every 10 from here in; 40: Keisse & Kluge still lead 421 to 420 from the Danes; 30: I miss it, bottles to chase – dam ! 20: Iljo and Kluge go clear, 435 to 430 – is it slipping away ? 10: Michael takes it, Alex looks tired, but it’s 441 to 440 and we’re ahead. The noise is deafening, the capacity crowd swells and heaves; but we only have eyes for our two young men in rainbow jerseys.

The media…and Franco…descend upon Michael and Alex for the story from the winners’ mouths.

If you’re a runner or soigneur, you’re meant to stay cool, detached, displays of emotion are frowned upon – but I couldn’t help but throw my arms to the skies, when Alex found that sprint.

The podium.

Alex, Michael, Franco, Kris – it was a pleasure and an honour.

Roll on, Zurich !

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