What's Cool In Road Cycling

GentSix’09: Setting The Stage For Drama

The Gent Six has come and gone, and it was a thriller. It might be done on the news and in the stands, but it ain’t done here: Ed Hood takes us back into the fray, where the crowd deafens, the sweat pours, and legends are made. Let’s head back on into the infamous Kuipke for some of the best racing of 2009.

The starter’s pistol is pointed towards the roof, signalling the start of the Derny heat – I’m ready this time, in the last heat Dirk nearly ran into the back of me – crack! Both hands on Alex’s lower back and go! The gears for the Derny are big and the guys need all the help they can to crank them.

Big gears require a big push.

There’s a rider right in front of you and one right behind you – it’s scary, the first time you do it. I’m off my mark quick, that guy Bolt has nothing on me – but wooaa! The French soigneur who’s pushing off the rider in front has been on the vin rouge again and has forgotten why he’s standing there. Michael has to kick back like hell, then our man in front thinks; “ah ! oui !” and finally starts to push. I have to kick again as Michael stamps hard on that little cog and we eventually get the show on the road.

The guy with the camera snatches Alex’s mitts; ‘I can have these ?’ he says. Alex hesitates; “no you f**king can’t !’ I say as I snatch them back – a good runner can’t let a scrounger pinch his rider’s mitts! All in a day’s work at Gent.

The Gent Six can be broken down into two parts: racing and beer.

Dirk, our mechanic explained to me why Thursday was so busy; ‘it’s student night, they get the tickets cheaper. I was on the other side of the barriers, over there in the middenplein for 15 years. Our football team used to come every year, all of us – reserves, staff, everyone, maybe 25 of us. We’d all put money in to buy beer tokens; one of us had the worst job – that was to carry the huge bag of plastic beer tokens ! I can still remember stumbling home at six and seven in the morning !”

…Ergo, there is a lot of beer.

Ah, youth ! – ‘wasted on the young’ as Oscar Wilde once said.

The drunken multitudes enjoy a little conga line.

Tonight (Friday) wasn’t as wild as Thursday, but the conga lines snaked through the throng, well oiled by gallons of pils.

Conventional wisdom is that Bill Gates is the richest man in the world, this clearly isn’t right – it has to be the guy with the beer concession for this race.

The Australian juniors broke the under 23 lap record in the 500 metres time trial with 28.59; only the best pros can beat that – barring disasters, they have the overall won.

First pro race tonight was a 60 lap points, then a team devil, then the flying lap followed by the first madison.

The pattern is that the chases don’t start in too savage a fashion, but the last ten minutes are wild.

Bartko was neutralised for the chase, pleading that his Munich crash injury was playing up; or has he decided that he can’t win with De Ketele ? Maybe. Vermeulen is out, tendonitis in the knee – Kris says that this is a common occurrence when road guys come to the sixes; they’re not used to the twisting motion of the changes and it can cause knee problems.

The music was for the chase was eclectic – Doris Day, the Troggs, the Monkeys, all good stuff

The race is between three teams, now – Bruno & Franco; Alex & Michael and Kluge & Keisse.

The Iljo Keisse fans get their start early.

The crowd love Iljo and he loves them; but I keep thinking he’s taking too many chips off that energy block inside him, and come Sunday afternoon, the Danes and Swiss will have that little bit more left.

Show time !

Last night it was Alana Dante giving us Ziggy Stardust meets Bette Middler in her spider’s web catsuit.

Ah, Wendy.

Tonight we had Wendy Van Wanten, big girl, big voice, big boots – very small skirt. She did a strange version of the ‘Drunken Sailor’ in fact, it was terrible, but with that mini skirt and those boots on – who cares ?

The ‘Burn’ caffeine energy shot girl arrived in her leather coat, looking great – her folks are from Liverpool but they live in Gent; I got two boxes of the stuff from her – I’m gonna need it, these last two days will be hectic.

Care for some caffeine, Ed? Why, yes of course!

And the Scottish contingent has landed: Stuart Anthony handed me a beer, which I had to politely decline – he was wistful about it being Bruno’s last season; ‘who’s going to replace him ?’

Matthew Gilmore retired? Those are but foul rumors!

John Anderson still wears his Matt Gilmore scarf (we can’t bear to tell him that Matt has been retired for two seasons) and Dave Martin wants to take Michael’s white Principia home with him.

I thought riding indoors was supposed to be a clean activity.

Mention of Michael’s bike; Dirk was showing me the oil under the down tube, after the derny race – they’re two strokes and burn bio fuel, but still pump out a lot of muck.

Franco punctured in the madison, it took a few laps to get him back in, but provided no one is obviously ‘at it’ and taking a rest, there’s no set number of laps within which the rider has to get back up. In World Cups and championships, it’s four laps.

If it’s worth seeing, PEZ is there. Proven again.

Late in the night, there was a really bad spell of Euro Pop; one of the songs – ‘Ding a ding !’ is the story of a guy getting the train to see his girl, this involves a lot of the train bell ringing, hence, ‘Ding a ding !’ and yes, it’s as bad as it sounds. But the crowd love it and inevitably, you end up singing along.

Usually the racing just eases out as 02:00 am approaches, there’s a sprint series – 6 x 10 laps – pretty low key, something for the late drinkers to try and focus on.

That’s one of two furious pistons from Mr. Marvelous Marvulli.

One rider does the first three sprints, they change over, rider number one bolts for his toastie and rider number two contests the last three sprints before he too, heads for the cabin.

But last night, it was different, Iljo turned it into a ‘jam’ and tried to take a lap – just minutes before 02:00 am we had a full blown chase going down, with very few people in the hall aware of the drama.

Lots of drinking = lots of trash.

Even I had to think; ‘what the hell is this ?’ Apparently, Bruno ain’t happy ! Watch this space !

Day 5
Gent was the biggest town in Western Europe during the 13th and 14th centuries, 50,000 people lived here – a huge number for the times. Back then it was a thriving city, it’s wealth based on weaving.

Beautiful Gent.

Since then, Flanders fortunes have ebbed and flowed at opposite ends of the tide from it’s southern French speaking neighbour – Wallonia. When the tide of prosperity is high for one, the mud flats are on view for the other. This century sees Flanders the dominant financial force in Belgium.

The Gallery.

Talk still whirls around Flanders going it alone as a separate nation; Brussels becoming a city state, like Monaco and Wallonia becoming part of France.

Gent is a university city, it prides itself in its culture – there’s an art gallery and museum all within the Citadel Park where the Kuipke sits.

The Kuipke.

Gent was also one of the centres for Belgium’s magnificent Art Nouveau period around 1900. A wander round the back streets of Gent always reveals beautiful brickwork and florid wrought iron.

Ed stands guard at the front. It’s his day job.

Apart from all that, it’s fietsen (bicycle) heartland – Het Volk starts a few minutes from here; a 2008 Tour stage finished two minutes walk away and it’s still the place where young hopefuls arrive to battle with the rain, cross winds, cobbles and tram lines, to try and, ‘make it, big !’ Dirk has been giving me another one of his reminiscences; the singer tonight, Eddy Wally, is a legend in Flanders. He only sings in Flemish – even when he’s playing Las Vegas. On one occasion, Dirk decided to dance on the stage at one of Eddy’s local gigs – all was going well, until Dirk decided to borrow Eddy’s hat. This he successfully did, but in the process, he dislodged Eddy’s wig – exit Dirk, escorted by security !

The boys need their daily brod.

‘What about the six ?’ I hear you ask.

Former British track champion, Peter Jacques arrived today to see Franco; Peter arranges some of Franco’s race programme – including the Revolution meets at Manchester.

Chow time.

During the rolling presentation, Iljo went a little off the front of the string; ‘Iljo’s going to try and take a lap, again !’ Dirk told us.

The team devil fell to Alex and Michael as Jimmy Cliff told us all that it was, ‘gonna be a bright, sunny shining day,’ we hope so, Jimmy.

It’s not all about the top few teams. Alexander Aeschbach celebrates a win.

The flying lap, Franco 08.71 (just 4/100ths off the track record) pointing at his chest, no hands, in the back straight; ‘that was me!’

The flowers wait their happy winners.

Gent-Wevelgem and eight times Tour de France stage winner, Barry Hoban dropped by for a chat with Peter, unfortunately, I was on madison duty – sorry Barry.

Barry Hoban!

Bruno and Franco won another race – I forget which – and I had to do my, ‘go round with the advertising hat’ thing. Unfortunately, Mr. Sercu was unimpressed with the time Franco took to change hats and give his face a towel off. Two Flemish digits were poked into my ribs in a, ‘get your ass out of here boy, so we can take the pictures,’ kind of a way.

Yet another win for Franco and Bruno.

The guys we work for treat me so well that I’d actually forgotten that runners are the lowest form of human life !

Wonderful Wally, not of Wallonia.

‘The voice of Europe, the voice of Gent !’ strangely, I’d never heard of Eddy Wally before, but now, I’ll never forget him. A cross between Liberace, Elvis and Charles Aznavour; he’s 78 and the crowd love him. And, in the words of Bart Simpson when Homer goes Country and Western; ‘right now, I don’t love the man – but that’s a suit !’ – pin strip, pale blue, three piece. Nice !

Oh my.

Eddy was the starter for the Derny race; his rather cavalier attitude to fire arms had the UCI commisaire pleading with him to keep the thing pointed at the roof.

Etienne De Wilde paid a visit to Mr. Morkov.

Etienne De Wilde dropped by for a chat with Michael, one of the all time six day greats, and a sound guy, too.

The 500 metre time trial, Iljo wins, a Derny too – he’s racking those points up.

As the last chase swirls, Dirk carefully cleans every spec of glue from the rims and sidewalls of the wheels he stuck tyres onto, last night – it’s a matter of honour !

Dirk, hard at work.

The chase music has a Scottish bent to it; The Proclaimers, the Fratellis and bit of Lulu; ‘everybody shout now!’

I feel tired tonight and my feet are killing me – it’s probably the heat. Franco isn’t wearing an under vest, it’s so damn hot.

Don’t mistake these boys for Scotsmen.

‘The English have arrived!’ says Dirk, but they have kilts on. ‘Hey boys, did you ask my permission to wear that tartan, here ?’ I ask them. We have a bit of banter and I take their picture, but decline their kind offer to allow me to photograph their backsides.

Whist I’m out in the jungle, I spot the Swiss, and snap them, too.

Bruno’s fans.

Franco and Bruno win the chase – but what’s that music ? Oh, no ! It’s ‘Ding a ding !’

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