The Six Days of Ghent is special. The history, the intensity, the music, the commentary, the air horns, the hot dogs – it’s all brilliant. Zesdaagse Gent (as it’s known locally) represents everything great about track cycling. It’s accessible, high-octane, world-class bike racing with cheap beer, a liberal dose of cheesy entertainment and none of the corporate rubbish that taints more “polished” events like the recent Six Day London event.
They’ve been racing the Six Days of Ghent on the same track since 1927, and it is only used for this event. Everyone in the small crowd (3,000 seats) is there because they love cycling. They want to see their heroes up close and personal. The riders recognise that and play to the crowd with dancing, fist pumps and selfies. This is perhaps the biggest six day event on the world stage but it is played out in a noisy, boozy, intimate, iconic, grass-roots theatre to a passionate audience, and everybody loves it.
The racing is always great but this year, we got really lucky. Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish were riding together for one last time as six day partners (and Wiggins had suggested it might even be his last ever professional race, although it looks like he might stick around a bit longer after all). So there was home interest in the form of arguably two of the greatest road and track cyclists ever, with a British fairytale ending a very real possibility. They wouldn’t have it all their own way, though: the Belgian pairing of Moreno De Pauw and Kenny De Ketele beat the Brits a few weeks ago in London, and local hero Iljo Keisse, always a threat in his home town, was riding with Olympic Omnium champion Elia Viviani (gold, helmet, gold shades, gold shoes, gold bar tape…)
Cue two nights of flying laps, air horns, Derny fumes, hand-slings, hot dogs, screaming, shouting and drunkenly trying (and failing) to break the virtual lap record on a static bike.
And at the end of it all… a dramatic, edge-of-your-seat Madison which would decide the overall positions. Wiggo and Cav couldn’t win on points alone, and needed to make a lap gain. All or nothing. They played it to perfection, allowing their rivals to smash each other in the hunt for sprint points before launching a monumental last-ditch attack with just 10 laps to go. The others couldn’t respond, and the British boys made the lap gain and saw out an emotionally charged win to clinch the title.
With Cav and Wiggo unlikely to race together again, this was a special victory. Whether it really does mark the end of Wiggins’ remarkable career remains to be seen, but either way it was a privilege to be there and a weekend I’ll remember for a long time.
For anyone interested in track cycling, this is a great event. Travel to and from Ghent is easy via Eurostar and tickets to the velodrome are cheap (but need to be booked well in advance). Ghent is a beautiful city and the Belgian beers are awesome. Get involved next year!