The first Six Day races were exactly that - cycle races held over six days and six nights on a bicycle, on a banked cycle track. Some might say that the organisers of such events must have been cruel and uncaring people, but that would be untrue. In their kindness, they allowed the cyclists to race in teams of two. Only one rider from each team actually had to be on the track at any one time, so the second rider could eat, rest or even sleep for a few minutes.
Admittedly, watching exhausted cyclists circle a track for six days did not always make for exciting racing, so the formula was refined. Nowadays, the riders race on an indoor track (or velodrome) over six successive evenings. The cyclists still race in teams of two, and only one rider needs to be in the race at any one time. Generally, the rider not actually racing will circle slowly at the top of the track, waiting for his partner to (literally) throw him into the race by a hand sling.
Want to find out more about six-day bike races in days gone by? Have a look at Uncle Dave's web site for more detail.
Rather than one long race lasting all night, an evening's racing typically includes a few Madison sessions (the mainstay of the event) lasting an hour or so each, interspersed with "crowd pleasers" such as riders competing for the fastest flying lap time, or Derny races (where the cyclists are paced behind very odd little motorbikes). Only one rider from each team is needed for these events, which enables the other rider to rest before the next race.
The race is won by gaining points in sprints that are held every 20 laps or so, and by gaining laps on the other riders. Gaining laps is actually more important than scoring points, as the points are only used to differentiate between teams on the same number of laps. Some Six Day events give riders an extra lap every 100 points, which makes the mathematics of it all even more interesting (Technical note: Roger Hughes writes to tell me that apparently all "sixes" now give riders 1 lap per 100 points gained, except in the last chase of the race). And while we're in a technical frame of mind, do read Kris Westwood's description of life as a six-day mechanic.
There are 12 Six Day races on the calendar for the 1998-99 season. The racing normally starts in the early evening and goes on until late in the night. There is a good social atmosphere (for the spectators, in any case!). Last year's Munich 6-Day featured a funfair around the outside of the track, with five restaurants, too many bars to count, and a nightclub in the cellar that opened at two in the morning (when the racing finished).
Check out the results from last year's (1997/98) six-day races.
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