We traveled to Ghent from Chicago to attend the Ghent 6-day. Arriving Thursday morning in Brussels, we were at the races on Friday night and Saturday Night. Staying in Kortrijk, we attended the races with Steve Snowling, Clarice Filardi and Roger Pelser. Roger was Etienne DeWilde's personal mechanic for many years until he retired a year or so ago, he was also Steve's mentor. Steve was the mechanic for Telekom when the team first formed and also worked as mechanic for over 100, 6-day races in Europe. Friday night, the Sportpalais was sold out!
While there were still empty seats when the night started, all seats were occupied by 10:00 for the derny races and there was no standing room left on the infield. We left Friday night at 1:30 with still a couple more races to do.
I had been to the Ghent 6-Day in 1990, since then, the Sportpalais has undergone major renovation and redecorating. It really looks much nicer now, (but they still need to renovate the loos or at least improve the ventilation!!) In the bar, they removed all the long tables that were once there and replaced them with a few plastic chairs and tables. I don't think that was a good improvement, not enough places to sit. Getting into the bar was a real lesson in 'pushing your way through crowds, (if you're claustrophobic, stay away!!) While it was a little warm in the track area, this was to keep the audience consuming the 'refreshments' that were readily available throughout the facility. The promoters also had a great souvenir stand for the fans. Every night you could find 5" X 7" photos of you favorite riders from the previous nights' racing. Pins of each rider and teams were for sale and posters of your favorite rider were to be had. Of course we made a few purchases, how could a fan resist!
Having people as knowledgeable as Roger and Steve with us, we learned about all the goings on behind the scenes and on the track. They also enlightened us on the differences between the different tracks and the 'atmosphere' at each event. I can see why Ghent is so popular, the intimacy of the facility lends itself to its popularity. Clarice taught us about the social aspects of the race. Many of the people go to the races to watch and are serious fans and some go strictly for socializing and are oblivious to the race going on.
Roger got us entry into the pits to meet Etienne DeWilde and have our picture taken with him, a real treat. DeWilde's fan club was there in full force on Friday. Very much the Sportsman and Showman and professional athlete, DeWilde mingled with his fan club, even having a gulp of beer with them after the 45 minute madison. Alphonse, mechanic to Urs Freuler's team or Risi's (I think) took our copy of the program and during the Disco dancing, got all of the riders to autograph it for us. A WONDERFUL souvenir of the race!! All of the riders, mechanics and soingeurs put on a great show. The activity on the track was non stop and every one made sure the audience was kept entertained. However, one of the mechanics needs a dance lesson, (Morty!)
You can tell which of the people in the audience were fans and which were former riders. The fans were in their every day work clothes while the riders dressed up in suits and ties. When in the pits, there was a man standing on the rail with his wife, he could have passed as Clark Gable's look alike. Speaking English, at first he acted as if he did not understand, but then we said something real funny and he could not hold back his laughter. It turns out that he was (I think I have this straight) a former Belgian National Cyclo-Cross Champion. Unfortunately I do not have his name, but he and his wife were very nice people. We couldn't figure out why they were playing the video on Tommy Simpson so often, until we saw Barry Hoban (four time World Champion) with his wife, (Simpson's widow.) Merckx was there on Friday night for a while. Many former amateur and professional World Champions were in attendance, a gathering of famous Belgian Cyclist.
The two nights we were there, we saw riders who really knew how to put on a show. Their bike handling skills were unbelievable, not a single incident and only one rider on the Black team, had a mechanical during the derny race. Ghent was Urs Freuler's penultimate 6-day, with his final race this week in Zurich, (the only six that starts on Monday.) Freuler's talent (and good looks) will be missed by the fans.
If a cycling fan wants to go to Europe to watch a race, a six day is the one to go see. Yes, the Tour de France is steeped in tradition, as are all of the Spring Classics in Belgium. But at a six day race you get to see the WHOLE race! We don't have plans yet for the 1998 edition of the Ghent 6-Day, but what I really want to know, is how many vacuums does one rider need? I think one rider / team 'rode off' with 2 or 3 vacuums (for winning) on the nights we were there! But "Thanks" to the sponsors, without them, it would be difficult to keep the 6-Day bicycle race tradition alive.
Treat yourself to a great gift, go to a 6-day race, you will really enjoy it!!
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