It wasn’t just the Covid, it was more the quarantine we would have had to endure that kept us away from the Flatlands for the 2021 Gent Six Day and 2022 Opening Weekend; but like Kiss said; ‘We’re back, back in the New York Groove’ – let’s make that the ‘Flanders Groove.’
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That morning flight time out of Edinburgh was downright anti-social but on the upside it meant our feet were on holy soil nice and early.
We missed the frites stand just outside Charleroi Airport terminal, we liked the old, ‘no frills’ terminal; ‘gentrification’ isn’t just a Scottish curse.
We got the hire car organised without too much drama and headed north towards Gent via the dreaded ‘Brussels Ring,’ – best avoided at rush hours.
Brunch was at the Centrum Ronde Van Vlaanderen in Oudenaarde, there was only one cobble stone we wanted in the picture: that one from 1961, Tom Simpson – I don’t remember Cav or Brad winning de Ronde?
Across the road is one of our favourite bars on the planet, De Carillon. Dave was telling me that it’s one of Roger De Vlaeminck’s preferred watering holes – and we can understand that. It was restored to a design by architect AR Janssens in 1921 after the destruction wrought upon Flanders during World War One.
The inside of the bar room is enriched with Art-Deco panelling with floral motifs and painted cityscapes of Oudenaarde, signed and dated Edg. Fobert 1926. A gem.
We headed for Gent, checked in to the Campanile Motel, abandoned the hire car and sampled the lovely draft Karmeliet, an Abbey-style blonde beer by Brouwerij Bosteels in Buggenhout. It’s made from three grains – oats, barley and wheat, which is an authentic beer recipe dating back to 1679.
It’s a fair hike from the Campanile up to the Vivaldi – our HQ in Gent for many years – so it was time for a taxi.
The Hostess at our favourite bar provides great music and a great atmosphere; things would get a tad crazy there on Saturday night, but more of that later. If you’re in for the long run best stick to pils; trappistes are beautiful beers but dangerous.
Ronie was manager at the sacred velodrome before he bought de Karper and in the words of Donna Summer; ‘Works Hard for the Money.’
Ronie and his daughter – Iljo’s sister – Drieke run one cool place; 50 varieties of beer, good snacks, good tunes and wall-to-wall and ceiling-to-floor Iljo and QuickStep memorabilia. Sadly, if you’re a cycling fan, Ronie was telling Dave that now that Iljo has retired he’s going to change the look of the place and dispense with most of the cycling ‘stuff.’
Eventually we remembered we were here to see some bike racing and headed up to the velodrome.
In the entrance foyer there are pictures of previous winners, I couldn’t resist the one of Alex Rasmussen and Michael Mørkøv, winners in 2009 when I had the honour of being their ‘runner’ – great memories.
Across Europe from France up to Denmark via The Netherlands and Germany the Six Days popularity has waned – not in Gent, the place is bursting at the seams every night.
As we took our seats, I said to Dave; ‘That dude in front of us is the double of Ferdi Van Den Haute.’
Dave, not noted for his shyness, asked the gentleman and it was indeed the 1978 Gent-Wevelgem, Belgian Road Race Championship, Tour de France and Vuelta stage winner, a nice guy.
We just missed the flying lap – De Wylder & Ghys twice broke the lap record this year, taking it down to 8.332 – but the one we really wanted to see, the Gran Prix Patrick Sercu Memorial Madison turned out to be a disappointment.
In this, the 100th Gent Six Day, with the race to honour the greatest Six Day rider who ever lived and with Eddy Merckx himself firing the starting pistol, we expected great racing but what we got was a ‘potato chase’.
That term comes from the old days when the spectators would offer prizes to the riders for perhaps the next lap gain or to be first across the line on a particular lap.
Wealthy business men with plenty of Belgium’s finest beer inside them might offer a big cash incentive but farmers would bring along a sack of potatoes to offer up – all they could afford. It was beneath the dignity of the big teams to chase such a paltry prize but to the lesser teams with a family to feed on not much money it was worth chasing.
It was a ‘flat,’ disappointing chase with Dutch lesser lights, ‘ploeg 11,’ Vincent Hoppezak & Philip Heijnen running out winners.
Next up was the ladies Points Race. With just a dozen riders on the track 120 laps seemed like overkill, half that distance would have been fine.
We watched the Derny and then did the sensible thing – headed for the Vivaldi, where some of Gent’s most attractive young ladies were attending a birthday party, downing copious quantities of pils and Prosecco – and dancing on the bar top. Wild!
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We weren’t too delicate that morning and decided to head up to the famous P