A six or six-day is a track cycling race that lasts six days. Six-day races started in Britain, spread to many regions of the world, were brought to their modern style in the United States and are now mainly a European event. Initially, individuals competed alone, the winner being the individual who completed the most laps. However, the format was changed to allow teams (usually of two riders each), one rider racing while the other rested. The 24-hours a day regime has also been relaxed, so that most six-day races involve six nights of racing, typically from 6pm to 2am, on indoor tracks (velodromes).
The overall winner is the team which completes most laps. In the event of teams completing the same number of laps, the winner is the team with most points won in intermediate competitions (see points race). As well as the 'chase' to gain laps over competitors, a typical six-day programme will include time trials, motor-paced, intermediate sprint and elimination races. In the main 'chase' or madison events (so-called after Madison Square Garden in New York where the two-man format was devised), both riders may be on the track at the same time, taking it in turns to race, hand-slinging each other back into action.
The first six-day event was an individual time trial at the Agricultural Hall in Islington, London in 1878 when a professional called David Stanton sought a bet that he could ride 1,000 miles in six successive days, riding 18 hours a day. A Mr Davis put up £100 and the stake was held by the Sporting Life newspaper. Stanton started at 6am on 25 February and won the bet in 73 hours, riding on a high-wheeled machine at an average speed of 13.5 mph.
Six-day cycle races involving more than one rider grew out of the 19th-century enthusiasm for endurance and other novelty competitions. A promoter at the Agricultural Hall held a six-day walking contest in April 1877. It was enough of a success for another to be held the following year. That inspired another organiser, name no longer known, to organise a six-day race in the same hall but for cyclists, also in 1878. He hoped to attract the crowd of 20,000 a day that had turned out for the walkers.
The Islington Gazette reported:
"A bicycle contest was commenced at the Agricultural Hall, on Monday last, for which £150 is offered in prizes for a six days' competition, the money to be allocated thus: £100 for the first man, £25 for the second, £15 for the third, and £10 for the fourth."
The race started at 6am with only four of the 12 entrants on the track. Although it is often said that the first six-day was a non-stop, no-sleeping event that ran without pause for six days, in fact riders joined in when they chose and slept as they wished.
The first American six-days
However, the event did not become popular until 1891 when six-day races were held in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Initially, these races were contests of raw endurance, with a single rider completing as many laps as possible. At first, races were over less than 24 hours a day. Riders slept at night and were free to join in the morning when they chose. Faster riders would start later than the slower ones, who would sacrifice sleep to make up for lack of pace. Quickly, riders began competing 24 hours a day, limited only by their ability to stay awake. Many employed seconds, as in boxing, to keep them going. The seconds, known by their French name soigneurs, were said to have used doping to keep their riders circling the track. Riders became desperately tired. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said:
The wear and tear upon their nerves and their muscles, and the loss of sleep make them [peevish and fretful]. If their desires are not met with on the moment, they break forth with a stream of abuse. Nothing pleases them. These outbreaks do not trouble the trainers with experience, for they understand the condition the men are in.
The condition included delusions and hallucinations. Riders wobbled and fell. But they were often well paid, especially since more people came to watch as their condition worsened. Promoters in New York paid Teddy Hale $5,000 when he won in 1896 and he won "like a ghost, his face as white as a corpse, his eyes no longer visible because they'd retreated into his skull," according to one report. The New York Times said in 1897:
It is a fine thing that a man astride two wheels can, in a six-day race, distance a hound, horse, or a locomotive. It confirms the assumption, no longer much contested, that the human animal is superior to the other animals. But this undisputed thing is being said in too solemn and painful way at Madison Square Garden. An athletic contest in which participants 'go queer' in their heads, and strain their powers until their faces become hideous with the tortures that rack them, is not sport. It is brutality. Days and weeks of recuperation will be needed to put the Garden racers in condition, and it is likely that some of them will never recover from the strain.
Two-man team events
Six-day racing remained popular in the USA, even though the states of New York and Illinois led in 1898 in limiting races to 12 or 24 hours. The intention was to allow riders to rest half the day, but promoters realised that teams of two, with only one rider on the track at a time, would give each the 12 hours' rest the law intended while making the race still last 24 hours. Races lasted six days rather than a week to avoid racing on Sunday. Speeds rose, distances grew, crowds increased, money poured in. Where Charlie Miller rode 2,088 miles alone, Alf Goullet and a decent partner could ride 2,790. The first such race was at Madison Square Garden and two-man tag racing has become known in English as a madison and to the French as l'américaine.
In the main 'chase' or madison sessions, both riders may be on the track at the same time, taking it in turns to race, hand-slinging each other back into action. The non-racing rider will circle the track slowly at the top of the banking until 'slung' back into the race. The hand-sling is an advanced skill that, in some countries, is only allowed for professional riders. The racing rider may also propel a team-mate into the race by pushing the seat of the rider's racing shorts.
The historian Raymond Dickow said of riders in the post-1898 races:
The highest paid was Alfred Goullet of Australia. He earned $1,000 a day in addition to cash prizes won during sprints. Top riders like Bobby Walthour, US; Franco Giorgetti, Italy; Gérard Debaets, Belgium; and Alfred Letourneur, France, were making from $500 to $750 a day. Amateurs who had just turned pro, and still had to prove their worth, were paid the beginners' rate of $100 a day.
Sixes attracted enthusiasts and celebrities. Knute Rockne, George Raft, Barbara Stanwyck, and Otto Kruger were fans. Kruger used to invite riders home. Bing Crosby - whose presence at a track guaranteed he would be met by song-publishers' touts offering him music - was said to pay the hospital bills of riders who fell. The actress Peggy Joyce - her wealth was such that Cole Porter wrote a lyric that said My string of Rolls-Royces, is longer than Peggy Joyce's - gave regular $200 bonus prizes, or primes. She was so delighted when a band in the track centre played Pretty Peggy with eyes of Blue that she put up $1,000.
Racing was at its hardest when the stands were full. Riders took it easy when they were empty and circled the track reading newspapers, talking, even writing letters as they pedalled with one foot, the other steering the handlebars. But sometimes a team would attack when things were quiet. Jimmy Walthour remembered one such night in 1933:
|“||[At 4am], Tino Reboli and his partner were 12 laps behind the leaders. In desperation, they decided that no one would sleep that night. They knew that they had to close the gap up to stay in the race. One shift of riders had gone to the dormitory in another part of the building. Reboli and his partner, however, remained on the track. The team made its bid and gained three laps before trainers of the other teams could shake the sleeping cyclists out of bed. The jam turned into one of the wildest ever experienced in the history of the Garden. It necessitated turning on the huge lights over the track, costing the Garden thousands of dollars in lighting.||”|
|“||The only spectators were a handful of puzzled floor sweepers, garbage collectors, and sleepy reporters. At first the riders were mad at Reboli and his partner for starting the ruckus. They pedalled furiously to grind them down. But in frustration and irritation over loss of sleep, the riders became angry at one another... As for Reboli and his partner, the session of jamming set them 12 laps behind again. The referee withdrew them from the race.||”|
Six-day racing was popular in the United States until the Second World War. Then the rise of the automobile and the Great Depression brought a decline. Dickow said: "Attempts were made to revive the sport by several different promoters but none of them managed to restore bike racing to its former popularity." A further problem was that the more promoters brought in European opposition to spice up races for a potential crowd, the more the Europeans dominated and lessened the appeal for spectators. Jerry Rodman, one of the American riders, said: "In previous years, six-day bicycle racing faded only as a result of war or depression. Under the promotion of Harry Mendel, however, the sport, for the first time began to decline due to lack of spectator interest."
|“||Jimmy Walthour said: "Six-day races began to fade in 1938. It was about that time when the skater Sonja Henie was given preference to appearance dates in Madison Square Garden. December was a traditional Garden date for the races but her show replaced the races for that month."||”|
Annual sixes in Boston finished in 1933, Detroit in 1936, and Chicago in 1948. New York hung on until 1950. There were revivals but none succeeded. Sporting Cyclist published a picture of the last night of the Chicago six in 1957 being ridden with seven people in the quarter of the stands that the camera caught.
The success of madisons in America led to their introduction in Europe. The first was at Toulouse in 1906, although it was abandoned after three days because of lack of interest. Berlin tried, three years later, with success. Five races were held in Germany in 1911-12. Brussels followed in 1912 and Paris in 1913.
Six-day races continued to do well in Europe. Its heart was in Germany - except during the Nazi period when the races were banned - with most events but it was strong, too, in Belgium and France. In 1923 the journalist Egon Erwin Kisch attended the tenth staging of the Berlin Six Day Race and wrote a celebrated piece "Elliptische Tretmuehle" (Elliptical Treadmill). London saw one race at Olympia in July 1923, and then a series of races at Wembley starting in 1936. The local man, Frank Southall, crashed and left for hospital. So did another British hope, Syd Cozens. Only nine of the 15 teams lasted the race. The series continued, with more success, until the start of the second world war in 1939.
Racing began hesitantly after 1945. The first in Germany for 17 years were in 1950; two further races were held at Wembley in 1951 and 1952. Eventually, though, European races began to decline. Races continued through the night, as they had in the USA, but the costs of keeping open stadiums for partygoers who'd missed the bus and a small number of dedicated fans was too great. London dropped night racing when it revived six-day racing in 1967 at Earls Court and the following year at Wembley a new organiser, former rider Ron Webb, scheduled just the afternoon and evening, with a break between sessions. Other organisers were not impressed and insisted Webb call his race a "six" and not a "six-day". One by one, however, they followed Webb's pattern and there are now no old-style 24-hour races left. The last was Madrid. There the riders trundled round all night or, if they could get away with it, slipped off for bed. Tom Simpson remembered:
Our mechanic and general runner was David Nice, an Englishman from Colchester, who was not unlike me in a way, for his nose appeared to be, profile view anyway, very similar to mine (poor lad!) and I hit on the splendid idea of putting him out on the track in my place during the neutralised period. Tracksuited, a scarf over the lower part of his face and a Russian hat that I had bought completed the disguise. He was me to anyone giving a cursory glance at the figures plodding round the track. The get-up was quite in order for it became very cold there at night as they used to turn off all the heating. Everything went well for the first night of the wheeze and I congratulated myself on the plan. It could not go on for ever, though, worse luck, for on the very next night the game was up. Dave was trundling round wrapped up to the eyebrows as before when, horrors upon horrors, the track manager, who often rode a bike round himself during the quiet time, started to talk to him.
He thought it was me at first and chatted away quite happily to Dave, whose French was near enough non-existent. Well, it was not long before he sensed something was wrong and whipped the scarf off the poor lad's face. He stormed over to my cabin and dragged me out, half asleep, on to the track. That was that! He and the other officials kept their eyes on us after that and we had little chance of getting away with any more larks like that.
The London Six at Wembley continued annually until 1980.
Six-day racing is now predominantly a European phenomenon, particularly in Belgium and Germany. Spectators may also be entertained by live music, and have access to restaurants and bars. The Munich race featured a funfair around the outside of the track, and a night-club in the cellar that opened at 2am when the racing finished. The start money for 24 riders at the Ghent six in 2000 came to £333,000, although the organiser, Patrick Sercu, said he was contractually bound not to say what individual riders earned. The magazine Vélo, however, said the specialists collected €5,000 in 2002 and star riders more. The German rider, Erik Zabel, asked €75,000, which Sercu said was beyond his budget. There are prizes as the race goes on - and sometimes more unusual ways to earn money.
It started in 1979 when I was racing in Denmark actually for a sex magazine called Rapport. They offered me 1,000 kroner if I would sing "My Way". I had the words on a piece of paper but started two chords higher than I should have, and when the notes got too high, I had to stop. I started again, got through it, and it's gone on from there. The rate varies. I get 2,000 deutschmarks for one song in Munich. When I started doing it regularly in about 1980, I would get 500 a night, and sometimes I'd sing on four nights.
To rumours that the races are fixed, Adriano Baffi, a rider, said:
|“||"To fix a race at 54kmh you first have to ride at 54kmh for six evenings and to please the public."||”|
In October 2013, Daniel Holloway and Guy East, two pros raced together as the California Team at the first half-Six Day race since the 1940s. In 2007 Guy East had raced in the Amsterdam Six-Day. With Daniel Holloway as a teammate Guy East returned to Velodrome Amsterdam for the six days, October 21–26, 2013. Guy East won the Derny race on the fifth night.
Highest number of six-day victories
in bold, riders still racing
|Nr.||Name||Nationality||Races won||Races ridden||Win average|
|6||Rik van Steenbergen||Belgian||40||134||0,2985|
|Etienne De Wilde||Belgian||38||197||0,1929|
|Piet van Kempen||Dutch||32||110||0,2909|
|52||Armin von Büren||Swiss||13||58||0,2241|
|55||Rik van Looy||Belgian||12||43||0,2791|
|Six at||Number of editions||First ridden||Last ridden||Most wins by|
|Adelaide (SA)||6||1960||1967||Sid Patterson, Nino Solari (2)|
Six Days of Amsterdam
|22||1932||2014||Danny Stam (4)|
|Antwerp||52||1934||1994||Peter Post (11)|
|Apeldoorn||1||2009||2009||Leon van Bon, Pim Ligthart en Robert Bartko (1)|
|Århus||9||1954||1961||Kay Werner Nielsen (4)|
|Bendigo (Vic)||1||1960||1960||Bill Lawrie, Vic Brown (1)|
|Berlin||103||1909||2014||Klaus Bugdahl (9)|
|Bremen||51||1910||2014||René Pijnen (7)|
|Breslau||8||1921||1931||Piet van Kempen, Willy Rieger (3)|
|Brisbane (Qld)||1||1932||1932||Richard Lamb, Jack Standen (1)|
|Brussels||46||1912||1971||Rik van Steenbergen (8)|
|Charleroi||3||1967||1969||Patrick Sercu (2)|
|Chicago||50||1915||1957||Gustav Kilian (6)|
|Cologne||46||1928||1997||Albert Fritz (6)|
|Copenhagen||52||1933||2014||Danny Clark (8)|
|Cremona||1||2009||2009||Walter Pérez, Sebastian Donadio (1)|
|Dortmund||67||1926||2008||Patrick Sercu, Rolf Aldag (8)|
|Fiorenzuola d'Arda||17||1998||2014||Franco Marvulli(4)|
|Frankfurt||37||1911||1983||Dietrich Thurau, Patrick Sercu (5)|
Six Days of Ghent
|74||1922||2014||Patrick Sercu (11)|
Six Days of Grenoble
|44||1971||2014||Franco Marvulli (6)|
|Groningen||4||1970||1979||Klaus Bugdahl, Dieter Kemper (2)|
|Hanover||10||1913||1981||Emile Carrara (2)|
|Hasselt||4||2006||2009||Bruno Risi (3)|
|Herning||14||1974||1998||Gert Frank (5)|
|Launceston (Tas)||21||1961||1987||Keith Oliver (4)|
|London||21||1923||1980||Patrick Sercu (8)|
|Maastricht||13||1976||2006||René Pijnen (6)|
|Maryborough (Qld)||3||1961||1967||Bruce Clark, Robert Ryan, Jim Luttrel, Ronald Murray, Sid Patterson, Barry Waddell (1)|
|Melbourne (Vic)||18||1912||1983||Leandro Faggin, Sid Patterson (3)|
|Milan||29||1927||2008||Francesco Moser (6)|
|Montréal||37||1929||1980||William Peden (7)|
|Munich||46||1933||2009||Bruno Risi (9)|
|Münster||34||1950||1988||Jean Roth (5)|
|New York||70||1899||1961||Alfred Goullet, Franco Giorgetti (8)|
|Newcastle (NSW)||3||1961||1970||Sid Patterson (2)|
|Nouméa||18||1977||2003||Robert Sasson, Jean-Michel Tessier (4)|
|Paris||42||1913||1989||Piet van Kempen, Schulte, Achiel Bruneel, Albert Billiet, Jean Aerts, Georges Seres (3)|
|Perth (WA)||5||1961||1989||Peter Panton, Klaus Stiefler, Ronald Murray, Enzo Sacchi, Ian Campbell, Barry Waddell Sid Patterson, John Young, Kim Eriksen, Michael Marcussen (1)|
|Rotterdam||32||1936||2014||René Pijnen (10)|
|Stuttgart||31||1928||2008||Andreas Kappes (6)|
|Sydney (NSW)||17||1912||1974||Ken Ross (3)|
|Tilburg||2||2009||2011||Tristan Marquet, Franco Marvulli, Nick Stöpler, Yoeri Havik (1)|
|Townsville (Qld)||1||1962||1962||Barry Lowe, Sid Patterson (1)|
|Turin||7||2001||2008||Marco Villa (4)|
|Whyalla (SA)||3||1966||1968||Sid Patterson, Robert Ryan, Joe Ciavola, Barry Waddell, Keith Oliver, Charly Walsh (1)|
|Zuidlaren||2||2007||2008||Bruno Risi, Franco Marvulli, Danny Stam, Robert Slippens (1)|
|Zürich||58||1954||2013||Bruno Risi (11)|
- Sporting Cyclist, UK, October 1967, p. 12
- Cited Woodland, Les, This Island Race, Mousehold Press, UK
- "The Beginnings - in Victorian England". Six Day Cycle Races. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
- Cited Cycling, UK, 30 November 1982
- Everything 2, Six-day racing by Albert Herring
- Silent Sixes of the States, Sporting Cyclist, UK, undated cutting
- Chany, Pierre (1988), La Fabuleuse Histoire de Cyclisme, Nathan, France
- Procycling, UK, December 1999
- A dated term for a hectic chase during a madison race.
- Islington 1878-Wembley 1951, Coureur, UK, undated cutting
- "1923 - The First of the Modern Era". Six Day Cycle Race. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
- Simpson, Tom (1966), Cycling is My Life, Stanley Paul, UK
- "1980 - Allen & Clark Take The Final Race". Six Day Cycle Race. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
- Vélo, France, February 2002, p54
- Cycling News, An Introduction to - Track Cycling, What is six-day racing? by Nick Rosenthal
- Procycling, UK, undated cutting, 2001
- Track or six-day specialists, many of whom rarely ride on the road seriously.
- Clark, from Tasmania, rode sixes from the early 1970s to 1996. He won 74 of the 235 he started.
- Cycling Weekly, UK, February 1992
- "Daniel Holloway and Guy East to Race First Half-six Day since 1940's".
- "Guy East at Amsterdam Six-Day-Cycling Illustrated".
- "PezCycling News - What's Cool In Pro Cycling: Inside The Amsterdam Six With Guy East".
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Six-day racing.|
- Velodrome.org.uk - A Home for Track Cyclists on the Web - Six-Day Page
- Fixed Gear Fever's Six-Day News page
- A somewhat slanted article discussing the history of Six Day racing in the US
- 6dayracing.ca, a Canadian & USA History of Sixday Racing including reports and results, old 6-day programs and memorabilia.