Six-day racing

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For the foot race, see 6 Day Race.
Cyclist Reggie MacNamara with his cycling partner Edward Seufert

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.

Origins[edit]

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.[1]

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."[2]

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 winner was Bill Cann, of Sheffield, who led from the start and finished after 1,060 miles.[3]

The first American six-days[edit]

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.[4]

Two-man team events[edit]

Racing at Dortmund in 2007

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.[5] 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.[6] Races lasted six days rather than a week to avoid racing on Sunday.[5] 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.[6]

Sixes attracted enthusiasts and celebrities. Knute Rockne, George Raft, Barbara Stanwyck, and Otto Kruger were fans. Kruger used to invite riders home.[6] 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.[7][8] 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.[8]

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:

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."[6] 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."[6]

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.

European popularity[edit]

Riders live in small cabins beside the track when the race is in progress

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.[10] Berlin tried, three years later, with success. Five races were held in Germany in 1911-12.[5] Brussels followed in 1912 and Paris in 1913.

Riders compete not only in madisons but in subsidiary competitions behind pacers

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. London saw one race at Olympia in July 1923,[11] 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.[10] 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;[5] 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.[12]

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.[12]

The London Six at Wembley continued annually until 1980.[13]

Today[edit]

The best road riders don't ride sixes any more because they don't need them to live on. But you have to respect the public. Zabel is at the top, which isn't the case for all [road riders]. When Mario Cipollini rode six-days, the guys were obliged to slow down so he could get to the front sometimes.

Patrick Sercu[14]
Erik Zabel

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.[15] 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.[16] The magazine Vélo, however, said the specialists[17] collected €5,000 in 2002 and star riders more.[14] The German rider, Erik Zabel, asked €75,000,[14] which Sercu said was beyond his budget.[16] There are prizes as the race goes on - and sometimes more unusual ways to earn money.

The Australian, Danny Clark,[18] began singing. He said:

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.[19]

To rumours that the races are fixed, Adriano Baffi, a rider, said:

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.[20] 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.[21] Guy East won the Derny race on the fifth night.[22]

Highest number of six-day victories[edit]

in bold, riders still racing

Nr. Name Nationality Races won Races ridden Win average
1 Patrick Sercu Belgian 88 223 0.3946
2 Danny Clark Australian 74 235 0,3149
3 René Pijnen Dutch 72 233 0,3090
4 Peter Post Dutch 65 155 0,4194
5 Bruno Risi Swiss 61 178 0,3427
6 Rik van Steenbergen Belgian 40 134 0,2985
7 William Peden Canadian 38 127 0,2992
Etienne De Wilde Belgian 38 197 0,1929
9 Kurt Betschart Swiss 37 142 0,2606
Klaus Bugdahl German 37 229 0,1616
11 Gustav Kilian German 34 90 0,3778
Albert Fritz German 34 198 0,1717
13 Fritz Pfenninger Swiss 33 181 0,1823
14 Heinz Vopel German 32 74 0,4324
Piet van Kempen Dutch 32 110 0,2909
16 Dietrich Thurau German 29 97 0,2990
17 Silvio Martinello Italian 28 97 0,2887
Franco Marvulli Swiss 32 112 0,3333
19 Dieter Kemper German 26 165 0,1576
20 Iljo Keisse Belgian 25 70 0,2400
Emile Severeyns Belgian 25 151 0,1656
22 Andreas Kappes German 24 116 0,2069
Marco Villa Italian 24 141 0,1702
24 Rudi Altig German 23 79 0,2911
Ferdinando Terruzzi Italian 23 121 0,1901
Tony Doyle British 23 139 0,1655
Sigi Renz German 23 159 0,1447
28 Alfred Letourneur French 21 84 0,2500
Robert Bartko German 21 76 0,2800
Palle Lykke Danish 21 122 0,1721
Urs Freuler Swiss 21 139 0,1511
32 Gert Frank Danish 20 143 0,1399
33 Gerrit Schulte Dutch 19 73 0,2603
Reggie McNamara American 19 117 0,1624
35 Eddy Merckx Belgian 17 35 0,4857
Jan Pijnenburg Dutch 17 50 0,3400
Gerard Debaets Belgian 17 90 0,1889
Donald Allan Australian 17 107 0,1589
Matthew Gilmore Belgian 17 107 0,1589
40 Cecil Yates American 16 57 0,2807
Sid Patterson Australian 16 57 0,2807
Jean Roth Swiss 16 85 0,1882
Reg Arnold Australian 16 103 0,1553
Leo Duyndam Dutch 16 143 0,1119
Danny Stam Dutch 16 111 0,1744
Wilfried Peffgen German 16 188 0,0851
47 Francesco Moser Italian 15 35 0,4285
Alfred Goullet Australian 15 29 0,5172
Scott McGrory Australian 15 69 0,2029
Roman Hermann Leichtenstinian 15 182 0,0824
Adriano Baffi Italian 15 99 0,1515
52 Armin von Büren Swiss 13 58 0,2241
Jens Veggerby Danish 13 89 0,1461
Erik Zabel German 13 28 0,4643
55 Rik van Looy Belgian 12 43 0,2791
Graeme Gilmore Australian 12 100 0,1200
57 Gregor Braun German 11 44 0,2500
Günther Haritz German 11 83 0,1325
Robert Slippens Dutch 11 70 0,1571
60 Rolf Aldag German 10 29 0,3448
Horst Oldenburg German 10 100 0,1000
Lucien Gillen Luxembourgeois 10 116 0,0862
Wolfgang Schulze German 10 135 0,0741

Six-days[edit]

Six at Number of editions First ridden Last ridden Most wins by
Adelaide (SA) 6 1960 1967 Sid Patterson, Nino Solari (2)
Amsterdam
Six Days of Amsterdam
21 1932 2013 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 101 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 48 1933 2014 Danny Clark (9)
Cremona 1 2009 2009 Walter Pérez, Sebastian Donadio (1)
Dortmund 67 1926 2008 Patrick Sercu, Rolf Aldag (8)
Fiorenzuola d'Arda 12 1998 2013 Franco Marvulli(4)
Frankfurt 37 1911 1983 Dietrich Thurau, Patrick Sercu (5)
Ghent
Six Days of Ghent
72 1922 2013 Patrick Sercu (11)
Grenoble
Six Days of Grenoble
43 1971 2013 Alain van Lancker, Adriano Baffi, Franco Marvulli, Sercu, Alexander Aeschbach (4)
Groningen 4 1970 1979 Klaus Bugdahl, Dieter Kemper (2)
Hanover 10 1913 1981 Emile Carrara (2)
Hasselt 4 2006 2009 Bruno Risi, Franco Marvulli (2)
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 53 1954 2013 Bruno Risi (11)

Six-day races[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sporting Cyclist, UK, October 1967, p12
  2. ^ Cited Woodland, Les, This Island Race, Mousehold Press, UK
  3. ^ "The Beginnings - in Victorian England". Six Day Cycle Races. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  4. ^ Cited Cycling, UK, 30 November 1982
  5. ^ a b c d Everything 2, Six-day racing by Albert Herring
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Silent Sixes of the States, Sporting Cyclist, UK, undated cutting
  7. ^ Chany, Pierre (1988), La Fabuleuse Histoire de Cyclisme, Nathan, France
  8. ^ a b Procycling, UK, December 1999
  9. ^ A dated term for a hectic chase during a madison race.
  10. ^ a b Islington 1878-Wembley 1951, Coureur, UK, undated cutting
  11. ^ "1923 - The First of the Modern Era". Six Day Cycle Race. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  12. ^ a b Simpson, Tom (1966), Cycling is My Life, Stanley Paul, UK
  13. ^ "1980 - Allen & Clark Take The Final Race". Six Day Cycle Race. Retrieved 3 July 2012. 
  14. ^ a b c d Vélo, France, February 2002, p54
  15. ^ Cycling News, An Introduction to - Track Cycling, What is six-day racing? by Nick Rosenthal
  16. ^ a b Procycling, UK, undated cutting, 2001
  17. ^ Track or six-day specialists, many of whom rarely ride on the road seriously.
  18. ^ Clark, from Tasmania, rode sixes from the early 1970s to 1996. He won 74 of the 235 he started.
  19. ^ Cycling Weekly, UK, February 1992
  20. ^ "Daniel Holloway and Guy East to Race First Half-six Day since 1940's". 
  21. ^ "Guy East at Amsterdam Six-Day-Cycling Illustrated". 
  22. ^ "PezCycling News - What's Cool In Pro Cycling: Inside The Amsterdam Six With Guy East". 

External links[edit]