Inside cycling's craziest race: The Ghent Six Day

Former WorldTour Pro Mitch Docker heads to Belgium to find out exactly what makes this race so wild

Clock14:30, Monday 1st January 2024

The Ghent Six Day track cycling event has earned itself the title as one of the premier events on the track calendar. Taking place each year in November in the Belgian city of Ghent it attracts the best riders and the wildest fans that combine to make it a bucket list event to go to. To find out just what it is that makes it so special, retired WorldTour rider Mitch Docker heads over to find out for himself.

What is the Ghent Six Day?

The Ghent Six Day race event is a multi-race track series that takes place over the course of six days. It has called the Citadel Park in Ghent its home since its very first edition in 1922. One of the big draws for fans is the intimate nature of the Kulpke Velodrome. At 166 metres in length, it is one of the shortest tracks that is used for the six-day racing event. The shorter track brings fans closer to the action and puts the banking at each end of the track at a dizzyingly steep gradient.

The event comprises five separate racing disciplines that all riders must participate in. Although Six-day racing is a pairs event some of the events such as the Derny race are raced solo. Along with the Derny race is the Madison, Scratch, Elimination and Points race. Past winners of the event include Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins who won it together in 2016.

Derny race

This is a race defined by the use of a piloted moped called the Derny that riders sit behind. Each rider has their own Derny that they can control throughout the race through verbal communication. Having a strong relationship with your pilot can make the biggest difference to your odds of success way more than simply having the strongest legs. Derny racing is incredibly fast-paced with speeds typically north of 60km/h.

Elimination Race

This is a mass start race that sees the last rider across the line at the end of every other lap get eliminated from the race. The trick with this race is to try and save as much energy as possible for when the race progresses. The elimination race is a game of pure tactics trying to hide in the wheels without getting caught too far towards the back.

Madison

This is what a lot of people think of when it comes to track racing, especially the Ghent six-day. It is also one of the most chaotic and difficult races to follow with all 26 riders present on the track at the same time. Although all riders are on the track, only one rider from each pairing is technically active in the race at any given time. To swap over who is active in the race riders do the iconic hand sling to accelerate the fresh rider up to speed.

The race is based around a points system where points can be accumulated by sprint laps or by gaining a lap on the main field of riders. Although it can be difficult to follow at first a few races in and you’ll know exactly what is going on in and amidst the chaos.

Points race

This race is the longest of the event with races typically around 50 kilometres in length. The points as the name suggests awards riders points at pre-determined sprint intervals of every 10 laps. The points race is a fine balance between securing enough points to be competitive and conserving enough energy to last the duration of the event.

Scratch race

The scratch race is the most straightforward race of the event with it being a simple first to the finish line affair. Tactics are still a massive part of the strategy within the Scratch race as riders want to conserve enough energy to make their bid for glory stick whenever it is they choose to make an attack.

At the end of the six days of racing all the points that have been won are tallied up with the pairing with the most points ultimately being crowned as the winners of the Ghent six-day.

Elsewhere in the video, Docker catches up with Aaron Gate, one of the riders from this year’s event as well as Iljo Keisse one of the legends of track racing who also came second place with Mark Cavendish at the Ghent six-day in 2014. To find out what they have to say about the wild world of six-day racing make sure to watch the video linked at the top.

For all the latest racing news, interviews and results make sure to head over to the racing section of the GCN website.


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