Roads to Ride: The Ghent Velodrome

Friday, 21 November 2014

Gent Six Day Kuipke

Not a road but a track and not a place to ride but a venue to visit. Still this series is about exploring legendary locations so here is the chance to look at the most famous of six day races. Or alternatively one of the last few surviving winter track contests.

The Route
Located in the Citadelpark, which as the name says is a park in the city of Gent, Belgium, the track is 167 metres long. This places it among the shortest permanent velodromes in the world, the record belonging to a 137 track in Ontario, Canada. The brevity is behind the track’s nickname,t’ Kuipke. It’s not Gent’s only track, the nearby Vlaams Wielercentrum Eddy Merckx has a 250m track and is used more often for training and racing.

The Name: it’s called t’ Kuipke. Kuip is Dutch/Flemish for a tank, tub, bowl or vat and the -ke suffix is diminutive, so think “little bowl”.

The Feel
Unlike all the other roads in this series, this one hasn’t been ridden. Instead the riding has to be imagined, a short circuit with two tight banks makes this a tough ride, ride at 50km/h means a lap every 12 seconds and all the G-force you’d expect from the banking.

If you can’t ride the track you can still get the feel of the place as a spectator, indeed this is what the track is better known for, a congregation of fans in the winter. Many of the roads listed in this series are long Alpine climbs, rewarding and scenic for the most part but purgatory for some who might enjoy going to watch others race rather than being victimised by gravity. It’s also a big contrast to the open scenery of so many other places, a tight track flanked by crowds both inside and outside the track. If the track is the “tub” or “tank”, it’s full of beer with an added aroma of fried onions and the blue smoke of the two-stroke Derny engines. Since 2011 Belgium has introduced a smoking ban in public places. You might like this, you might not. But the six day cyclists must love it. No longer do they have to ride around in a stale fog, passive smoking for hours.

Of all the places in the series this has to be the greatest aural experience. The boards groan under the stress of the riders, the crowds cheer and the disco music blares.

History
Six Day Racing evolved from a week-long endurance event into a settled format with two riders taking turns at the end of the 19th century in the US. Held in Madison Square Gardens it explains why today a two rider relay race is known in English as a madison and une américaine in French.

Nowadays the format isn’t non-stop over six days, instead the racing is reserved for the evening. Here riders win points at sprints and compete to take laps on each other, effectively a relay points race. To spice up activities extra events can be included like a flying lap time trial or a match sprint contest.

We’ve seen Mark Cavendish in action but he’s racing in a bid to resurrect his track career ahead of the Rio Olympics. There was a time when stars of the grand tours would race “the boards” over the winter. But cycling has become more and more specialist with grand tour specialists and classics contenders staying away. Riders are better rewarded today, the champions are millionaires and don’t need a cut of the ticket receipts. Plus the high speed action is not without its risks. Nacer Bouhanni crashed out of the recent Grenoble 3-Day while Stephen Roche wiped out most of his 1986 season after a track accident.

Sadly history is what this branch of the sport is becoming as more and more races vanish. There are only a few events left now while 25 years ago there was a full season of racing from October to February. It’s a pity because it offers cycling in a fun format. But that’s the problem because combining a sports event with a night out is an awkward mix, especially when the ambiance is supplied by retro disco and 80s pop songs.

The Kuipke itself was built in 1922 but burned down in 1962 and rebuilt with the current track. The venue is famous in cycling as a venue but has wider uses. Louis Armstrong played there in the 1950s and more recently hit TV show “The Voice” used it for the all of the 2014 series of the Flemish version of the show.

Gent

Rest on the Seventh Day
For the morning after the sixth day Gent makes an attractive place to visit with something for everyone from shops to bars, cafés to canals to stroll along. Near the track is the Café de Karper run by Ronie Keisse. If the name is familiar it’s because Ronie is the father of Iljo, the OPQS rider and track specialist.

Travel and Access: Gent is just over 50km north-west of the Brussels, the capital of Belgium which is well served by international flights plus high speed rail from Amsterdam, London and Paris as well as obvious road connections. Gent itself is only 30 minutes by train from Brussels or a couple of hours flat bike ride.

More roads to ride at inrng.com/roads.

Photo Credit: Gent by Flickr’s Tom Roeleveld.

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Dave November 21, 2014 at 10:43 pm

Interesting article and it sits well alongside your other features. The video adds a useful dimension – it must have been horrific to ride there when it was smokey!

Paul Jakma November 22, 2014 at 12:48 am

Kuip is general dutch, but as “-ke” is a distinctly Vlaams diminutive, so “Kuipke” is.

Martijn November 22, 2014 at 11:27 am

Not distinctly Flemish, the diminutive is also used in the southern Netherlands.

And it is “‘t Kuipke”, not “De Kuipke”. Diminutives are always ‘Het’ (abbreviated to ‘t), never ‘De’.

The Inner Ring November 22, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Thanks

Paul Jakma November 24, 2014 at 12:23 am

Yeah, sorry, parts of the old Netherlands provinces Brabandt and Limburg of Flanders are in the modern Netherlands, and in terms of dialect they’re still close.

James November 22, 2014 at 2:16 am

I’ve always wanted to go to a six day. maybe when I retire in a year or so…

Gary November 22, 2014 at 2:34 am

The statistics of some races forms is a bit odd. Road racing in general is not a real spectator sport where a fan can watch the entire race in front of them. Criterium brings that scale down some but cyclocross and track bring it into full view. It always seemed that these forms would have more popularity over time but while Cross has, track is a very distant version. Sad really.

Anonymous November 23, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Track is very popular in the UK at the moment. The Revolution series is televised and I’m pretty sure the tickets sell out fast. Any big event, like Olympics or world champs, will sell out super fast! Not sure about cross but I doubt if it’s anywhere near as popular.

Making money from spectators is a simpler model than sponsorship but has limited application on the road although there are paying areas for some races and I expect that will have to increase if the sponsorship doesn’t come back.

Alan T November 23, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Last comment.

Tom Knoblauch November 22, 2014 at 2:48 am

Roads To Ride: RTR: The Track: The Boards: To relate as “Nowadays” “Sadly History” may overlook present potential.

Dave November 22, 2014 at 9:32 am

When I lived in Hamburg in the 90s I used to pop down to the Bremen 6 Day for a few evenings.
Always enjoyable evenings.

Chris E Dub November 22, 2014 at 10:28 am

Seems appropriate that Bradley Wiggins was born in Gent.

The Inner Ring November 22, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Totally, his father was a six day specialist.

Anonymous November 22, 2014 at 10:29 am

“But that’s the problem because combining a sports event with a night out is an awkward mix, especially when the ambiance is supplied by retro disco and 80s pop songs.”

Sounds ideal to me! Anyone got a spare ticket?

The Inner Ring November 22, 2014 at 2:27 pm

It works for some but maybe they’re not refreshing the audience if you understand me.

Alan T November 23, 2014 at 4:57 pm

I thought I saw a reasonable number of young people but maybe that’s cameraperson bias!

Nina November 22, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Nice piece and beautiful blue picture.

Elle November 22, 2014 at 2:56 pm

I’m really getting into Track! I still miss the road season but I love the variety of racing and I’m learning to understand the intricacies of tactics & teamwork.

A few weeks ago another commentator was asking about good track cycling websites/blogs. I’ve since found http://trackcycling.net/ (twitter @trackcycling). It’s not exactly analagous to INRG (for what could possibly compare?) but it’s a pretty decent all-round resource for the UK scene.

And the next Cycling Podcast will be on the Ghent Six-Day: can’t wait!

Anonymous November 23, 2014 at 9:33 am

Thanks for the link. I’ve been on the look out for a decent track site.

Sean YD November 22, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Not mentioned was its capacity: 5,000.

CHRW November 22, 2014 at 7:44 pm

Is it possible to watch coverage of the Gent 6 anywhere online?

Kevin Smith November 23, 2014 at 11:12 pm

The local BE Sport covered the event but Eurosport decided no to.

Anonymous November 24, 2014 at 4:43 pm

Thanks Kevin, I’ll keep an eye out next year! I’d never really engaged with 6 Days before this competition and its a shame there’s not more coverage of Track Cycling in general and in particular the 6 Day format, as the storylines and strategies that build up over the course of the week have been really compelling

Kevin Smith November 24, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Eurosport covered the Amsterdam event live in October and you never know they make a pledge to cover Zurich, Rotterdam, Berlin or Copenhagen in the coming months?

Kevin Smith November 23, 2014 at 11:11 pm

We are in Gent at the moment!

Have been to the last two days of the festival.

It’s our first time here and I would recommend to everyone that they make the trip to see the cycling.

The atmosphere is incredible, the racing is brilliant and the arena is superb. Having Cav there too was a real bonus.

Only negative, your liver make take a bit of a battering.

Jacky Plafond November 24, 2014 at 9:50 am

another positive: ‘t Kuipke is only a 10 minute walk away from the train station.
a negative: the race is mostly rigged 🙁

BenW November 24, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Is that still the case? I knew it used to be back in the day…

touriste-routier November 25, 2014 at 12:41 am

Think of 6-days as entertainment, with certain things negotiated and arranged. While individual races and/or the overall GC/points might be arranged, they have to earn it; you have to be in it to win it. In other words, a mule won’t beat a thoroughbread. The goal is to put on a good, fast show, appeal to the local crowd, while not making any of the stars look bad, and sharing the spoils/glory. If you watch closely enough, certain patterns may appear; these are more apparent if you have raced on the track yourself. For the most part they are racing on contract for appearance fees, not necessarily prizes.

I don’t know if it is still the case, but many of the 6-days had a 6-day race for elite amateurs or espoirs (typically an hour long madison) as an opening act each night. The true cycling fans would come to see these, as the racing was full gas with no quarter given.

Kevin Smith November 25, 2014 at 1:16 am

Each night in Gent started with an U-23 race. That was pretty full on.

R/T November 24, 2014 at 11:25 am

An indoor velodrome really is something else. No wind, no rain, no traffic, no potholes. And the pine is seriously quick. It doesn’t really matter if it is in Gent or Manchester, though, since they’re pretty much the same for the recreational riders’ needs.

But in the context of specific “tracks to ride” I’d go to the old Roubaix Velodrome.

Andrew November 26, 2014 at 9:43 pm

If you want proof of how dangerous the Zesdaagse Vlaanderen-Gent is, the Spanish rider Isaac Galvez died in a crash there in 2006. And a derny rider was seriously hurt in a crash at the Amsterdam event only a few weeks ago.

I was reprimanded by a clubmate for suggesting publicly that the outcome might be agreed in advance. He was right to state that Keisse wouldn’t win just because he was the local boy, but I’m interested to see others here share my view that it’s not an entirely “open” contest.

Still a great event that every fan of cycling/beer should experience at least once.

MickR November 27, 2014 at 2:06 am

I’m going to be in Belgium this January, looking for some things to do. I wonder if there will still be track events happening then? I can’t really tell what exactly is going on from that video, but there are bikes, beer so what is there not to like?

The Inner Ring November 27, 2014 at 3:36 am

Track isn’t so certain but cyclo-cross is and it’s often a good spectator experience… as long as you have shoes for the mud. It’s not a big country and all places can usually be reached by rail

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