Many cycling fans dream of going to watch a six-day bike race. Fat Nick was fortunate to have the opportunity to watch a couple of days of the 1998 Berlin Six.
'Er Indoors and I spent a very enjoyable weekend in Berlin, and managed to fit in two visits to the Berlin Six. We flew British Airways from Manchester direct to Berlin (they were offering cheap tickets, so it only cost us about 150 pounds each for the flights). We were staying with friends in Berlin, but there are plenty of hotels in Berlin to suit all budgets. In fact, the "official" hotel for the Berlin six-day race is the Hotel Wilhelmsberg on the Landsberger Allee - they offer single rooms at 135 DM per night, or a double room at 175 DM (including breakfast). The city also has excellent public transport, with the trams running a special late-night service for visitors to the six-day, and the velodrome is easy to locate and to get to.
The new indoor velodrome in Berlin is terrific. It is located on the eastern part of the city on the Landsberger Allee, which used to be called the Lenin Allee when I lived Berlin in the early 1980's. Many of the old streetnames in East Berlin have now been renamed to fit the new political realities. But I digress; the velodrome is easily accessible either by tram or by S-Bahn, with a direct passage into the velodrome from the Landsberger Allee S-Bahn station.
The Berlin velodrome track is virtually identical to the Manchester track at 250 meters. The spectator facilities are good, with plenty of bars, comfortable seating, lots of different food available around the track, plenty of loos, and very short queues at the bars. All commentary was in German, which was not a problem for me but may be important to other visitors. However, the Berlin velodrome has the best scoreboard that I have seen at any six-day race, with regular displays of the overall positions (laps and points for each team) and of the position within a particular race. The organisers deserve credit for this, as the scoreboards at both the Ghent and Munich six-days were hard to follow.
Oh, and several bike shops had stands in the velodrome, a couple of which were flogging cycling clothing off at very, very low prices. Fat Nick was delighted to pick up a Telekom jersey for just ten pounds! The stadium was also completely sold out, with 10,000 spectators turning out on Saturday night and the same number again on Sunday afternoon for the "family day".
A special treat for me during the Berlin Six was the opportunity to see the big motors in action again - I always enjoyed watching them at Leicester in the 1970's. Most Sixes feature Derny racing, with riders paced by a device that is half motorbike, half moped, half sewing-machine, but the Berlin Six also featured an amateur series of events paced by proper, grown-up motorbikes (in this case, the motorbikes were large BMW's). Watching them lap at over 50 miles per hour on a 250-metre track is quite something!
On the Saturday evening we had "standing room only" tickets, which meant we were down in the track centre. This sounds great, but it is actually quite difficult to follow the racing from the middle of the track. Still, it gave me an opportunity to say hello to our friend Angus (who was working there) when he had a quiet moment. Another feature of the Saturday session was the Telekom Challenge. Team boss Walter Godefroot is reported to have banned his riders from the winter six-day scene this season (which would explain the absence of Giovanni Lombardi from the boards this winter), but Telekom riders Giovanni Lombardi, Steffen Wesemann, Jan Schaffrath and Erik Zabel took part in a special Devil-Take-The-Hindmost race against the six-day regulars. This event went down well with the German crowds, who simply cannot get enough of the Telekom team since Jan Ullrich won the Tour de France in 1997. Interestingly, the three German Telekom riders are all from the former East Germany, and used to race on the tight, narrow indoor track at the Werner Seelenbinderhalle that stood on the site of the new velodrome. Keen historians may remember a certain Detlev Zabel winning a big race there way back in 1950, and Detlev was there to watch his son race this year.
We crawled home at 02:00 on the Saturday night, and were up bright and early (in six-day terms!) on the Sunday in order to catch a bit of the amateur race, which started at 11:30 in the morning. This was important, as British riders James Notley and Jon Hargreaves (the current Manchester track league champion) were riding the amateur Six in Berlin. We'd watched James struggle in the amateur Six at Ghent, and it was good to see Notley and Hargreaves working so well as a pairing in Berlin. They were well on the pace, attacking on several occasions. Despite Jon Hargreaves making a close-up inspection of the back-straight carpentry when a change went a bit wrong, they also managed to pick up second place in the final sprint of the day. I look forward to watching them in more six-day events!
Match sprinting was also on the program. Most of the top German sprinters were there - Eyk Pokorny, Jan Van Eijden, Sören Lausberg, Jens Fiedler et al, along with Australian Darryn Hill. Several of the sprinters are a little the worse for wear after an incident in a Keirin race during the recent Leipzig Six-Day race, which apparently sent one official flying up the track, put several riders on the deck and which has left Olympic champion Jens Fiedler with a metal plate holding his broken collar bone in place. That didn't stop him winning the sprints, of course. In the meantime, Fat Nick will try to dig out the full story of the Leipzig tumble.
The actual six-day race itself was good. The organisers in Berlin pride themselves on the fact that the winners of every single six-day race so far this season were riding in Berlin (with the exception of the Curuchet brothers, who won in Medellin). Most other German stars were also in attendance, with Erik Zabel riding the Telekom Challenge Devil, and Olaf Ludwig signing autographs and handing out prizes. Ludwig won last year's Berlin Six, and was especially pleased at being able to give the prize for Sunday's Madison to Jens Veggerby, who partnered him to victory last year in Berlin.
The lead seems to change quite frequently during this race. When we left, Denmark's Jens Veggerby and Jimmi Madsen were leading by a lap, but that won't last long as several teams are about to be awarded a bonus lap (which is given every time a team gets 100 points). Veggerby and Madsen took the lead when they won the 60-minute Madison on Sunday. The action was thick and fast, with most of the top teams putting in attacks. Berlin was also a good opportunity to see many of the new, up-and-coming German riders, and to see familiar riders in new shorts as top stars such as Silvio Martinello, Adriano Baffi and Frank Corvers have all changed sponsors for 1998.
Tickets for the Berlin Six-Day race cost between 50 DM and 70 DM. For information about bookings, contact the booking office by phone on +49 30 30 69 69 69, or fax them on +49 30 30 69 69 30.
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