Our first foray into Six Day racing was one of the finest bits of track action we'd seen in a long time; The Six Days of Ghent was about as pure as it gets for a cycling fan. A mix of thumping music, screaming Belgians, beer, and cycling in a historic velodrome was always going to be a good night but with the likes of Mark Cavendish racing with his partner - Six Day stalwart and Ghent local hero Iljo Keisse - the atmosphere was somewhat electric.
The more traditional events however, mean that unless you've recently polished up on your Dutch or managed to find the little info out there, the format of the event can be a bit of a guessing game. For our second visit (already in the early stages of planning) we now know that although doors open at 6, racing doesn't start until about 8, food and drink are bought with tokens acquired at little ticket booths (why this system isn't universal in sport we don't know) and racing will probably last until about 2:30 am.
Despite turning up and looking like lost children in a grown up sweet shop, the evening was pretty easy. Tickets were inexpensive at €22, including a free beer and were easy to get hold of. Ours were posted the day after we bought them and arrived quickly at Always Riding HQ via Royal Mail. Getting to and from the Velodrome was also enjoyable - there was parking at the venue for those driving from outside the city and our walk from the city center down the river was a nice way to start and end the evening.
The race itself contrasts beautifully with more modern, corporate sponsor led affairs, and manages to show the traditional core of cycling to be alive and well, although perhaps not so well the morning after... The standard of racing was high with the evening and whole six days in fact, centered around several Madison races where both riders work together to try and get laps on the other riders in the race. Interspersed between these longer races are short sprints, mini time trials and some Derny racing where motorized bikes pace the riders around at speeds up to 70km an hour!! In addition to this there is plenty of showboating, arm waving and generally getting the crowd on side - oh, and Eddy Merckx and Patrick Sercu made an appearance track side. As the night went on we became torn between watching some of the racing and following the antics of the revelers in the center concourse - at times a tense game of 'leapfrog the wheelie bin' was equally as enjoyable as a tense 25 min Madison.
Racing is fairly easy to follow but get a race program and indulge yourself in a game of Dutch to English event naming. Our other top tips would be to make sure you can ditch some layers as the Velodrome is seriously toasty and although untested, we probably would have taken in some food and drink. Food was inexpensive but at 2am in a hot velodrome, another hot dog wasn't really what we fancied! All in all a fantastic experience and I would definitely go again - maybe even to try one of the other Six Days - Zurich, Amsterdam, Rotterdam or Berlin to name a few.
To get to Ghent we traveled with Eurostar and changed at Brussels Midi but Brussels Airport train station was only 10 minutes further up the line. Traveling with Eurostar allowed us to book our domestic rail ticket inclusive of our Eurostar passes (booked in advance return train tickets were £70 each).