Live music, light shows, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and a velodrome. It’s a pretty simple formula but it’s one that adds up to capture the imagination of thousands of Europeans when the annual six-day races come to town. Each year tough racing and a festival atmosphere combine to create almost week long parties in cities across Europe.
Six-day phenomenon: born in the USA?
Despite today appearing to be the distinct domain of European cities six-day racing was, in fact, popularised in England and the United States around the turn of the twentieth century. The origin of the name refers to the first events which were, quite literally, track races that saw individual riders completing as many laps as possible in six days. Acknowledging the dangers to rider health, not to mention the monotony for spectators, race organisers began to restrict racing to 12 hours per day. The tradition of two-man teams followed soon after. The changes yielded immediate results; speeds increased and in turn so did spectator numbers. The number of events expanded significantly across the globe, including Europe.
Six-day action today
Nowadays, six-day racing is run over six consecutive evenings in large European cities. Rotterdam, Berlin, Munich, Copenhagen, Ghent, Milan and Grenoble are all host to six-day events in their respective countries. The biggest six-days are generally those held in the road off-season, as professional riders compete in return for healthy appearance fees from race organisers. Racing usually begins at about 6pm and can conclude as late as 2am. The mainstay of the event remains the madison races (see right), held each evening, with the team accumulating the most points throughout the week being crowned the overall winners at the end of the six days. As exciting as the madison races are, novelty races are held in between times to entertain the thousands of fans that pack the velodromes across Europe each year.
Increasing the appeal of six-day events for the public is the range of entertainment provided to compliment the action on the track. Bars see that the vast range of beers available in host countries are kept flowing while restaurants ensure that spectators are well sustained throughout the evenings. Over the years unique drawcards set up within the velodromes have included funfairs, live bands and nightclubs, the latter guaranteeing that the fun lasts well beyond the last race.