The opening night of the Gent Six Day saw the return of a local cycling hero, remembrance for a fallen one and the beginning of the Six Day season proper with one of the most tradtional events on the calendar pulling a suitably large crowd in the Belgian city.
The event began with a moment's silence for Dimitri De Fauw - the Belgian rider took his own life earlier this month following a long battle with depression. His illness began with the death of Isaac Galvez three years ago in the Kuipke, so the mood was obviously sombre and riders about to compete paid their respects to a fallen colleague.
The crowd joined riders in a standing ovation for De Fauw, of whom images were projected in the Kuipke, where he was a favourite and always rode well. One of those competitors paying tribute was Iljo Keisse, the local lad returning to the race where he returned a positive doping control during last year's event. It's been a tough 12 months for the 26-year-old, who managed to win the case initiated against him as a result of the positive doping test.
"I'm ready," the 26-year-old told Het Laatste Nieuws before the event. "The last few days I've been able to adapt to the rhythm of my life [as a racer again]. I've been used to getting to bed later and staying in bed longer, so it's been a bit stressful. I hope the audience will stand behind me after my year of troubles," he said.
Of the racing ahead, Keisse said: "The evenings promise to be exciting, with five pairs that can claim the final win. I believe that [Franco] Marvulli and [Bruno] Risi, [Alex] Rasmussen and [Michael] Morkov will be the top favourites. Then there willl be [Robert] Bartko, [Danny] Stam, [Leif] Lampater, [Roger] Kluge and myself. The war will be on from the opening day until the finals. The points are very important at the end and with Kluge on my side I should do okay."
As predicted, the Danish pairing of Alex Rasmussen and Michael Morkov did perform well, the duo leading the standings after the opening night. Wins in the team elimination, the first Madison and 500-metre time trial set up a solid points tally, with a total of 98 and a margin of 24 to the team of Iljo Keisse and Roger Kluge, which sits in second.
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