The 73rd edition of the Gent Six-Day begins this evening with hometown favourite and defending champion Iljo Keisse ready to seek his sixth victory at the legendary 't Kuipke velodrome. Keisse, victorious in 2012 with Australia's Glenn O'Shea, will have a new partner in 28-year-old Dutchman Wim Stroetinga, but the Belgian has complete confidence in his new teammate in Gent.
"He is a very good cyclist with a lot of experience," said Keisse. "He's very fast, that's his strongest asset. We haven't trained at all together but we know from each other what we can expect. We both have a lot of experience. He can account for the sprints so I can concentrate on the other disciplines.
"It would be different if you had to ride with someone who rides the Gent Six-Day for the first time, but this isn't the case."
Regarding his competition, Keisse joked that organiser Patrick Sercu "has done too much to get a strong field together." Keisse cited 2012 Madison world champions Kenny De Ketele and Gijs Van Hoecke as formidable foes, as well as Spain's David Muntaner and Albert Torres.
"The Spanish team of Torres and Muntaner is relatively unknown to many, but they were second at the [Madison] world championships. Their trademark is their attacking style of racing, but the downside for Torres and Muntaner is that they don't know the track at 't Kuipke."
Keisse's preparation for the winter Six-Day season has proceeded a bit differently than previous years, but the 30-year-old Belgian showed he's on form with a win on Sunday at the Memorial Dimitri De Fauw Madison event, in Gent's Flemish Cycling Centre Eddy Merckx velodrome, where he partnered with Dimitri's cousin Ken.
"This year I did things a bit differently than other years. I had a pretty tough year and I feel it a little bit, so I tried to do the maximum in a minimum amount of time. Usually I would train a few hours on the road motorpacing, and afterwards on the track or the other way around, I did a lot of hours. Now I focused on the intensity: a lot on the track, intensive, explosive, a lot of speed and not on the road anymore after Paris-Tours."
Keisse competes on the road for Belgian WorldTour squad Omega Pharma-QuickStep and related that the highlight of his season was starting and finishing his first Grand Tour - the Giro d'Italia. However, an injury sustained during the Giro kept Keisse from racing again until early August.
"For me the Giro - actually the full Giro d'Italia - but especially the wins of [teammate Mark] Cavendish [was a beautiful moment]. Definitely the last win of Cav was special. The only thing that I kind of regret is when I broke my hand during the Giro, I didn't stop. I finished the Giro on willpower. It was my first big tour and I really wanted to finish the whole Giro.
"I had to pay the price, though. I lost eight weeks after that. So maybe if I look back on it now, I realize I shouldn't have done that. Then I wouldn't have had any trouble afterwards. But I was really happy I finished the Giro.