By Susan Westemeyer
The Gent Six Day race of 2006 came to a tragic end with the death of Isaac Gálvez in a freak accident. The Spaniards riding partner of last year, Juan Llaneras, is not competing in the 2007 event, telling Sportwereld.be, "I can't manage that."
The 67th edition of the race starts this evening and runs through Sunday.
He will not even be there for the dedication of a memorial plaque for his deceased friend. "I try to erase the events of the previous year from my memory, but I haven't succeeded. Isaac's wife has been to Gent, but it is not possible for me – really not. I have not yet digested it all. A year later, it is still all too painful."
The 38 year-old has continued to ride, winning the point championship at the Worlds in Mallorca this year. "I rode there on a cloud of enthusiasm. Everyone in the full-velodrome helped me achieve the win. Isaac gave me strength to pass Keisse and Ignatiev. ... On the podium, I pictured Gent. Joy and grief were joined together in one gold medal."
Llaneras still remembers every detail of the fatal accident. "A fall like that happens often on the track, I thought. But it immediately became clear to me that this was serious when everyone went into a panic. I stood by and looked on helplessly. I got in touch with Isaac's wife. It was hard but I found the right words. The memory of the applause as they carried Isaac off the track still cuts me like a knife.
"When I got word of his death, my world collapsed," he concluded sadly. He thought of retiring, but "that wouldn't have helped anybody." Since then, "I fight back. For myself, for my supporters and for Isaac. I dedicate every victory to him."
Llaneras still has one major goal left, "Olympic gold in Beijing. In the autumn of a superb career, I want to scrape together everything I can, just once more. It hurts, but it has to be. Isaac gave me the strength on Mallorca to carry on. It won't be any different in Beijing. Together we will end my career."
For more on Gálvez read Gent Six Day ends in "nightmare".