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Iljo Keisse: From tragedies to triumph

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"It's the end of a bad part of my life" said Iljo Keisse after his victory

"It's the end of a bad part of my life" said Iljo Keisse after his victory
(Image credit: Tour of Turkey)
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(Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Philippe Gilbert and Iljo Keisse in the stands

Philippe Gilbert and Iljo Keisse in the stands
(Image credit: www.ispaphoto.com)
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Matt Gilmore and Iljo Keisse at a Six Day race in Gent in 2005

Matt Gilmore and Iljo Keisse at a Six Day race in Gent in 2005
(Image credit: Nick Rosenthal)

Iljo Keisse's victory in the penultimate stage of the Presidential Tour of Turkey – despite a crash on the final bend – was far more than just the Belgian's finest hour on the road. Keisse's glittering Six Day career has also been repeatedly scarred by controversies and tragedies, the last of which came a year ago next week when his dear friend Wouter Weylandt died at the Giro d'Italia.

The following story first appeared in Procycling magazine in December. It lends some context to Keisse's victory at the weekend…

Iljo Keisse doesn't recall the exact date, but it must be around the spring of 1999, give or take a few months. Frank Vandenbroucke is "God" in Belgium even more than in his own mind, and Keisse like everyone else his age venerates him. Keisse's father, Ronny, was a cyclist himself. He now owns the De Karper café, a Gent institution just down the hill from the legendary Sportpaleis, or ‘Het Kuipke', where they hold the Six Days every winter.

Ronny also coaches at the track. His son is among his pupils, not to mention maybe the best track-racing prospect in the whole country. At least that's what Iljo thinks until one day the nephew of his athletics teacher stomps into the velodrome, his thighs almost perforating his shorts, his helmet perched comically on top of a baseball cap. When the gun or the signal or whatever it is sounds, the kid explodes across the boards and within seconds has completed a lap that no one in the track can bring themselves to forget. Keisse's jaw drops. He's seen a lot of track cyclists in his sixteen years, including some of the best in the world, but this was something else. He has a mate at school, another budding cyclist called Wouter Weylandt, whom he can't wait to tell. What was the kid's name again? Dimitri – Dimitri De Fauw.

Photo: Luc Claessen

Photo: Roberto Bettini

Photo: Roberto Bettini