Jasper De Buyst and Roger Kluge are the first leaders of the Ghent Six, with crowds returning to the legendary 166-metre 't Kuipke, despite strict COVID-19 rules and the banning of beer sales in the track centre.
The Lotto Soudal riders usually lead out Caleb Ewan but they combined to score a total of 78 points during the different races and take a one-lap lead in the key Madison race.
Kenny De Ketele won the opening Points Race, European champions Jan-Willem van Schip and Yoeri Havik took the team Elimination, while Tuur Dens and Marc Hester won the Time Trial.
Michael Mørkøv won the final sprint to take the first Madison of the event with fellow world champion Lasse Norman Hansen, while local resident Iljo Keisse won the Derny race. Iljo Keisse and Mark Cavendish then went on to win the late Madison to score 20 points.
Kenny De Ketele with Robbe Ghys are second with 78 points but at one lap, with Mørkøv and Norman Hansen third overall with 65 points and a lap. Keisse and Cavendish are fourth with 57 points and one lap.
Keisse win in the Derny race sparked cheers from the crowd but the COVID-19 rules limited the drinking at the event and somewhat dampened the fans usual drunken enthusiasm for the racing.
Crowds have been limited, with everyone obliged to show proof of vaccination and wear a mask in the stands and track centre. Beer and frites were only served in the well-aired catacombs of the velodrome or outside in a special tent. Fans traditionally stay on after the racing to drink late into the night but this year the Ghent Six closes its doors when the racing ends at about 1:00am.
“Let this be the chance to do things differently,” De Ketele told Belgian media. “Drinking a pint is nice, but now people may discover that the race is even more exciting.”
Health inspectors were reportedly present in the velodrome to check that the event was held safely, with the local COVID-19 Consultation Committee due to meet on Wednesday to decide on further restrictions that could put the rest of the Ghent Six at risk.
The COVID-19 virus has spread significantly in Ghent and East Flemish recently, with a new infection record reached last week. Many people are vaccinated but case numbers of especially non-vaccinated people in hospitals continue to rise as winter arrives in Belgium.
"This week can be a party, if everyone does their best." Christophe Impens or event organiser Golazo told Het Nieuwsblad.
“We warned the riders that this could be a ‘light’ version of the Six Days in terms of decibels, but not in terms of sport. We are counting on them to put on a show.”
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