MODERN SIXES IN LONDON
Eight modern sixes have been held in London two at Olympia, six at Wembley
ALL WAS SET for the first London two-man six-day race at Olympia in 1923 when a rather important fact was discovered. The track wasn't safe! The opening had to be postponed for a week, during which the offending grooves and bumps were ironed out. Then, after a good race, and a particularly thrilling last night, Persyn and Vandevelde of Belgium won with a lap lead over a French pair. Of the two English riders on the starting list, sprinter W. A. Ormston was an early retirement, but Maurice Selbach - who as an amateur had three times won the North Road twenty-four hours time trial rode with great courage to finish in sixth place with his Italian partner.
"Promoters thanked spectators for their support and promised to hold the race again next year", concluded one report of the race. But it was not until eleven years later that the next London "Six" was held, again at Olympia.
The 1934 event was promoted by the former American star Willie Spencer who was then organising a series of events on a portable track in the principal cities across the States. For the Olympia race he astutely paired Britain's star sprinter Sid Cozens with the "Six-Day King" Piet Van Kempen of Holland. Wonderfully nursed by the Dutch master, Cozens was able to maintain his speed to the end and win a six-day race at his first attempt. Cozens - Van Kempen won on points from the powerful German combination Kilian - Vopel.
Cozens was less fortunate when, two years later, the first of four annual sixes was held at the Empire Pool, Wembley, the Manchester sprinter crashing and having to quit the race within twenty-four hours. A similar accident eliminated the road all-rounder Frank Southall. This time Kilian - Vopel made no mistake, gaining a vital lap lead on the last night and holding it to the end, despite a desperate challenge from Aerts - Buysse (Belgium) and the spectacular and popular French team Ignat - Diot who were known as the Red Devils.
Piet Van Kempen had also ridden in that 1936 race with relatively weak brother Jan. In 1937, however, the famous Dutchman - then approaching forty - was back again with a first-class team-mate for the Coronation Six which started a few days after the coronation of H.M. George VI. Paired with Albert Buysse (runner-up the previous year) Van Kempen won his thirty-fourth six-day race with a points victory over Ignat - Diot and the American pair Walthour - Crossley. Of the five British starters only Cozens (7th) finished, Charlie Holland being an early casualty with a broken collar bone.
With no British riders in the 1938 Wembley Six, the crowd adopted as its favourite Australia's Joe Buckley who was partnered by the outstanding man of the race, Karel Kaers. The giant Belgian - who had won the world road championship in 1934 - did not win, but demonstrated his amazing versatility during the special events, breaking the flying start lap record (176 yards) with 9.6 seconds, and unofficially beating the world flying start mile record with a time of 1 min. 50.6 sec. The race was again won by Albert Buysse, now partnered by a second "A.B." in Albert Billiet. They won on points from Slaats – Pelenaars (Holland) with another Dutchman, or perhaps THE Dutchman, Piet Van Kempen paired with Wals, a lap behind.
The 1939 Wembley race is remembered as "The Sprinters' Six", the outstandingly fast field including the two greatest speedmen of the day, Jeff Scherens (Belgium) and Arie Van Vliet (Holland). Their spectacular bursts made it one of the most memorable of the series. But - as so often has been proved in six-day racing-winning every sprint on the programme is of no avail if, at the end of the race, the team has lost a lap. And this Van Vliet (partnered by Wals) and Scherens (with Dekuysscher) had done, leaving Karel Kaers and Omer Debruycker (Belgium) to ride the final lap of honour. Sid Cozens had another bad crash early on, but came back pluckily to finish sixth with his Australian partner, Benny Clare.
Twelve years were to pass before Wembley Pool again heard the rumble of chains and the swish of paperweight tyres on a wooden track. Yet, astonishingly, among the field for the 1951 race was the great Gustave Kilian, billed now as a Luxembourger, riding his eighty-sixth six-day race at the age of forty-three. Although with no hope of winning his thirty-fourth, Kilian proved a remarkable partner to the native Luxembourg rider Lull Gillen, the pair finishing fourth.
Favourites for the race, and certainly of the crowd, were two Australians, Alf Strom and Roger Arnold. Four years earlier the two Sydneysiders had come to Britain, ridden a few races, then moved to Belgium where they quickly became one of the best six-day teams in the world. On this racing return to London in 1951, Strom – Arnold strove mightily to win, but at the final gun they were a lap down on the Belgian pair Adriaenssens – Bruylandt, but took second place with a superior points score over Rigoni – Teruzzi (Italy) and Gillen – Kilian.
During the week Arnold gave proof of the team's great "class" by riding a flying start mile in 1 min. 53.8 sec. with Gillen only 0.1 sec. slower.
London rider Wally Summers was among the 1951 starters but retired after three days. The following year, however, Britain fared better with two riders starting and both finishing. They were Dave Ricketts and Len Jackson, at that time living and racing in Belgium, although neither had ridden a six-day event. Each was paired with an experienced continental, Ricketts with Senfftleben (France) and Jackson with Gillen. The pairs finished sixth and seventh respectively.
At the head of affairs, Strom – Arnold allowed nobody to give them the slip this time, scoring a popular victory by a lap from their old rivals Rigoni and Teruzzi and Roth – Von Buren of Switzerland.
That 1952 promotion was the last six-day to be held in Britain. Of the winners, Arnold is now back in Australia, but Strom is living in Belgium and plans to be at the SKOL "Six" which, it is confidently expected, will be the first of a new and successful series.