It’s autumn, days are shortening very fast and the weather is becoming worse day by day. At this time of the year pro-cyclists are not only looking for mud and sand in the cycling-cross races that follow each other at a rapid pace, but also the dry and warmth of the tracks, where they train and compete against each other in the six day races and other events.
Traditionally in Belgium cycling fans are nervously waiting for the track event of the year, the Ghent Six Days. The desolate velodrome ’t Kuipke is transformed into a cycling arena, which will be filled with thousands of enthusiastic spectators, and where the worlds’ best track riders provide a great spectacle as they fight for the coveted victory.
In 2012 the 90th anniversary of the Ghent Six was celebrated, as the first edition was held in 1922. But was it ….. is that date correct? Recent investigation by karelvanwijnendaele.be, a project about the life of Karel Van Wijnendaele, one of the founders of the Tour of Flanders, has shown that the very first edition was organized seven years earlier during the First World War.
The discovery was found in archives of old newspapers that were digitized and made available for the public on the websites of the Royal Library of Belgium (kbr.be) and hetarchief.be by the Flemisch Institute for Archiving and Interaction (VIAA.be)
Due to the trench warfare in Westhoek near Ypres the biggest part of the country was never too far away from the front. The whole area West of Brussels was called the Etappengebiet by the Germans, a logistical zone for the supply of fresh troops, weapons, ammunition, material and vehicles. In order to assure a smooth transition, as well as avoiding any sabotage and espionage the German army introduced a harsh regime for Belgian civilians, all public festivities on the street were forbidden, this meant that bicycle racing moved from the street to the many velodromes Belgium had at that time.
The Ghent Six were organized in the three famous velodromes of the city and were the first editions of the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), finishing at Mariakerke, Evergem and Gentbrugge.
The first two days of the event, on Sunday 3rd and Monday 4th of October 1915, took place in Evergem.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday were rest days.
The 3rd and 5th race day was held on Thursday 7th and Sunday 10th in Mariakerke, where Paul Deman won the first Ronde in 1913.
Finally, the 4th and 6th day, on Friday 8th and Monday 11th, ended on the track of Gentbrugge, where the post-war Rondes finished during the 1920’s.
Usually during the week the races started at 2 pm and an hour later at 3pm at the weekend.
Eighteen local riders divided into nine couples participated in the race. After a great battle with different leaders during the week Pol Verstraete (Evergem) and Jules Van Renterghem (Ursel) finished first behind Aloïs Persijn (Nazareth) en Avile Cocquyt (Mariakerke).
So far about twenty small articles have been found, mainly in the newspapers Het Volk (The People) and Vooruit (socialist newspaper) that were printed in Ghent. Research is still ongoing.
Article © Filip Walenta
Karel Van Wijnendaele Project : http://karelvanwijnendaele.be
News from the Great War : http://hetarchief.be
Royal Library of Belgium : http://opac.kbr.be