Most people scratch their heads when you mention six-day racing and despite the discipline being one of the oldest forms of track cycling, it is still relatively unknown beyond its core fans. If you’d like a night of breathtaking action however at an event that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then this is the perfect night out for you.
Six day racing emerged in Britain at the end of the 19th century as a by-product of the Victorian passion for endurance. The race lasts for six days hence its name and the object of the competition is to complete the most laps. The race to amass laps is just part of the battle however as a typical six-day event will normally include a variety of other events, time trials,motor-paced challenges plus sprint and elimination races.
The first major Six Day race was held at an Agricultural Hall in Islington in 1878. A prize of £100 was offered to the winning cyclist. The event continued uninterrupted for six days however participants were free to come and go as they chose in order to grab some sleep.
The sport remained a minor interest until it transferred to America however. In New York, six day racing took on a much more intense form. The endurance aspect of the competition was increased and competitors soon found themselves competing non stop for 24 hours!
To ensure they stayed in the competition, the riders would hire seconds to keep them awake. The seconds (or soigneurs, to use their official title) would using doping to keep their employers awake. Nevertheless, the cyclists suffered terribly. Delusions and hallucinations were common. Horrific falls and accidents became commonplace. Despite this, the races were becoming increasingly lucrative so the cyclists continued to put themselves at risk.
Gradually, the American began to take on an established form. One man races gave way to two-man events which meant that competitors would no longer have to rider continously but could share racing duties with their partners.
At the height of the sport’s popularity in the USA, six day racing events attracted a host of celebrities, people such as George Raft, Barbara Stanwyck, and Otto Kruger. Bing Crosby was one of the biggest stars associated with the sport and it was said for many years that the singer paid the hospital bills of riders who fell on the track.
Unfortunately, the rise of the automobile finally brought about a decline in popularity of the sport in the USA and despite attempts to revive interest – the great days of the sport in the states was over. From that time on, interest in the sport would mainly be confined to Europe where six day racing continued to attract large crowds.
In recent years, six day events have taken on a much more party atmosphere with pop music, bright flashing lights and alcohol adding to the feel good feeling of the event.
The 2018 Six Day Race will take place between the 22nd and the 27th of October 2019 at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
If you would like more information about Six Day London, please click here.
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