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Six Days of Ghent track event goes virtual

Seven-time winner Iljo Keisse vows to be back next year as popular track event canceled due to COVID-19.

The annual Six Days of Ghent track event, which was supposed to start Tuesday, is going virtual due to the coronavirus.

Worsening health conditions in Belgium forced organizers to cancel the 2020 edition, scheduled for November 17-22. To give fans something to cheer about, organizers created a virtual racing platform.

Of the remaining handful of six-day events across the world, Ghent is perhaps the most emblematic. Set inside the historic Kuipke velodrome, with its steep banks and 166m track, the event dates back to the 1920s. Thousands of fans pack into the grandstands to quaff beer and cheer on the riders.

Among the track riders pining for the boards this week will be seven-time winner Iljo Keisse. His father owns a popular bar nearby, and he grew up racing on the track.

“The Ghent Six-Day is one of my most favorite weeks of the year and I am really sad to not be there now,” said Keisse, who races on the road with Deceuninck-Quick-Step. “It is never a stated goal for me or the team, but it is a special and unique event that I always look forward to.”

Keisse and the other top cyclists will have to wait at least a year. With such a cramped facility at the historic velodrome, no one was surprised to see the event canceled as health conditions worsened over the past several months due to the ongoing pandemic.

“I will absolutely be back next year,” Keisse said. “I was really hoping to go this year, but with COVID and that compact arena, it was always going to be difficult. I was meant to be riding with Michael Mørkøv, together with whom I won in 2015, and he sent me a message yesterday. We could have ridden without a lot of specific work and Michael was saying how great it would have been to ride it in this shape. Hopefully, we can still compete together next year, I look forward to that.”