With victory at the Six Days of Rotterdam in the bank, Kenny de Ketele and Moreno de Pauw are in fearsome form ahead of Berlin later this month.
The Belgian duo powered home to victory on Tuesday night at the Rotterdam Ahoy, becoming the first pair from the country to win the event since 1976, when the legendary Eddy Merckx and Patrick Sercu claimed the title.
The statement sent out by de Ketele and de Pauw in the Netherlands was a strong one – leading from first night to last easing home in the final race to finish atop the podium.
Dutchmen Yoeri Havik and Wim Stroetinga – who will defend their Six Day Berlin title at the end of the month – won the battle for second place, ahead of French Madison world champions Morgan Kniesky and Benjamin Thomas in third.
And with attentions gradually turning ahead to Berlin – with the small matter of the Six Days of Bremen to come in between – de Ketele is itching to claim back the title he claimed in both 2015 and 2016.
“Berlin is one of the tracks I really like, it’s very smooth, it’s big and the crowd is always very good,” said the 32-year-old.
“It’s one of the Six Days I’m really happy to go to and they’re always the best to win. I’m really looking forward to it.”
De Ketele and de Pauw won Six Day Berlin together in 2016 and will certainly be ones to watch going into this year’s competition, which starts on January 25.
And having finished just third as a duo at last year’s Six Day London – a relative step down after back-to-back wins – de Ketele has played down any lingering effect of the hip fracture which troubled his build up to October’s race, insisting he is fully fit – a statement their victory in the Netherlands would seem to confirm.
Nevertheless, despite his and his teammate’s good form, de Ketele acknowledges the pair will have to be at their very best to beat what promises to be a strong field in Germany.
“I think it’s going to be the traditional teams challenging for the title,” he said. “Stroetinga and Havik who won it last year are a threat.
“And Roger Kluge for sure is a very good track rider – he’s always fit when he comes to the track so I think he’ll be one of the strongest competitors as well.”
Despite his focus being very much on the track, de Ketele also has a special fondness for the event, which he now calls a “homecoming”, away from the racing, too.
And after more than a decade of tearing around the Berlin boards, the crowds and atmosphere of the competition have won a special place in his heart, a feeling he hopes is reciprocated.
“I noticed a couple of times last year the Berlin public starts to recognise me every year,” he said. “I had the feeling in 2017 they were taking the side of me and Moreno now and again.
“They cheered louder when we won than when another team won, so that was really nice. I hope they will react the same again this year.
“Every victory has a story and is always special. I don’t think I’ve ever missed a Six Day Berlin since I became a professional rider. It must be my 11th or 12th time I’ve taken part.
“For me it’s almost like a homecoming – it was one of the first Six Days in which I competed and one I always watch out for.”
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