The Belgian will team up with Mark Cavendish for the 80th edition.
The Six Days of Gent are back next week after having been cancelled last year, and three Deceuninck – Quick-Step riders will be racing in the famous Het Kuipke. The one and only Olympic and World Champion Michael Mørkøv, a winner here in 2009 and 2015, and Mark Cavendish and Iljo Keisse, who will race together as TheWolfpack powered by Maes0.0%. For the 38-year-old Belgian, it’s a really special event, the place where it all started.
The “Kaiser of het Kuipke” has won seven editions of the Six Days of Gent, but the most special one remains the first time in 2005: “I won with Matthew Gilmore, who was my partner at that time. It was so special, as a part of your dream comes true. I started racing because of the Six Days. As a kid I was sitting on the balustrade, watching the races. To win in Gent meant finally achieving this goal. I wanted to become a track rider, that was my dream. Later on, road racing came along.”
“After all those years it changed a lot. Before, I was really specialised in track racing, I did it every day, starting from my first win in Gent I went to all the Six Days with the ambition to win. Now I’m not a track rider anymore, except for those six days and like three weeks of training during the whole year, the other days I’m racing on the road. Every year I feel it gets more difficult. In 2019 I was so frustrated because I felt it was impossible to win. Next week, with Cav we’ll be at at he start, but without big ambitions. After two, three days we’ll see how the situation is, and that’s also what I need to find that drive again. If we can still battle for the win, we’ll certainly try. If we see it’s difficult, we can maybe pick out some moments to try to light up the Kuipke. We’ll see.”
To be on top of the podium next Sunday isn’t an easy task. “In the past I would have said you just need to go for it on the first evening, but in the meantime the first evening everyone just follows. What I notice is that during the first three days everyone can still manage to hold on, but then some start to have difficulties. If in my case I would like to win, the most important thing is to dose my effort, to hold on in the front as long as possible and to then make a move at the end.”
“Now with Mark I’m riding the Three Days of Copenhagen, as last preparation. It’s really important to do this. The other guys who are specialised in it just had the Worlds and other races and it’s better to have some competition in the legs to have a chance to compete against them. It’s also super close towards next week and we’re training full gas, so it’s actually perfect.”
Having to prepare and ride the Six Days didn’t leave Iljo with a big resting period. “Getting older, I don’t take a lot of rest, but I try to stay busy as I feel this also helps towards the road season. For Cav this also limits his off-season, but the fact he chose to ride the Six Days means he wants to do it. I really like track racing, it’s such an honest discipline. The public sees everything and you train all aspects of cycling: bike handling skills, flexibility, technique and tactics. It also makes the perfect learning school for young cyclists.”
One of the most experienced riders in the peloton, Iljo Keisse announced his retirement from cycling next year already some time ago and he would like to end where it all started: “The Six Days are so special to me. It all started there, it’s close to my house, to my dad’s pub. My family and friends are all there, and it’s at the end of the season, so I could still ride a complete season. I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t end my career there.”
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