King of the Six Day: A tribute to Patrick Sercu

Today sees the start of the 79th edition of the Six Days of Gent, and it’s sure to be an emotional occasion as the first one since Patrick Sercu passed away earlier this year.

Sercu left an indelible mark on both his beloved Six Days of Gent and cycling history in general.

This is his story.

Born in Roeselare on 27th June 1944, cycling was in his DNA from the beginning. His father Albert was a professional cyclist of some note in a career spanning the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. It could have been no surprise when young Patrick followed in his father’s slipstream and became a cyclist himself.

In 1961, just 12 days before his 17th Birthday, the young Sercu finished second in the national track sprint championship for amateurs. He would return to the Rocourt track in Liege a year later and win that same race.

Two years later Sercu claimed three amateur national championship titles on the track. In addition to these national titles, he also won the amateur track world championship race.

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He took this form into 1964, a season where he rode for the Solo-Superior team, the track wins kept on coming his way. There were three victories from that year that are worth drawing attention to.

The first of those wins came in Brussels at the National Track Championship. It was here in the Madison competition on 5th February 1964 that a young Sercu and an even younger Eddy Merckx teamed up to take their first win together.

It was to prove a great partnership on the track and a great friendship off it.

That second win came the next month and is worth noting as it came on the road courtesy of the amateur version of Gent-Wevelgem. This showed that his talent would extend from the track onto the road.

The final significant victory of 1964 came in Tokyo.

Having been selected to represent Belgium at that year’s Olympic games Sercu headed for Japan and duly won gold in the 1,000 metre time trial. His winning time on that momentous day was one minute 09.59 seconds. 

More track wins came his way during 1965, 1966 and 1967. After a season riding in the Flandria-De Clerck colours in 1967 Sercu would don the famous red and white jersey of Faema for the 1968 and 1969 seasons.

During this time, he won the 1968 Omloop van Midden-Vlaanderen and the 1969 Omloop van het Leide road races.

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A sign of what was to come on the road, and in Italy in particular, came in March 1969. It was on stage 5a of that year’s Tirreno-Adriatico where Sercu rode to victory in San Benedelto del Tronto.

A change of teams saw Sercu line up for the 1970 season for the Italian outfit Dreher. He would follow up his stage win at Tirreno-Adriatico the previous year to take a stage victory at the 1970 Giro di Sardegna.

That victory came on stage 4 between Oristano and Alghero. Winning that stage also set him up to win the overall race.

Just a month later and he was winning a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico for the second season in a row. His Italian team bosses must have been delighted with the success their new Belgian signing was bringing them on their home soil.

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A brief foray onto Belgian roads in April 1970 saw Sercu finish in second place on the cobbled finishing line of Nokere Koerse.

Next on the schedule, it was back to Italy and the Giro d’Italia.

It may have been Eddy Merckx who won the Giro but Sercu continued his fine form on the Italian strade to take his first Grand tour stage win. That was on stage 5 a 155-kilometre stage between Lodi and Zingonia in Lombardia.

During his career he would win an impressive 11 stages of the Italian national tour.

By now Sercu was winning regularly throughout the year both on the track and road. Less we forget that cyclists at this time had to ride and win throughout the year to earn a decent wage.

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In 1971 and 1972 yet more victories came on Italian roads, courtesy of stage wins at Giro di Sardegna, Giro d’Italia and Tirreno-Adriatico. There were also victories in the Dreher jersey on Belgian roads at Bankprijs, Izegem Koers, Kampioenschop van Vlaanderen and Omloop van Vlaanderen, whilst in Switzerland, a stage win came his way at the Tour of Romandie.

In 1973 there was a change of jersey as the Dreher team morphed into the Brooklyn cycling team. The change in jersey didn’t mean a change in fortune for Sercu as he continued to rack up the wins.

He won Six Days of Gent with Graeme Gilmore, Six Days of Grenoble with Eddy Merckx and Six Days of Milan with Julien Stevens. On the road, he raised his hands in victory at Giro di Puglia and another Giro d’Italia stage.

The second season with Brooklyn was when possibly his greatest moment on the road was realised. At the 1974 Tour de France he rode to three stage wins, this was very nearly four stages but having crossed the line first in Paris he was relegated to 3rd place.

The race jury adjudged that he blocked Gustaaf van Roosbroeck in his sprint to the line and awarded Eddy Merckx the stage win. However, Sercu did win the green sprinters jersey outright and even got to wore the yellow jersey early in the Tour, albeit for half a day.

Two months after claiming the green jersey at the Tour de France Sercu found himself back on the track. This time he was in Britain winning the Six Days of London with Rene Pijnen.

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The final two seasons riding in the red, white and blue kit for Brooklyn followed a familiar pattern.

In total those two seasons saw Sercu win 36 times. There were of course the obligatory wins on the Six Day scene, these came at Berlin, Bremen, Gent. Antwerp (twice) Grenoble, Zurich, Maastricht, Dortmund, Milan and Rotterdam.

The Giro d’Italia saw him win a further six stages and further wins came on the road at races he had done well in the past, namely Giro di Sardegna, Giro di Puglia and Tirreno-Adriatico.

After seven successful seasons riding for Italian teams Sercu headed for pastures new in 1977. That year he rode in the blue and white kit of Fiat-France.

It was to prove his most prolific season as he amassed a total of 30 victories on track and road. He rode with ease on the track to win those usual national titles and added European track honours as well. Six Days success followed – rather predictably – at Berlin, Gent, London, Munich, Maastricht, Zurich, Copenhagen and Antwerp.

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The Giro di Sardegna continued to be a happy hunting ground with two more stage wins. There were also double stage wins at Paris-Nice and the Tour of the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, on the traditional opening weekend of road racing in his native Belgium, he added his name to the winners of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

In the lead up to the 1977 Tour de France Sercu added a stage win at the Criterium du Dauphine to his palmares.

And so onto that year’s running of the Tour de France which was to prove to be a watershed moment in the career of Sercu.

During the Tour, Sercu was to add more stage wins to the three he had already won. These included stages 7a and 7b (a team time trial win) and stage 13.

But surely the most rewarding stage win came on stage 12. The stage was set over a total of 193 kilometres between Roubaix and Charleroi in Belgium.

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Victory came to Sercu after he launched an audacious 170-kilometre solo ride which saw him ride alone over the Mur de Grammont (Muur van Geraardsbergen) before winning the stage by over six minutes.

Despite these stage wins a more telling event occurred at the end of Stage 17 which finished on the famed slopes of Alpe d’Huez.

Along with 29 other riders, Sercu found himself outside the time limit and therefore eliminated from the Tour. It is said that upon returning to his hotel room after the stage Sercu came to the conclusion that at 32 years old he would scale down racing on the road and concentrate more on the track.

However, the wins did continue on the road at races such as the 1978 Tour of Belgium where he took a stage win.

But for the remainder of his career, his focus remained on the track. Due to this, his dominance of the Six Day scene continued.

By the time the inevitable happened and Sercu retired form racing bikes in 1984 he had amassed a staggering total of wins.

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Sercu won the Six Days of Gent a total of eleven times, a record that remains to this day. There were also a total of 88 victories on the worldwide Six Day scene, again a record.

He took 38 national track titles, one Olympic gold medal, three World track championships, six track races and 15 European track championships.

On the road, he won 48 stages in races, one General Classification, 26 Criteriums, 24 road races and one elimination race. And of course, he won the Green jersey at the Tour de France.

No wonder he was nicknamed the Phenomenon.

After retiring from racing he became the National Coach of the Belgian track team before taking up the role of running the 6 days of Gent. this was a role he performed up to his death in April this year.

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