Léon van Bon isn’t sure how many times he rode the Ghent Six Day: “If I must guess I would say five times as a pro and twice as an amateur.” Whatever, it’s an event the Dutchman quickly learnt to love – first as a competitor, now as a photographer.
“I love this event mostly for the atmosphere,” he says. “It’s a prestige event and people seem to really understand cycling here. Even when they are drunk.”
It was on the track that Van Bon first made his mark as a rider, winning multiple Dutch titles and a silver medal in the points race at the Barcelona Olympics. But even once his attentions turned to the road (he became a serial classics contenders and double Tour de France stage winner), the Ghent six day was “the one you always wanted to ride – or even better to win”.
He adds: “It is hard. The races are fast. And the track is small. But maybe that’s also why I love it.”
Since pursuing photography after he retired from racing, he finds that the Ghent Six still throws up that alluring mix of ambience and difficulty.
“Shooting in Ghent’s light conditions are challenging but that also gives some feeling to the pictures which suit the event perfectly,” he notes. “It pushes you to creativity.”
In this selection of photographs from the 2017 edition, Van Bon focussed on a theme of rider interaction. Whether that be with each other or the crowd, on the bike or off it, he says “it is always a nice thing to capture”.
Some of the most intimate pictures come in the downtime between races – riders chatting, checking their phones, getting things off their chest as they take a massage.
“It doesn’t really matter if the scene is very slow, like the two riders in a cabin or a rider posing with the public,” says Van Bon. “It tells a story.”
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