Track Races - A User's Guide
The time trial is a solo event, from a standing start, over a set distance. The distances vary depending on racing division - for Elite men, that distance is 1000m (four laps of a Olympic standard 250m track), commonly referred to as the kilo, and recognised as one of the most brutal events in track cycling. Elite women race over 500m, as do the younger age groups and most masters, while some masters men compete over 750m. In most competitions the time trial is decided with a single ride, putting real pressure on riders to ensure that their execution is perfect. However, at World Championship level there is a qualifying round, with the top eight riders progressing to the final. Gear selection can be a deciding factor in the time trial - a lighter gear will allow faster acceleration, but you may spin out once up to top speed, while a bigger gear could potentially allow a higher top speed, but will take longer to get up to speed.
The team sprint sees teams of three riders (men) or two riders (women) compete from a standing start. Each rider completes one lap of the track in the lead before pulling up the track and out of the race, leaving the next rider to face the wind. That means that on an Olympic standard track the men compete over 750m while the women compete over 500m. The team's time is taken on the final rider to cross the line. Technically demanding, the aim is for the leading rider(s) to shield the final rider from the wind, allowing them to save some energy for the final push to the line. Starting from a standing start, the Team Sprint is an explosive contest combining strength and speed. The event is contested over multiple rounds, usually with a qualifying round followed by the fastest two teams riding off for gold, and the third and fourth fastest teams riding off for bronze. However, at World Championship level, the competition takes place over three rounds, with the fastest eight teams in qualification progressing to the first round, where 4v5, 3v6, 2v7, and 1v8, with the winner progressing to the medal finals. The two fastest winning teams from the first round race for the gold medal, with the next two winning teams racing for the bronze medal.
The Keirin is a race in which riders sprint for the line after completing a three laps behind a single motorbike pacer ( the derny). The pacer gradually builds up speed, with riders jockeying for position behind but riders must not pass the "derny" until it pulls off on to the track infield with three laps to go and from then on it's a free-for-all to the line. Tactical and often very physical, it's a great spectator event. Usually ridden with heats, this competition can feature repechages and major (medals) and minor placings finals. The race usually features six riders, with riders drawing their starting positions before the race. They have to assume those positions behind the pacer, and stay there for at least the first lap, after which they may change positions, but only if another rider is willing to let them in. Riders may not pass the front wheel of the pacer before it pulls off the track.
Simple head-to-head sprinting between two riders over three laps of the track. The event starts with a flying 200m timed event to determine seeding and which riders progress to the next round. From there it is a tactical head to head race between two riders, with the earlier rounds being straight knock-out rounds, before progressing to best of three races in the latter rounds. The event can sometimes look like anything but a sprint as the riders use all their tactics and skill to try and trick their opposition into take the lead, sometimes coming to a standstill on the track. However, the final part of the race is always fast and furious, with strict rules to ensure the lead rider does not impede or endanger their opponent.
Individual Pursuit: The ultimate head-to-head endurance race. Riders begin from a standing start on opposite sides of the Track and literally "pursue" each other for 4000 meters (3000 meters for women). There is usually a qualifying round from which the fastest riders progress either to a second round where the top eight ride off for places in the gold/silver and bronze finals. In the finals, the fastest rider wins, unless one rider is caught by the other, at which point the race is over.
Team Pursuit: This is the Team version of the individual pursuit. The major difference to the individual version is that the four riders share the workload, with the lead rider staying at the front for only a lap or so before swinging up the track and re-joining the four man line at the back. A technical event, team-mates often ride only centimetres apart to maximise slipstreaming effects. As for the Individual Pursuit, teams ride to a lap schedule with the rider's coach or handler often seen calling their progress from the inner of the track. Times are taken on the third rider of the team to cross the line - the slowest rider in a team often sacrifices himself in the latter stages of the event and pulls up the track to let his team-mates complete the race without him.
Omnium: The Omnium was designed to find the best all round rider. It has gone through many different formats during its existence, with the events included and even the number of days it is raced over changing over the course of the years. The current version of the omnium sees riders take part in four bunch races over the course of one day. Riders are awarded points for their placing in each of the first three events, with 40 points for a win, 38 points for second place, and so on. The competition starts with the scratch race, which is a straight forward bunch race with the first rider to cross the line at the end of the race taking the win (unless someone takes a lap on the field, but we will get to that later...). This is followed by the Tempo race, where after an initial couple of neutral laps, the first rider across the line at the end of each lap scores a point. The rider with the most points at the end of the race wins. The third event is the elimination race, where the last rider across the finish line after every second lap is eliminated from the race until only two riders remain to fight it out for the win. The final race is the points race, where all riders start with the points total they accumulated during the course of the previous races. Riders can gain 20 points by taking a lap on the field (or lose 20 points if they lose a lap to the field). Riders can also score points in the sprints that take place during the race, with double points on offer on the final sprint. The rider with the highest combined points total at the end of the points race wins the omnium.
Points Race: A bunch race (maximum of 24 riders) competing over 20, 30 or 40km. Riders aim to gain points, with the highest score winning the event. Points can be scored at "Intermediate" sprints, which are usually held every 10 or 20 laps. A bonus of 20 points can also be scored by lapping the field. A very tactical event, the Points Race competitors require speed, stamina, plus the ability to sprint quickly to amass points.
Tempo Race: Run over 10km for men and 7.5km for women, this bunch race features a sprint on every lap after the first four laps, with the first rider across the line winning one point. Any rider that gains a lap on the main field is awarded 20 points, with any rider that loses a lap on the main field being deducted 20 points.
Madison: Effectively a Points Race for two-man teams. Only one rider per pairing is ever actually racing - the other rider circles the track high up on the banking waiting to be caught by his team-mate who is ready to be rested. At this point, the second rider swoops down and a hand sling from the first rider, transfers his momentum to him through a slinging motion, propelling the second rider into the race. The original rider then rests until it his turn to be propelled back into the race.
Highly technical, the Madison is an exciting event to watch. Again, the winner is the team with the most points - however, unlike Points Races, laps gained over the field do not produce bonus points - instead laps gained actually have priority over points scored. So if only one team laps the field, they win irrespective of the number of points scored. And if several teams lap the field, they then are ranked according to points scored. This puts extra emphasis on taking laps, which subtly influences tactics used.
Scratch Race: A simple bunch race, usually held over 10, 15, 20 or 25km with the first over the line declared the winner. A scratch race is basically an endurance event with riders using tactics to attempt to break away during the race and gain a lap on the remainder of the field.