Getting into track cycling

Track racing takes place on short specially built tracks consisting of two tight, banked corners joined by two short straights. Tracks range hugely in length – outdoor tracks usually being longer and with shallower bankings – but Olympic and World Championship Track racing is generally held on indoor 250m wooden tracks. Many outdoor tracks are concrete or tarmac surfaced.

Track bikes are relatively simple, lacking the gears and brakes of their Road cousins. With bikes having a fixed wheel (forcing you to pedal continuously) the rider controls speed through pressure applied to the pedals. Bikes fall into two broad categories:

Upright bikes with conventional dropped handlebars, traditional spoked or carbon spoked wheels. These bikes are used for bunch races, Keirin and Match Sprint.

Low-profile bikes, with extended “trathalon” style bars, allowing the rider to adopt a more aerodynamic position. Wheels are often four-spoked carbon or carbon disc. Handling and manoeuvrability are sacrificed for aerodynamic efficiency. These bikes are used for Pursuit races and Kilo and 500m Time Trial.

Track events can be split into two main types Sprint events, which generally last for less than two minutes and Endurance events which can be up to 40km in length.

Sprint Events

Kilometre Time Trial (500 metres for women): A time trial against the watch, ridden from a standing start. No qualifying rounds, make this a high-pressure, one-chance event.

Team Sprint: Three man teams ride three laps of the track (750m on Olympic standard 250m Tracks). After the first lap, the first rider peels off and plays no further part in the race. After the second lap the second rider also pulls off, leaving the third rider to complete the event and record the team’s time. Technically demanding, the aim is for the first two riders to shield and slipstream the third rider for two laps (slipstreaming can save up to 30% of energy) leaving them relatively fresh for the last lap. Usually ridden two teams at a time (starting opposite sides of the track) with a qualifying round, with the four fastest winning teams going through to the finals for gold/silver and bronze.

Keirin: The Keirin (Japanese for “fight”) is a race in which riders sprint for the line after completing a series of laps behind a single motorbike pacer (derny). The pacer gradually builds up speed, with riders jockeying for position behind it (riders must not pass the “derny” until it pulls off). The derny pulls onto the track infield with 2 and a half 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, repechage and major (medals) and minor placings finals.

Match Sprint: Simple head-to-head sprinting between two riders over three laps of the track. At the highest level there is usually a qualifying 200m flying start time trial to organise the seeding. From then on there are a series of knockout rounds leading to quarter-finals, semis and the final. These latter rounds are usually ridden on a best of three basis.

Endurance Events

Individual Pursuit: The ultimate head-to-head endurance race. Riders begin from a standing start in pairs 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: 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 (right) and re-joining in position four at the back of the line. A technical event, team-mates often ride only centimetres apart to maximise slipstreaming effects. Times are taken on the third rider of the team to cross the line: It is often the case that one rider in a team may sacrifice themselves in the later stages of the event and pull up the track to let team-mates complete the race without them. This rider will sometimes put in a huge effort for the team (up to 2 laps) before peeling off.

Points Race: A bunch race (20-30 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, often every 10, 20 or 25 laps. Large numbers of bonus points can also be scored by lapping the field. A very tactical event, with alliances being formed and broken and dramatic attacks being chased down by the field. Requires speed, stamina, the ability to sprint quickly to grab points and a cool head. There are now double points on offer in a final sprint of the race.

Madison: Effectively a Points Race for two-man teams (though the points scoring works slightly differently – see below). Only one rider per pairing is ever actually racing. The other rider circles the track high up the banking awaiting being caught by his team-mate at which point he swoops down and, after a hand sling (difficult to describe, but basically the rider who is “in” takes the hand of his team-mate and transfers his momentum to him through a mixed handshake and slinging motion) takes over the racing for the pair. Highly technical, a challenge to watch, but very exciting and almost balletic at times. 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 25 km with the first over the line the winner. Tactical moves include lapping the field. Riders with endurance but poor sprinting abilities will favour this tactic, whilst riders with a powerful sprint will favour saving their efforts to the very end