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Articles: Track cycling

Track Cycling

Track cycling is a sport that involves racing bicycles on purpose-built tracks with banked sides known as velodromes. The sport features a mix of sprint and endurance events with both individual and team categories. Track cycling can take place on indoor and outdoor circuits and races can vary in length from as few as eight laps for sprint races, to as many as 200 laps for the longest endurance events.

The first track cycling races were held in the 1870s in Europe and America and by 1920 it was established as an Olympic Sport. The first ever World Championship event for amateur riders was held in Chicago, USA in 1893, with an equivalent professional meeting first appearing in Cologne, Germany in 1895. It wasn’t until 1993 that ’open’ races for both amateurs and professionals were held.

The sport enjoyed a huge rise in popularity during the early and middle parts of the 20th century, particularly in Belgium, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. A large number of outdoor tracks were built and the sport attracted large crowds. More recently, the popularity of the sport has dwindled somewhat with road cycling proving to be more attractive to both participants and spectators alike. Modern indoor velodromes are prohibitively expensive, making it hard for many countries to provide top class facilities outside of national arenas.

A track cycling race

A track cycling race can involve individuals or teams who compete in a variety of sprint or endurance events. The main sprint events are individual sprint, team sprint, keirin and track time. Endurance races are held in many formats including individual pursuit, team pursuit, scratch race, point’s race, Madison and omnium. The ominum is a 2 day event consisting of six separate disciplines.

Sprint races are short events with typical distances between 8 and 10 laps. These races suit cyclists that specialise in high speed racing with powerful bursts of acceleration. The endurance events are held over longer distances and suit riders that can combine stamina with tactical ability. The top endurance racers can also produce a strong burst of power when needed to cross the finishing line first. Many endurance races are between 12 and 16 laps but the longest events, such as the Madison, can be up to 200 laps in length.

Races are held on specially-built banked oval circuits called velodromes which consist of two 180-degree bends joined by two straight sections. In the past, the tracks were made from a range of materials and could be built indoors or outdoors. More recently, professional velodrome circuits are generally made of wood and most top events are held indoors at national arenas.

Just like road racing, aerodynamics play a big part in the sport of track cycling. Specially-made lightweight bikes and aerodynamic clothing including helmets, are all essential tools of the track cycling professional.

How a race begins

Track cycling races can start in many different ways depending on the type of event. In some races, such as the individual sprint, riders start side-by-side behind a line but not in lanes. Due to the tactical nature of the race, the riders often start at a very slow pace before bursting into full speed at a tactically chosen moment.

In other events including the team sprint, the riders start on opposite sides of the track and must pace themselves to finish ahead of their opponent. Racers can determine their place in the race by judging the position of their opponent on the other side of the track.

Another method of starting is used in the keirin event when lots are drawn to decide the order in which the riders must start the race. They then follow a powered vehicle (typically a derny motorcycle) that gradually increases its speed before leaving the track. At this point, the riders will sprint the remaining distance and attempt to be first across the finishing line.

In time trial events, the riders take to the track one at a time and must simply attempt to set the fastest time possible.

Main rules and tactics

The rules and tactics for track cycling can vary greatly depending on the event. Some races require the riders to complete a certain distance in the fastest time while others are competed on a first over the line or points basis.

In individual sprint races, track cyclists will often move extremely slowly and try to stay behind their opponent. In some case they even stop completely and balance on their bikes before moving again. The riders sometimes try to force each other to move high on the banks of the track to gain an advantage. The purpose of these strategies is to try and remain just behind the other competitor until they make a break for the finish line in the final laps. By doing so, the trailing rider can travel in the slipstream of the leader, saving valuable energy for the crucial final metres.

In pursuit races, the individuals or teams start on the opposite side of the track and must attempt to beat their opponents to the required distance. In some cases the riders may actually catch and overtake their opponents, at which point the race is won. In team pursuits, the final time is taken when the wheel of the third rider crosses the line. The fourth rider will sometimes be used to set the pace and then drop out of the pack. Team members usually ride in a tight line to help minimise drag, with the rider at the front occasionally switching to the back allowing the next rider to set the pace.

Point’s races are long races where points are accumulated within the race via official sprint sections or by lapping the main field. A point’s race is one of the elements contained within the Olympic Omnium event.

A team of referees known as commissaries are present at each track meeting. They are responsible for a range of duties including checking bicycles, organising heats, keeping track of laps and ensuring all rules and regulations are met. A single commissaire-referee is assigned to make any decisions regarding indiscipline or foul play.

Competing in track cycling

Budding track and road cyclists will often follow similar paths to the professional world. In fact, some cyclists may go on to compete in both variations of the sport at the highest level.

The first step for most cyclists is to join a club at a young age and compete at junior level. Riders may excel in a certain area, such as sprint or endurance racing, and concentrate solely on that discipline. If a young rider is successful they may move on to the national categories before making the final step to elite level. To reach this stage, a cyclist will almost always need to attract a financial backer or sponsor.

Elite racers can compete in the UCI Track Cycling World Cup Classics which are held at various locations during the winter season. The World Cup features a total of 17 different events split over several rounds and successful riders can qualify for the UCI Track Cycling World Championships which are held annually.

The pinnacle event for any track cyclists is the Olympic Games, held every four years and featuring a total of 10 track events.

Site reference: Track cycling: Competitions and organisers

Betting on track cycling

There are always betting options available on the major track cycling events but the range of markets can sometimes be limited. The World Cup races, World Championships and Olympic games attract the highest level of betting interest. In Japan, the Keirin form of track cycling is very popular amongst gamblers.

The most common track cycling markets include the Outright Winner (Outright Winner) for each of the individual and team events. In many ways, track cycling is more suited to betting than road cycling due to the fast nature of many events. There are also less variable factors at play than in road cycling which can lead to a more precise method of betting.