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A Track Racing Primer for Cyclists

A Track Racing Primer for Cyclists

Track racing differs from the other major cycling disciplines in that it takes place indoors, which makes it the most spectator-friendly form of bike racing. It is also the only form of racing to use a fixed gear bike, which requires the cyclist to pedal at all times. Track races are contested on a velodrome, which is a banked, oval track that can vary in size from 140 to 500 meters. Track cycling also has the most racing events:

1. Match Sprint. The match sprint is cycling’s version of the 100 meter dash. It is contested by the fastest racers in any cycling discipline. Generally speaking, it involves two cyclists racing head-to-head over a short distance in a tournament style format. Success in the match sprint requires both explosive power and tactical skill.

2. Time Trials. Track time trials are very similar to road time trials except they are much shorter (typically 1 km for men and 500 meters for women). Each rider begins from a standing start and rides alone for the entire race. The competitor with the fastest time wins.

3. Individual Pursuit. This event is unique in that it involves two cyclists simultaneously racing against each other and the clock. The racers begin on opposite sides of the track and pursue each other over a distance of 4 km (3 km for women).

4. Keirin. A track race invented in Japan, the Keirin involves six to nine riders who follow behind a motorized pacer (known as a derny) for about 2 km. During this time, the derny increases speed from 30 kph to 50 kph. With about 600 meters to the finish line, the derny pulls off and the racers compete in a bunch sprint to the end.

5. Scratch Race. A scratch race is a mass start event with fields of 24 riders. Men typically race 15 km and women 10 km. A very simple event, the scratch race is track cycling’s version of the road race. The first rider across the finish line is the winner.

6. Points Race. Like the scratch race, the points race is a mass start event with 24 riders. The winner is the person who accumulates the most points over the course of the race. Points are awarded to the first four cyclists to cross the line at designated sprint points (e.g., every 10 laps) throughout the race. Points are also awarded to anyone who laps the main field. Race length is typically 40 km for men and 25 km for women.

7. Omnium. The omnium is track cycling’s version of the decathlon. It consists of five events including a 200 meter time trial, one kilometer time trial, 5 kilometer scratch race, 3 kilometer pursuit and 15 kilometer points race. Points are awarded at the completion of each race with first place getting 1 point, second place getting 2 points etc. The rider with the fewest points after all five events is the winner.

8. Team Pursuit. The team pursuit is virtually identical to the individual pursuit in terms of how the race is run. The only difference is that instead of having two cyclists in head-to-head competition, there are two teams of four cyclists each (three cyclists per team for the women’s team pursuit). The race covers a distance of 4 km for men and 3 km for women.

9. Madison. The Madison (so named because it originated at Madison Square Garden in New York) is a 50 km team relay race contested by multiple teams of two riders each. During the race, only one cyclist per team is actually racing while his teammate rests on the upper part of the track. When the riders are ready to make an exchange, the resting rider descends and is literally pulled into the action.

10. Team Sprint. The team sprint is a three lap (750 meter) race contested by two teams of three riders each, although only one rider from each team actually finishes the race. From a standing start, each team forms a pace line. After the first lap, the lead rider drops off. After the second lap, the next rider pulls off and the last rider on each team sprints alone to the finish. The team with the fastest time wins.