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Introduction to Track Cycling Part 2
5 May, 2007

Types of Races on the Track



There are a wide variety of races on the track – something for everyone!!  In the interests of safety, each track has a rider limit – the maximum number of riders allowed on the track at one time – on an Olympic standard track this is usually 24 to 26 riders.


At World Cup, there is a set program of races for sprinters and endurance riders including the following:




Scratch Race:  This is (arguably) the most simple of track races, where everyone starts together – some off the fence, some from the bottom of the track, depending on the number of competitors, and race over a set distance, with the first to cross the line winning the race.  Obviously, all sorts of tactics can come into play here with the non-sprinters trying to get a lap up, and teams working together to provide lead outs for their sprinters.  Greg Henderson won the World Scratch Race Championships in 2004 in Melbourne.  The Scratch race is not an Olympic event.

Madison:  This race perhaps the most confusing of track races!  It is named after Madison Square Garden in New York where the event was first held.

Two man teams contest the event (usually 40kms long) but only one rider from each team is allowed in the race at a given time, meaning that teams must take it in turn each lap (or more) to have a rider ‘racing’, while the other rider circles around waiting for his teammate.  The ‘racing’ rider then joins hands and imparts his momentum to the ‘resting’ rider who is then ‘racing’. Changeovers can be dodgy, especially when there are inexperienced riders on the track, as riders need to be able to predict what the other teams are doing and when and where they are changing. 

To win the madison, the team must score points by sprinting every 20 laps for bonuses (5, 3, 2, 1 points) or they can try to gain a lap on the field and have 20 points added to their score.

The best recent demonstration of ‘how to ride a Madison’ was at the New Zealand Track Championships in Invercargill where former Olympians Glen Thomson and Tim Carswell took out the gold medal.  These two riders showed how outstanding track craft and experience can win a race ahead of fitness and strength.  Not to mention the ‘hard man’ factor since Carswell rode the latter part of the race with a broken wrist following a mid-race bingle.

Points Race:

Points races are run for both men and women and are scored similarly to the Madison, based on an accumulation of points from sprints held usually every 10th lap (5, 3, 2, 1 points up for grabs) and an extra 20 points added for lapping the field. If a rider drops back a lap, they will have 20 points deducted from their total, so you sometimes see riders with negative scores.  Catherine Cheatley recently won a bronze medal in the Women’s 25km Points race at the World Championships in Spain.


Individual Pursuit

The Individual Pursuit is run over 4k for men and 3k for women and involves two riders starting on opposite sides of the track to initially (in the heats) try and set the fastest time in order to qualify themselves for the semi-final and finals (these days there is usually just one qualifying round with the fastest two riding off for gold and silver and the next two fastest for bronze).  In the final the winner is the person who beats their opponent, regardless of time.  If one rider catches the other then the race is over.  An important rule to remember is that if you are passed in a qualifying round you cannot then pass that rider (even if you get a second wind) and you cannot draft from them as both these instances will result in disqualification.

Explosiveness is not critical, but the ability to ride consistently fast without blowing up too early is very important.  NZ has a proud tradition of Individual Pursuiting, thanks primarily to riders such as Gary Anderson and Sarah Ulmer.

Teams Pursuit

This has historically been a men’s only event, but that is changing from this year onward with the introduction of a 3 woman Teams Pursuit in the World Cup Series.  The Teams Pursuit is about precision and speed.  Two 4 person teams start on opposite sides of the track (as in the Individual Pursuit) and try to set the fastest time over the distance (usually 4kms).  The time is taken on the 3rd rider to cross the line. 

Riders follow each other a few centimeters apart to ensure maximum protection from the wind, and each rider has a turn on the front – ideally turns of even distance are taken but there are usually stronger riders in each team who take longer turns and not so strong riders who may take half lap turns – whatever results in the fastest time! A well ridden teams pursuit is poetry to watch, but it is much harder than it looks!  Top world class times these days are around the 4 minute mark, with Great Britain currently leading the way after winning the recent World Championships in Spain.  New Zealand has a long history of teams pursuiting with the track team traditionally centered around the riders in this event.


Sprint Events

Match Sprint

The sprint event begins with an individual qualifying ride run over 200m – riders get a couple of laps to build up to speed and are then timed over the final 200m with the fastest 8 to 16 riders (depending on numbers) going through to the next round. The next round involves one on one match ups usually over 1000m with the fastest qualifier riding the slowest qualifier and so on.  Riders are held for the start and the released to begin their game of cat and mouse.  They typically eye each other off over the first few laps and try to out-maneuver each other to allow themselves the best position before unleashing to be the first to cross on the final lap.  Only the last 200m is timed.  While explosive and high-end speed are essential, tactics are the key to winning the sprint.  Most riders are not keen  to begin their sprint as soon as they are released at the start as this will waste too much energy – particularly if their opponent is sitting on their wheel! So the first few laps are typically slow.  One important rule in sprinting is the possession of the ‘sprinters lane’ – which is lane marked by a red line 80cm above the black pole line which runs round the base of the track.  In the final 200m, who-ever is positioned in the sprinters lane can not be forced out by another rider.  This is a commonly broken rule which results in the reversal of sprint results/disqualification of riders.


1000 m Time Trial – The ‘Kilo’

This incredibly painful race is an individual event run over 1 kilometre, usually using all the aero gear used in an Individual Pursuit, although some riders prefer to use their sprinting bars. Good Kilo riders have an explosive start and are able to hold high end speed from start to finish.  The main enemy in a Kilo is the lactic acid build up which takes over every muscle in your body by the end of the four laps!

The current world record is a blistering 58.875 seconds held by Arnaud Tournant of France.

Promising young Southlander Eddie Dawkins rode a fast 1.03 at the recent NZ track champs to become the fastest ever Kiwi rider over the distance.

The Kilo is no longer an Olympic event.


500 m Time Trial (Women)

The women’s version of the Kilo is held over 500m, with Australian Anna Meares the Queen of this event winning the Olympic Gold Medal in Athens in 2004, becoming the first woman to ride under 34 seconds, then breaking this again at the World Track Championships in Spain whilst taking out the World Title.


Olympic Sprint

For the men this is a three person time trial held over three laps of the velodrome, whereas for the women the event is held over two laps, in each instance the teams start on opposite sides of the track. After the end of each lap, the leading rider pulls off completely, leaving the next to battle with the wind for their lap before pulling out for the final rider (in the case of the men!). Therefore, the first rider has to do one lap, the second, two laps, and the last rider three laps. Riders with the best endurance usually ride last, whereas the more explosive riders take the first lap.



The keirin is a motorpaced event which originated in Japan.  It is still incredibly popular there and massive amounts of money are best on races involving professional keirin riders.

6-8 riders are on the track at a time, with the derny motorbike leading the riders for the first few laps, building the speed from 25 km/h up to 45 km/h. During this time, riders jostle each other for the best position, although the recent change in rules means this event is no longer as rough as it used to be. With two and a half laps to go, the derny pulls off and the sprint is on to the end, although being in the lead once the bike pulls off is not necessarily ideal as there two and half laps is a long time to be in the wind.  The Keirin is another race for the very fast and the technically savvy.




Click to enlarge...

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