A bluffer's guide to ... Track Cycling
Secret to the velodrome sprint? Moving at a snail’s pace
China’s men’s training at the velodrome in Rio. Photograph: Matthew Childs/Reuters
It reminds me of trying to cycle at high speed in a pudding bowl, and a big one at that.
A modern velodrome features steeply banked oval tracks, consisting of two 180-degree circular bends connected by two straights. The straights transition to the circular turn through a moderate easement curve. One lap of the track is 250 metres.
Is track cycling a relatively new sport?
No, the first indoor cycling tracks were built in the mid-to-late 19th century. Those tracks were sometime custom-built for cycling but generally accommodated other sports, particularly athletics. A classic example would be Racing 92s, home ground Stade Yves-du-Manoir de Colombes in Paris, which, amongst other things including Olympic events, rugby and soccer internationals, also staged the football match in the film Escape to Victory.
Is it true that the bikes have no brakes?
Yes. And no gears, derailleurs or shifters. The only moving part on a bicycle is the drivetrain, which includes the cranks, pedals, the single chainring, one cog fixed to the hub, and a chain. Oh, and you can’t freewheel. Cyclists can reach top speeds of just over 70 km/h.
What’s the story with the race for people called Ciaran or Kieran and who gets to ride the motorbike?
The Keirin is a sprint race, consisting of eight laps of the track. The riders follow a motorbike (called a Derney) that travels at a sedentary 25km/h before building up gradually to 50km/h; with about 600 metres to go, the motorbike pulls off the track and the cyclists sprint to the finish.
Is there also a race for people who are good at Latin?
The Omnium (it translates as ‘of all’, or ‘belonging to all’) has replaced the individual pursuit, the points race and the Madison. It includes a scratch race, individual pursuit, elimination race, time trial, flying lap and points race. A cyclist must complete all the disciplines.
What about the slow bicycle race, you know the one where the cyclists try to play hide and seek, going up and down the banks, before coming to a stop and balancing on their pedals?
Perversely these are the sprint races, where cyclists try to force their opponents up high on the track in an attempt to get their rivals to make the first move.
Some even bring their bicycles to a complete stop, balanced upright with both feet still on the pedals and both hands on the handle bars (a track stand), in an attempt to make the other rider take the lead.
Track stands can only be held for a certain time and you cannot go backwards in a track stand by rocking backwards and forwards as the judge will be following the trackstand from the bottom of the track.
Top spoofing factoid: The sprinter's line (a red line 85cm up track) defines the sprinter's lane; once the sprint is initiated, riders may not drop into the sprinter's lane or cross out of the lane unless they ave a clear lead over their opponent.
Do say: It requires tremendous concerntration and trust as well as the physical qualitities to ride in the team pursuit.
Don't say: My ambition would be to ride the Derney.