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What is Track Cycling?

By: Angelina Palermo  June 01, 2020

With so many cycling disciplines and so many more forms of racing in each discipline, things can get a bit confusing, especially with Track racing. Learn more about how each race works and get ready to watch our teams compete at the Tokyo Olympic Games!

One of the most spectator-friendly disciplines of competitive cycling, track racing seems to have something for everybody. A plethora of events make track cycling an interesting mix of sprint and endurance events in which athletes or teams compete in individual or mass-start races. Contested on a velodrome, track events offer non-stop action and some of the most impressive and exhilarating moments in cycling. Each track cycling event is a unique competition that relies on the strength, power, speed, endurance, strategy and tactics of its competitors to determine a winner.

Olympic Events

At the Olympic Games, both men and women will contest six different track cycling events – the Sprint, the Keirin, the Madison, the Team Sprint, the Team Pursuit, and the Omnium.

Sprint

The Sprint is one of most exciting and elemental events on the track. It’s about pure speed over a short distance. The winner of this event is usually considered the fastest man on a bike across all disciplines of cycling.

In the Sprint, riders will first compete in a 200-meter time trial to determine seed times. The fastest 18 riders from the 200-meter qualifying round will advance to the 1/16 finals. In the 1/16 finals, riders will compete against each other in a head-to-head, three-lap, single-elimination format based on seed times. In the 1/16 finals, the number-one seed will face the number-18 seed, the number-two seed will face the number-17 seed and so on.

The winner of each heat in the 1/16 finals will automatically advance to the 1/8 finals. The nine losers will be sent to a “repechage” round and be given one more chance at advancing to the next round. Each repechage will feature three riders. The winner of each repechage heat will advance to the 1/8 finals.

With 12 riders still in the mix, another round of single-elimination, head-to-head match-ups occur. The six winners move on to the quarterfinals, while the six losers again head to a repechage round. Following two more three-man repechage heats in which only the winner advances, the field is now pared down to eight riders.

In the quarterfinals, the head-to-head match-ups now take on a best-of-three format. Riders must win two of three battles against their opponent to advance to the semifinals. Once a rider is eliminated in this round, there is no repechage to get back into the competition.

In the semifinals, the final four riders again compete in a best-of-three format against their assigned opponent in order to advance to the medal rounds. The winner of each semifinal advances to the gold-medal final, while the loser of each semifinal squares off for the bronze medal – both in another best-of-three format.

To determine additional placings, the four riders eliminated in the quarterfinals will race one four-man heat to determine fifth through eighth places. The four riders who were eliminated in the repechage following the 1/8 finals will square off against each other in one race to determine ninth through 12th.

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Keirin

Another sprint-oriented track cycling event, the Keirin pits riders against each other in mass sprints after initially being paced by a motorized bike called a “derny”. The pacer will begin at about 30 kilometers per hour and gradually increase the speed to over 50 kilometers per hour. With 600 meters remaining, the derny pulls off the track and leaves the competitors to battle it out for a massive sprint to the finish.

A typical field of 28 riders is first organized into four seven-man heats for the first round of competition. The fastest two riders from each heat automatically advance to the second round, while the remaining 20 riders are sent to a repechage round. In the ensuing repechage, riders are organized into four five-man heats and given a second chance at advancing to the second round. Here, only the winner of each heat advances.

Next, the eight riders who originally advanced, plus the four repechage winners are organized into a pair of six-man heats for the second round. The top-three finishers in each second-round heat advance to the finals while the last three in each heat are sent to the consolation round to determine seventh through 12th place.

In the finals, a field of six riders then battles it out, shoulder-to-shoulder, in a furious sprint for the medals.

Madison

The Madison is another team track cycling event and is somewhat similar to the Points Race. In this mass-start event, 18 two-man teams race over a distance of 50 kilometers (200 laps). The winner is determined by scoring the most points of the teams who cover the greatest distance.

Intermediate sprints are contested every 20 laps and are scored in the same way as the Points Race (1st place = 5 points, 2nd place = 3 points, 3rd place = 2 points and 4th place = 1 point).

During the Madison, only one rider on each team is actively competing while the other rests at the top of the track. Once a rider is ready to make an exchange, his teammate descends from the top of the track and is literally slung into the race. The constant exchanges from rider to rider allow the pace to remain considerably higher because of the brief rest periods involved. Typically, the better sprinter of the pair is slung into action just before an intermediate sprint while the better endurance rider attempts to cover as many laps as possible.

At the end of the race, only the teams who covered the most laps are eligible to win. Of the teams who covered the most laps throughout the race, the pair who accumulated the most points is declared the winner.

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Team Sprint

The Team Sprint is a test of speed and teamwork as three-man teams work together to post the fastest time over 750 meters.

A qualifying round first determines the fastest eight teams which will advance to the first round. Based on its qualifying times, teams are seeded and then matched against each other for the first round. The top-seeded team is matched against the eighth-fastest qualifier, the number-two seed is matched against the seventh-fastest and so on.

In the track cycling Team Sprint, three riders start each race, but only one finishes. The lead rider sets the pace for the first 250 meters then pulls off. After 500 meters, the second rider leaves the track while the anchor leg sprints it out for the final lap after drafting off his teammates for the first two laps.

After the completion of the first round, the fastest two winners advance to the gold-medal final while the two other round-one winners advance to the bronze medal match.

Team Pursuit

The track cycling Team Pursuit is run with teams of four riders who work together to achieve the fastest time. The competition begins with a 4-kilometer (16-lap) qualifying round. The fastest eight teams advance to the first round and are seeded accordingly as the number-one seed is matched against the number-eight seed, the number-two seed is paired against the number-seven seed and so on.

In round one, teams start on opposite sides of the track and pursue each other over a distance of four kilometers. The two winners with the fastest times advance to the gold-medal final, while the other two winners advance to the bronze-medal final. Starting on opposite sides of the track, teams compete against the clock and each other in the finals. The winner of the finals is determined by either recording the fastest time or catching the opposing team.

Because results are timed to the hundredth of a second in the individual pursuit, here you will see some of the most aerodynamic and technologically-advanced equipment being used.

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Omnium

Best described as the decathlon of track cycling, the omnium event strings together several events to award a best all-around rider. At the Olympics, the events included in the overall omnium are Scratch, Tempo, Elimination, and Points races. Following the completion of each event, a rider is assigned a point value based on where he placed in that event (a first-place finish is worth one point, second-place finish is worth two points and so on). After all four events, the rider with the lowest cumulative point total is declared the winner.

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Non-Olympic Events

Several events in track cycling are contested at either the UCI World Championships or on the UCI World Cup circuit, that aren’t Olympic events. Following the 2004 Athens Olympics, the UCI announced that the men’s 1-Kilometer Time Trial and the women’s 500-Meter Time Trial would be eliminated from the Olympic program to make room for cycling’s newest addition – BMX Racing.

Individual Pursuit

The Individual Pursuit is a relatively short endurance track cycling event that pits riders against both the clock and each other. The competition begins with a 4-kilometer (16-lap) qualifying round. The fastest eight riders advance to the first round and are seeded accordingly as the number-one seed is matched against the number-eight seed, the number-two seed is paired against the number-seven seed and so on.

In round one, riders start on opposite sides of the track and pursue each other over a distance of four kilometers. The two winners with the fastest times advance to the gold-medal final, while the other two winners advance to the bronze-medal final.

Again starting on opposite sides of the track, riders compete against the clock and each other in the finals. The winner of the finals is determined by either recording the fastest time or catching the opponent.

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Points Race

The Points Race is a mass-start event which typically features 24 riders. The winner is the rider who accumulates the most points throughout the contest. In this event, men will compete over a distance of 40 kilometers (160 laps). Intermediate sprints occur every 10 laps as riders sprint for the finish line to earn points. Points in intermediate sprints are awarded to the first four riders across the line (1st place = 5 points, 2nd place = 3 points, 3rd place = 2 points and 4th place = 1 point). Any rider or group or riders that lap the main field is awarded 20 points. Any rider or group of riders that is lapped by the main field loses 20 points. In the event of a tie, the rider who placed highest in the race’s final sprint is given the advantage.

Scratch Race

The simplest form of mass-start racing, fields of 24 riders race over a pre-determined distance. Men will contest 15 kilometers and women 10. The first rider across the finish line is declared the winner.

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Men’s 1-Kilometer Time Trial

One of the simplest track events, riders start from a standstill and complete four laps of the track. The rider with the fastest time over the one-kilometer distance is declared the winner.

500-Meter Time Trial

The women’s counterpart to the men’s 1-Kilometer Time Trial, the 500-Meter Time Trial features women contesting two laps of a 250-meter track beginning from a standstill. The women who records the fastest time over a distance of 500 meters is declared the winner.

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