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Track Cycling 101: World championship events and their champions

  • By Anthony Tan
  • Published Apr. 3, 2012
  • Updated Apr. 9, 2012 at 10:14 AM EDT
The Aussie Madison team of Meyer and Howard on an exchange at the 2011 world championships. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

MELBOURNE, Australia (VN) – This week in Melbourne, 10 different events will be contested at the 2012 UCI Track Cycling World Championships. All but one will be contested by both men and women, the exception being the madison. At the Olympic Games in London, however, gender parity will exist for the first time with the men and women riding five events each on the track, consisting of three sprint events and two endurance events.

Olympic Events

Sprint (or match sprint): A three-lap race between two riders who generally wear bucket-shaped helmets and dark visors. Seeding is done by way of a flying 200-meter sprint. Starting off alongside each other, riders normally spend two laps sizing each other up before the bell lap sees them go hell-for-leather in a mad dash to the line. From quarterfinals on, riders compete for the best of three heats.

Current world champs: Jason Kenny* (Great Britain) and Anna Meares (Australia); current Olympic champs: Chris Hoy (Great Britain) and Victoria Pendleton (Great Britain).

Team sprint (or Olympic sprint): A three-lap, three-man team time trial (for the women, two laps and two persons). Teams start from opposite sides of track, with one rider peeling away and up the banking at the end of each lap. The most explosive rider leads first, with the strongest usually last. The team with the fastest time is declared the winner.

World champs: Germany* (men) and Australia (women); Olympic champs: Great Britain (men), women n/a (no event at 2008 Games).

Keirin: Paced by a pedal-assisted motorbike (or derny) for the first 1,400 meters, the Keirin is a mass-start race between six riders over eight laps (using a standard 250m velodrome).

The derny gradually builds up speed until 600 meters (2½ laps) to go, dropping off at around 50km/h. Riders jockey for position and the first across the line is the winner. Bumping, shoving, elbows, head-butts are all de rigueur. Qualifying for the final is through knockout rounds; eliminated cyclists may get the opportunity to try again via repechages.

World champs: Shane Perkins (Australia) and Anna Meares (Australia); Olympic champs: Chris Hoy (Great Britain), women n/a (no event at 2008 Games).

Team pursuit: Teams of four men/three women line up on opposite sides of track to race a distance of 4000/3000m (16 laps for men, 12 laps for women). Riding in close formation, riders share the workload, periodically peeling up and dropping behind again, with time calculated after the third man/second woman crosses the line (teams can drop one rider). A qualifying time trial creates seeding for a knockout round, followed by finals to decide the medals.

World champs: Australia (men) and Great Britain (women); Olympic champs: Great Britain (men), women n/a (no event at 2008 Games).

Omnium: The equivalent of the decathlon in track cycling, six events are contested over two consecutive days: a flying 250m lap against the clock; a points race over 30km/20km (men/women); an elimination race, where the last rider over the line every two laps is eliminated until only two remain to contest the final sprint; an individual pursuit over 4000m/3000m (men/women); a scratch race; and a 1km time trial (500m for women).

In all six events, points are awarded in reverse order: one point to the winner, two points to second, and so on. The lowest aggregate total (fewest points) wins. Riders must complete all six events. The UCI edicts say competitors must come from the team pursuit squad.

World champs: Michael Freiburg (Australia) and Tara Whitten (Canada); Olympic champs: n/a (no event for men or women at 2008 Games).

Non-Olympic Events

Time trial: A timed 1km/500m (men/women) sprint, where riders begin locked in a starting gate and race 4/2 laps. Part of Olympic program until 2004.

World champs: Stefan Nimke (Germany) and Olga Panarina (Belarus)

Individual pursuit: Starting on opposite sides of the track, riders race a distance of 4km (3km for women). A qualifying round determines seeding for finals; the fastest two qualify for the gold medal race and next two fastest contest the bronze-medal final. Should a rider be caught in the finals, the pursuer is declared the winner. Part of Olympic program until 2008.

World champs: Jack Bobridge (Australia) and Sarah Hammer (United States)

Points race: An endurance event over 30km (20km for women) where points are awarded for intermediate sprints and lapping the field. Sprints are held every 10 laps and at the finish, where points (5, 3, 2, 1) are awarded to first four across line; 20 points go to any rider who laps main field. If two or more riders end the race on equal points, places in the final sprint determine winner. Part of Olympic program until 2008.

World champs: Edwin Ávila (Colombia) and Tatsiana Sharakova (Belarus)

Scratch race: Like a points race, but without sprints or points – first across the line wins. Held over 15km for men and 10km for women.

World champs: Kwok Ho Ting (Hong Kong) and Marianne Vos (Netherlands)

Madison: A men-only event over 50km (200 laps) and the staple of European Six-Day racing, named after New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Racing in pairs and conducted in “tag-team” format, riders take turns to share the workload, hand-slinging their partner back into the race while the other rests at top of the banking. Turns do not have to be done evenly. Sprints are held every 20 laps with points (5, 3, 2, 1) awarded to first four across line. The pair with the most laps completed is declared winner; if even laps then placing determined by points won, and if even on laps and points, officials revert to the final sprint. Part of Olympic program until 2008.

World champs: Leigh Howard and Cameron Meyer (Australia)

* Frenchman Grégory Baugé won the individual sprint title at the 2011 track world championships in Apeldoorn and was part of the winning team sprint trio at the same meet. Baugé, however, failed to provide his whereabouts to UCI anti-doping authorities on three separate occasions, leading to a retroactive one-year ban starting on Decemeber 23, 2010 and both titles were stripped from official records. The sprint and team sprint crowns were retrospectively awarded to Jason Kenny of Great Britain and Germany, respectively.


Realizing life in advertising was nothing like Mad Men and buoyed by the Olympic Games in his Australian hometown of Sydney, Anthony Tan turned his back on a lucrative copywriting career in 2000 in pursuit of something more cerebral. Combining wordsmithing with his experiences as an A-Grade club racer and an underwhelming season competing in Europe, a career as a cycling scribe beckoned… More than a dozen Grand Tours and countless Classics later, it’s where he still is today. He has been a contributor to VeloNews since 2006. In 2010, he won Cycling Australia’s media award for best story. Follow him on Twitter: @anthony_tan

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