Like many folks, I’ve spent much of the last two weeks glued to the Olympic coverage. And like many, I’m enjoying sports I don’t get to see all that often. While road cycling, men and women, open road and time trial, all ended pretty early, there were plenty more events throughout the games.
Track cycling is probably the least known of cycling events here in the US. While mountain biking had it’s heyday in the mid and late ’90s, it remains popular. BMX began in the US and still has loyal legions. Track cycling, while once extremely popular here, has become a bit obscure. Even with a velodrome, or cycling track, at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, track cycling is still working to gain a foothold with the masses.
First, let me explain a bit. Track cycling is very spectator friendly. As the name implies, races are performed on a track. Olympic tracks can be as short as 200 yards or as long as 400 meters around with steeply banked turns, sometimes more than 40 degrees. Indoor velodromes tend to have wood surfaces, though the outdoor 7-Eleven velodrome in Los Angeles and the track of the same name at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs have concrete surfaces. The Pringle, as the London Olympics Velodrome has come to be known, is 250 meters around with a wood surface, 43-degree banking in the curves and 12-degrees in the straightaways.
Track races are much shorter affairs, at least as the Olympics are concerned, versus road races or most cross-country mountain bike races. Ten kilometers would be a long race. Some, like the Men’s and Women’s sprint, are as short as 750 meters. The longest Olympic event this time around is the Men’s omnium competition’s points race at 30k.
The other big difference between track and an other cycling is the bikes themselves. They have no breaks and are fixed geared. This means no coasting. If the back wheel is moving, the pedals are moving. This can cause problems for new track cyclists, as they will sometimes try to stop suddenly, resulting in a spectacular launch and crash to the floor. This also results on the smoothest pedalstroke in all of cycling. There are only so many teeth in the big chainring, so a track cyclist must be able to turn the ring faster. If a cyclist can turn the cranks smoothly, it results in a more efficient and faster ride.
This time, there are three individual competitions and two team competitions. The events are the sprint, mentioned earlier, the keirin and the omnium. The two-kilometer keirin is the most chaotic of the events. It starts with six riders lining up behind a small motorcycle. The motorcycle starts out at about 18 mph and slowly accelerates to a bit over 30 mph before leaving the track with about 2.5 laps left. From there, the riders make a made dash to catch the rider in front and sprint to the finish. Cyclists can reach speeds of 45 mph in the sprint.
The omnium is the cycling best-allround competition. It is actually several races in one competition. Riders are time on a flying lap, they take a short while to get to full speed, then are timed over one lap of the track.
Next riders engage in a points race over as long as 30k for men and 20k for women. Every tenth lap, riders sprint for points. Whomever finishes with the most points wins the race.
Next is a shorter elimination race. Riders sprint every two laps and whomever finishes last in the sprint is eliminated.
The individual pursuit pits racers on the opposite side of the track from each other. They really race against the clock, but if you catch your opponent, you are the automatic winner.
A scratch race is a straight race over 16k in which the first across the line wins, and finally the time trial is a short race one rider against the clock.
The rider who can be most consistent throughout these many disciplines wins. This time around, Denmark’s Lassen Norman Hansen won the men’s gold, while Team Great Britain’s Laura Trott edged the USA’s Sarah Hammer, what a great name for this sport, for the women’s Omnium gold.
If any of this sounds like fun, either take a trip down to Colorado Springs to the Olympic Training Center and get involved, or, better yet, look up the Boulder Valley Velodrome in Erie. The Boulder Valley track is under construction and could still use some support. Get on line to bouldervalleyvelodrome.com and make a donation. The track is well on its way and will be a year-round, outdoor facility. It is about the same dimensions as the Olympic track, 250 meters, and not nearly as far away as the track in the Springs.
Have fun, be safe. I’m going riding . . . a fixed gear.