What's Cool In Road Cycling

The PEZ Track Primer

The world track championships are underway on the rapid Bordeaux velodrome in France this week, and although most attention is on the upcoming Ardennes classics, we offer this handy PEZ-guide to the various events. To the untrained eye, all those roundy-round races may seem the same, but you’ll be amazed at what can be done on a high banked oval…

The summer tracks no longer buzz like they used to, unlike those winter Sixes where it’s still ‘standing room only’ much of the time. Most young riders want to emulate Tom Boonen and Filippo Pozzato; and who can blame them?

But the Worlds are special, the fastest bicycle riders on the planet jousting for those magical rainbow bands. There are nine men’s titles on offer and armed with the PEZ track primer, no one will get the better of you when it comes to those all-important stats, dude!

Keep It Simple Stupid!
The face of track racing changed forever in 1993 when the racing went open; there is no now longer a separation between professionals and amateurs.

The pursuit distance was set at 4 kilometres (pros were 5 k previously and amateurs 4 k) with eighth and quarter finals ditched. The sprint championships were streamlined with a time trial qualifying for the sprint replacing the endless heats and repechages that used to drag on for days; the tandem and motor-paced disappeared altogether. The reigning world champions we list have to be viewed in the context that the 2005 Worlds came only months after the 2004 Olympics, consequently many big names were happy to sit out the Worlds and rest on their Olympic laurels.

How It Works: A truly exciting event where riders go mano a mano, over 3 laps. The first two laps are typically slow, with each rider trying to maneuver the other into the strategically weaker lead position. It’s common to see inch along the track at walking pace, sometimes with both riders stopped dead flat doing ‘trackstands’ (where’d you think the expression came from…?) on the high bank, trying to force the other through. Once the bell lap begins though, it’s balls out big gear stomping at 65kph and damn cool to watch.

First held in 1893 (amateur), the man with the most titles is Koichi Nakano (pro, Japan) who won ten titles straight between 1977 and 1986. Some would say that he was lucky to be riding in an era when the opposition was not the best, but even so his consistency was remarkable. He was a huge winner on his home Keirin circuit and his title preparations and defences used to cost him a lot of yen. World record is a jaw-dropping 9.865 in Bogotб, Colombia by the big Canadian (with hair to match) – Curt Harnett in 1995. Pez predicts that current champion Rene Wolff (Germany) will not successfully defend his title and the podium will be topped by Holland’s Theo Bos.

How It Works: Three riders line up on opposite sides of the track, when the gun goes they go like hell, each rider does a lap and swings off, the last lap is at warp speed and the first rider to cross their line at the end of the three laps wins, no tactics in this one!

A new and very exciting addition to the programme in 1995, nation with the most titles is France with 6 of the 11 held so far; however GB are reigning champions and have made the podium for the last 7 years. At the recent Commonwealth Games, Scotland won from England, both with world class times, with a pool of 6 guys at this level it’s hard to look any further for the winner and Pez predicts that GB will retain their title.

How It Works: The kilo isn’t rocket science – a BIG guy [this one is down to horse power] on a track bike, 1,000 metres from a standing start, the watch starts when his front wheel crosses the timing strip, around one minute later he’s wasted and got a medal or he’s wasted and goes back to the drawing board.

First held in 1966 (amateur), ‘Kilo King’ is the still-active Frenchman, Arnaud Tournant with 4 gold medals, 2 silvers and a bronze; in the 70s and 80s big East German Lothar Thoms took 4 titles plus a silver and a bronze. The world record (unsurprisingly) belongs to Monsieur Tournand with a spectacular 58.875 at high altitude La Paz, Bolivia in 2001.
Reigning champion is Theo Bos of Holland, this is a hard race to call but Pez plumps for Commonwealth champ Ben Kersten to take the title.

How It Works: The riders line up behind a small motor bike and follow it in line astern, the speed builds up until with a couple of laps to go the motor bike swings-off; from there to the line it’s “Spartacus on wheels”, the rules are not as loose as they used to be but suffice to say that I’ve seen medallists finish on foot, dragging the remains of a couple of grand’s worth of carbon behind them, first guy who has survived and crosses the line wins.
First held in 1980 (pro), two men have managed to defy death and take 3 titles – Michael Hubner (Germany) and Frederic Magne (France), both spectacular guys to watch but observing from trackside theses days.

Again, a very hard one to call, Teun Mulder (Holland) currently wears the rainbow bands but Pez predicts that Jamie Staff (GB) will be so embarrassed by his novice’s performance at the Commonwealth Games that he will take back the title he won in 2004, watch out for the Aussies though, who excel at the rough and tumble of Keirin.

How It Works: Simple deal, the riders start on opposite sides of the track, first back to their line after 4 kilometres wins; qualifying times are vital, if you aren’t in the first four at qualifying then you can’t win a medal.

First held in 1946 (pro & amateur), top man is Hugh Porter (GB) with 4 pro titles over 5,000 metres and never off the podium for 7 years straight between 1967 and 1973. The world record still belongs to Chris Boardman (GB) with 4.11.114 at Manchester in 1996; but that was in the ‘superman’ position however. Current champion is German six-day star Robert Bartko.

The present UCI calendar structure means that commercial constraints rob us of seeing men like Brad McGee (Australia) and Bradley Wiggins (GB); with the classics getting bigger and bigger every year, sponsors simply don’t value track results.
Pez predicts? – Big Bob Hayles (GB), maybe his last chance and he wants a big title bad.

How It Works: Same deal as the individual, over 4 kilometres but with four riders who each do a lap on the front, then swing-up and drop back into the slipstream at the tail of the line; the best teams are a joy to behold with precision timing and stellar speeds, have a think about that world record time dude!

First held in 1962 (amateur), Germany have snaffled 11 of those titles but Australia and GB have been recent top guns; world record is 3.56.610 at Athens by Australia in 2004 – wow! World and Commonwealth champions are GB; Pez predicts that they will successfully defend – the young Aussies want road glory too much.

How It Works: A recent rule change means that points are awarded for lapping the bunch, so there’s no point in a rider taking a lap then trying to defend it, because rivals can win the points back in the lap sprints which happen at regular intervals – the rider with the most points at the end wins. First held in 1977 (amateur), there’s no doubt about top man here, Swiss pro Urs Freuler won 8 between 1981 and 1989, the story goes however that he had half of the field on his payroll so maybe it’s not so surprising.

World champ is Volodymyr Rybin (Ukraine) and this is a real tough one to predict – Pez goes for Kiwi Hayden Roulston to get a medal at least.

How It Works: Teams of two riders are on the boards, one is racing and one is ‘resting’ – riding around the track above the blue line waiting on their partner catching them up again – at which times the racing rider uses a ‘hand-sling’ to catapult his resting partner back up to racing speed and into the fray. The aim is to take a lap on the other teams, but if teams are on the same lap then it’s decided by the points which are awarded for sprints during the race; last year Cavendish and Hayles had NO points but they had that all important lap gain.

Added to the World Champs in 1995, Italy, France and Spain have all won two each and current champs are GB with Bob Hayles and Mark Cavendish who stunned Dutch six-day stars Robert Slippens and Danny Stam with a late lap-gain to take the title last year.
Pez predicts Michael Morkov and Alex Rasmussen of Denmark to take those hoops home.

How It Works: The Scratch is a straight forward bunch race with first past the post as the winner. Heats are to cut the numbers down and qualify for the final.
Only on the programme since 2002, Swiss six day star Franco Marvulli won the first two, Alex Rasmussen of Denmark defends and Pez predicts that if he’s still there at the death every one else is racing for second.

OK – you’re an expert now, go get involved in the racing!

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