How does track racing work? We explain the events…

Track racing can seem confusing – particularly for fans just getting interested – so here’s Cycling Weekly‘s handy guide. If you have not paid attention to track racing before now, this is a perfect chance to get acquainted.

Read on to find out how each race works, what the peculiar rules are and who are the reigning world (Minsk 2013) and Olympic (London 2012) champions. Maybe we’ll even help you understand the Madison…



Matches are contested between two riders who cover three laps of the track. The first rider over the line wins the race, best of three races wins the match. The top 16 riders qualify for the knockout stages with a flying 200-metre time trial. Tactics play a huge part in the sprint racing. Track stands – where the riders come to a standstill in a bid to get their rival to the front to lead out the sprint – are common, as are sudden turns of speed.

2013 Men’s world champion Stefan Botticher (Germany)
2013 Women’s world champion Becky James (Great Britain)

2012 Men’s Olympic champion Jason Kenny (Great Britain)
2012 Women’s Olympic champion Anna Meares (Australia)

Team Sprint

This used to be known as the Olympic Sprint before the name was changed to ease confusion. The team sprint sees a team of three riders race against each other over three laps of the track. The first rider gets the trio out of the start gate and up to speed before peeling off after a lap. The leading rider must complete a lap and swing up in a designated zone 15 metres either side of the finish line. The second rider takes over the pace for the middle lap before the third rider finishes off. The quickest team over the three laps wins. One false start is allowed but the team must get away cleanly at the second attempt. Last year saw the debut of the women’s team sprint, with pairs of competitors racing.

2013 Men’s world champions Rene Anders, Stefan Botticher & Maximiliian Levy (Germany)
2013 Women’s world champions Kristina Vogel & Miriam Welte (Germany)

2012 Men’s Olympic champions Sir Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny & Philip Hindes (Great Britain)
2012 Women’s Olympic champions Kristina Vogel & Miriam Welte (Germany)


This is the one with the motor bike – called a Derny – that paces a field of up to seven riders (though typically six in championship finals) round the track. The Derny leads the field for the first 1,400 metres taking the speed from 30 kilometres per hour up to 50 kilometres per hour (25kph to 40kph for women), before peeling off and leaving the riders to sprint it out. No one is allowed to go in front of the Derny as the riders battle for position before the sprint starts in earnest. Keirin racing is very popular in Japan, as popular as horse racing in Britain.

2013 Men’s world champion Jason Kenny (Great Britain)
2013 Women’s world champion Becky James (Great Britain)

2012 Men’s Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy (Great Britain)
2012 Women’s Olympic champion Victoria Pendleton (Great Britain)
Time Trial

The simplest, purest track race – which makes it all the more baffling why the UCI decided to eliminate it from the Olympic programme when asked to drop an event to make way for BMX. The time trials continue as World Cup and World Championship events but with the sprinters focusing on the sprint and Keirin races – which are Olympic disciplines – instead, it’s lost its lustre. The riders start individually and the quickest rider over one kilometre (men) and 500 metres (women) is the winner.

2013 Men’s world champion Francois Pervis (France)
2013 Women’s world champion Wai Sze Lee (Hong Kong)

2004 Men’s Olympic champion Chris Hoy (Great Britain)
2004 Women’s Olympic champion Anna Meares (Australia)
Event not held since 2004 Olympics, but is part of omnium

Individual pursuit

The men race over 4,000 metres, women over 3,000. In qualifying each rider covers the distance alone and is timed – very much like a time trial. The best finishers are then seeded and take part in a knock-out for the medals, starting on opposite sides of the track. The fastest two riders compete for gold, the third and fourth quickest go for bronze. If one rider catches an other, he or she automatically the winner, otherwise results are decided by times.

2013 Men’s world champion Michael Hepburn (Australia)
2013 Women’s world champion Sarah Hammer (USA)

2008 Men’s Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins (Great Britain)
2008 Women’s Olympic champion Rebecca Romero (Great Britain)
Event not held since 2008 Olympics, but is part of omnium

Team Pursuit

Exactly the same theory as the individual race but with teams of four riders, each sharing the pace-making before swinging up the banking and settling in at the back of the line. The team’s time is taken on the third rider across the line. The women’s team pursuit made its debut as a World Championship event at Manchester in March over 3,000 metres for three riders.

2013 Men’s world champions Glenn O’Shea, Alexander Edmondson, Michael Hepburn & Alexander Morgan (Australia)
2013 Women’s world champions Dani King, Laura Trott & Elinor Barker (Great Britain)

2012 Men’s Olympic champions Ed Clancy, Steven Burke, Geraint Thomas & Peter Kennaugh (Great Britain)
2012 Women’s Olympic champions Joanna Rowsell, Laura Trott & Dani King (Great Britain)

Points race

This is a mass-start race. Qualifying tends to be over 15km, finals usually 30km or 40km. Intermediate sprints are held every ten laps, with five, three, two and one point on offer to the first four over the line. If a rider laps the field he gains 20 points. The rider with the most points at the end of the race wins with the finishing sprint only counting if riders are tied on points. Speed, concentration, endurance and tactical sense are all important for a good points race rider.

2013 Men’s world champion Simon Yates (Great Britain)
2013 Women’s world champion Jarmila Machacova (Czech Republic)

2008 Men’s Olympic champion Joan Llaneras (Spain)
2008 Women’s Olympic champion Marianne Vos (Netherlands)
Event not held since 2008 Olympics, but is part of omnium

Scratch race

Introduced to the World Cup and World Championship programmes in 2002, it’s not an Olympic race but it is an exciting, mass-start all-out race. If no riders gain a lap during the race it comes down to a bunch sprint. The men race over 15km the women over 10km.

2013 Men’s world champion Martyn Irvine (Ireland)
2013 Women’s world champion Katarzyna Pawlowska (Poland)

2008 Men’s Olympic champion NA
2008 Women’s Olympic champion NA
Not an Olympic event, but is part of omnium

Madison: team-mates use a hand sling to change over

The most complex but absorbing race on the track. Named after Madison Square Garden in New York where it was first made popular. Teams of two riders compete together to score points at the intermediate sprints, held every 20 laps, (5pts, 3pts, 2pts, 1pt to the first four), and gain laps by attacking. One member of each team is ‘in the race’ at any one time, while the other circles at the top of the banking. The riders switch over to give each other a rest – or perhaps to put the better sprinter in as a sprint lap approaches. The rider must touch his team-mate to change over but usually this is done with a hand-sling to propel the other into the race. The team that covers the most laps wins, with points only counting to separate riders who finish on the same number of laps.

2013 Men’s world champions Vivian Bresse, Morgan Kneisky (France)
2013 Women’s world champions NA

2008 Men’s Olympic champions Juan Esteban Curuchet & Walter Fernando Perez (Argentina)
2008 Women’s Olympic champions NA
Event not held since 2008 Olympics


The Omnium is a multi-discipline event introduced in the 2010 World Championships. The omnium consists of six disciplines: a 250-metre time flying lap time trial, a 30km points race (20km for women), a 4km pursuit (3km for women), a 15km scratch race (10km for women) and a kilometre time trial (500 metres for women) and an elimination race. Each rider’s placings in the separate events are added together and the rider with the lowest total wins. The omnium was introduced for the first time in an Olympic Games at London 2012.

2013 Men’s world champion Aaron Gate (New Zealand)
2013 Women’s world champion Sarah Hammer (USA)

2012 Men’s Olympic champion Lasse Hansen (Denmark)
2012 Women’s Olympic champion Laura Trott (Great Britain)

CW guide to… the Ghent 6