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Velodrome Racing 101



Velodrome racing has been called “NASCAR on Two Wheels”.  Track bikes have one gear and no brakes – the epitome of simplicity – that combined with the blazing speed, gravity-defying turns and spectacular crashes makes Velodrome racing one of the most awe-inspiring spectator sports around.

The Velodrome Track

Velodromes are steeply-banked oval cycling arenas.  The prefix “velo” is short for the French word “velocipede”, the bicycle’s original name.  The purpose of the track’s design is to provide racers a smooth predictable surface on which to maintain the highest speed possible.

The NSC Velodrome is 250 meters long with 43-degree banking in the corners and 15-degree banking in the straightaways.  One of only three outdoor wooden tracks in the US, it is made of 242 miles of ultra-durable African Afzalia wood.  A unique part of the NSC velodrome design is the orientation of the surface boards.  The 4cm X 3cm boards are laid narrow side up so that riders race on the edges of the boards, not the wider surfaces.

All velodromes have lines painted on the track’s surface:
  • The “cote d’azur” or band of blue, marks the tracks inside boundary. Racers may not ride on or below this wide band, except for emergencies or during the slow tactical maneuvering during match sprint competition.
  • The black “measurement line”, as the name implies, is used to measure the distance around the track.
  • The thin red line around the track is the “sprinters line” and it defines the sprint lane between the red line and the blue band. A leading rider in this lane is said to “own the lane” and may only be passed by a rider going over on the right.
  • The uppermost thin blue line is the “stayer’s line” or relief line. It marks the boundary between faster and slower traffic, with the faster riders below the line while the slower “relief” riders are above this line during Madison races.


The Track Bicycle

Track bicycles have no brakes and only one gear. The gear is “fixed” and doesn’t allow the rider to coast. Riders apply backward pressure to the pedals to slow the bike.  The size or development of the gear may be changed according to the rider’s ability or the type of event.  Since the track surface is very smooth, tires can be inflated to very high pressures – often as high as 180 psi.  This enhances a track bicycle’s speed well beyond a typical road bike.






The Races

Scratch Race

The most fundamental race in the velodrome. All riders start at the same place (on scratch). The rider that crosses the finish line first on the final lap wins. Scratch races vary in length from 8 laps and up, and are typically the first event of the evening.

What to watch for:  Look for riders to work together to distance themselves from the pack while their allies try to keep the pack from chasing. Watch for tactical maneuvering for the final sprint at the finish.

Chariot Race

A two lap “drag race” to the finish line from a standing start. Riders qualify to race in a final by competing in preliminary heats of 6-8 riders.  Chariot races are the fastest races in the Velodrome.

What to watch for:  Some riders like to ride from the front, while others prefer to draft off the rider in front and then come around on the last lap.

Points Race

The points race may seem confusing at first glance, but it can be one of the most fun events to watch. Essentially, riders cover distances of 10-40 km, and the rider who accumulates the most points, wins the race.  Points are awarded during sprints every 8-10 laps. The first four finishers in these sprints are awarded 5,3,2 and 1 points respectively.  If a rider laps the field, he or she is awarded 20 points. Any rider that loses a lap on the field has 20 points deducted from his/ her total

What to watch for:  Watch for riders to position themselves before unleashing their sprint in attempting to gain points. Riders will attack alone or with other competitors in an attempt to lap the field. As a rider or riders gain a lap on the field, the lap cards are turned based on the next leading rider on the track. Sprint points are awarded, starting with the leader on the track at the time when the bell is rung.

Keirin Race

The Keirin is a massed start sprint event of 2 km (8 laps) in length. During the first 5 1/2 laps the riders are paced by a “pacer” or motorcycle. The speed starts slowly at 15 mph and gradually accelerates to 28 mph before the “pacer” pulls off the track, leaving the riders to sprint for the finish. Riders often qualify for a final through preliminary heats.  Keirin races are extremely popular in Japan, where they are the object of heavy legalized gambling.

What to watch for:  All the riders have the advantage of drafting as even the lead rider gets a draft from the motorcycle. Watch for riders to lean and bump each other as they vie for the best position or fastest wheel from which to launch their sprint for the finish. Riders may move forward or back, and side to side but they may not pass the rear axel of the motor bike while it is still on the track.

Team Sprint Race

The Team Sprint matches two teams of three sprinters against each other and against the watch. Each rider of a team takes his or her turn leading the group for a lap at maximum effort. After the completion of lap one the lead rider pulls up and out of the race leaving the rest of the team to continue. After the second rider completes his lap at the front he also pulls up and out of the race allowing the third rider to complete the race. Often this race is run through heats advancing to a final. Sometimes it is run as a time trial where the fastest time wins.

What to watch for: A fast, well-coordinated start is important. Riders must get underway as fast as possible. The second and third rider must quickly get positioned closely behind their lead rider in order to gain maximum draft so as to go fast and conserve energy and be as fresh as possible for their own effort at the front. Watch for gaps opening between riders. Compare the effort between teams as they start across the track from each other.

Miss and Out Race

The Miss and Out or “Devil take the hindmost” is an elimination race in which the last rider across the finish line every other lap is withdrawn from the race. The tension builds lap after lap as the riders fight for position at the back of the pack. One by one the field is whittled down to the final three riders who then sprint for first second and third place.

What to watch for: Watch for crowding at the rear of the pack as riders attempt to move forward to avoid elimination at the line. Some riders will purposely ride at the back to “play the devil” by sprinting at the last second to pass the other riders.  Later in the race, the field is smaller but often more tired and the ability to sprint fast is important.


One of the most exciting races to watch on the track, the Madison (so named because it originated in Madison Square Garden) is a race consisting of two-rider teams. The riders are required to switch off during the race by means of an exchange. While one member of the team races his partner slowly circles the track above the blue relief line. When they meet, the racer passes his momentum to his partner via a push or “hand sling” before moving up to the relief line to recover for his next effort. Races may be run over a specified number of laps or over a period time. Often, sprints for points are offered as a means of enlivening the action.

What to watch for: At first this race can appear to be pure mayhem, but with a little attention and practice you will find it fun to follow. Start by following one team ( they will be wearing identical jerseys ). Keep an eye on the one in the race field and keep track of his partner riding slowly at the relief line. Note how and where the relief rider positions himself so as to receive the push or hand sling exchange. Many teams trying to make exchanges in a crowd can appear confusing but after awhile you will see a pattern of position that allows for the exchanges to occur.
Teams often try to gain a lap on the field thereby ensuring that they will complete the race with a lap advantage and be scored ahead of others regardless of their point total. With many teams “jamming” (trying to gain a lap) it is often hard to tell who is leading and who is following. Look for the chief official to occasionally point to the leader as he passes by the judges’ stand to signal to the riders and score-keepers where the head of the race is. Once a rider or team has gained a lap on the field they will be scored ahead of the rest at the finish but the next team or rider pursuing the field will then be considered the “leader on the track”. If more than one team finishes on the same lap then point totals or finish order is used to determine the winner.

Kilometer Time Trial (men) 500 meter Time Trial (women)

Often referred to as the “killermeter” the men’s event is one of the most demanding events on the track. It can be compared to the 400 meter dash in track and field. From a standing start, the cyclist rides as fast as possible for 1 kilometer. Results are easily determined: the fastest time wins. Sponges are placed at the inside edge of the track to prevent competitors from “taking a short cut” through the turns.

What to watch for: Riders are often paired against another rider across the track. You can watch their comparative efforts. A hard fast start is essential as well as the ability to pace oneself so as to go close to all out without over doing it, “hitting the wall” and slowing. The mark of class among kilometer riders is their fast start and ability to hold a tight line to the inside of the track. Less experienced riders may drift up, away from the measurement line thus increasing the distance they must cover. With one –hundredths of a second separating gold from silver, time is precious.

Individual Pursuit

This event covers four kilometers for men, three for women. Two riders start exactly opposite from each other on the track and literally chase or “pursue” each other around the track. A rider can win the race in one of two ways: by either catching his opponent or by recording the faster time. Times are posted when a rider reaches each half lap. The best riders follow a “schedule”, generally announced track-side by their coach. The event may be run with riders qualifying through heats to a final round or as a time trial in which the rider recording the fastest time overall is declared the winner.

What to watch for: This race tests endurance and pacing of the rider’s maximum effort. Watch for a rider to start out slowly, lulling their opponent into a false sense of security, and then come on strong at the end. Some riders will start out fast in an attempt to rattle their opponent and break their confidence, perhaps catching them. Training for this event consists of specialized track training as well as road training. Road racers cross over to this event very well.

Team Pursuit

The Team Pursuit is similar to the Individual Pursuit, except that each team consists of four riders.  The racers ride single file, known as a “pace line”, and take turns leading the team around the track. At each turn the lead rider moves up the embankment to slow down, allowing the other three riders to pass underneath, and then drops down the track to the back of the “pace line”. The lead rider is responsible for setting the pace while the other cyclists work inside the draft to keep their speed while recovering. The winner is determined by the time recorded when the third member of the team crosses the finish line. A team is considered caught, when the third member of one team is passed by the third member of the opposing team.

What to watch for: See that the start is fast and efficient, allowing all riders to get into position behind the leader quickly without extra effort. A smooth steady pace is important as the following riders must ride close to the rider in front for maximum draft and recovery. Precision bike handling is critical when dropping back onto the pace line.

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