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Track World Championships events guide

Josh Cunningham
3 Mar 2016

Know your keirin from your madison; your points from your omnium? Here's our rundown of events at the Track World Championships in London

Hosting its first major championships since the London Olympics in 2012, the Lea Valley Velodrome this week plays host to the UCI Track Cycling World Championships. Coming in an Olympic year, before Rio 2016, there is even greater significance to the championships as everybody tries to gauge how things are shaping up before the summer.

So whether you're heading to the velodrome yourself before the championships close on Sunday, or whether you're planning on watching from home, make sure you're up to speed with the different events on show with our guide.

Team Pursuit

Teams are comprised of four riders, with two teams starting on opposite sides of the track. They begin together, and effectively 'pursue' the other team as they complete the 4km distance - which sometimes results in one team catching the other. Times are taken from the third rider to cross the finish line, which means that the fourth rider will often pull a big turn in the closing stages, before the decisive three complete the distance. 

3:51.659 is the current men's World Record, set by Great Britain at the London Olympics. 4:13.683 is the record for the women, set by Australia at the 2015 world championships in France. 

Individual Pursuit

A very similar format to the team pursuit, except with only one rider, and with the distance being dropped to 3km for the women's event. At the world championships riders will compete in qualifying rounds, where the riders setting the fastest four times will compete in the 1st/2nd and 3rd/4th finals for medals. Like the team pursuit, the winner of a specific round is the one to set the fastest time, but if a catch precedes the distance then that will also count as victory. However, if the rider is aiming for a fastest qualifying time, or a record in a final, then they are of course allowed to continue.

American Sarah Hammer holds the women's record with 3:22.269, while Jack Bobridge of Australia holds the men's with 4:10.534.

Team Sprint

The team sprint's format is very similar to that of the team pursuit, but somewhat of a turbo-charged version. Two teams - made up of three riders for the men and two for the women - again start on opposite sides of the track, with the winner the team to complete the distance - three and two laps for each gender respectively - in the fastest time. The last rider is the only one to complete the whole distance, with the preceding riders setting a pace before peeling off after their lap on the front. It stands to reason then that the first rider will have good acceleration, and the last will have some endurance capabilities too. 

41.871 seconds is the men's record, held by Germany, while China hold the women's with 32.034. 

Individual Sprint

The individual sprint is a very tactically complex event, with two riders starting together on the same side of the track, and the first one over the finish line being named the winner. Different riders have their preferred tactics, but being in front is often considered a disadvantage due to the rider's movements being perfectly visible to their opponent, as well as the drafting benefits that entail from riding behind. This is why very slow starts proliferate, and where 'track standing', where the riders come to a complete standstill in order to gain their desired position, comes from. 

When the sprint is initiated - an occurrence at the commissaire's discretion - a rider must not move out of their chosen line, be it a low one taking the shortest route, or a mid-height one forcing the other rider up to come around higher (and therefore further).

Jason Kenny of Great Britain and Anna Meares of Australia are the current reigning Olympic Champions.  


The keirin is an event that originated in 1940's Japan as a tool to kickstart a war-stricken economy through gambling, but was introduced as an Olympic sport at Sydney 2000. It is an intriguing event that often has new cycling followers wondering about the presence of a motorbike, but once understood is a highly compelling and tactical event.

It is a bunched start, with lots being drawn to determine positions. Riders then follow a motorbike - otherwise known as a derny - which gradually increases its speed, and acts as a pace-setter while the riders jostle for their desired position behind. Passing the motorbike means disqualification. When the derny is approaching 50kmh it peels off - usually with around 700m to go - leaving the riders to race for the line. 

Kilometre / 500m Time Trial

Often shortened to simply 'The Kilo', the men's 1km time trial and women's 500m equivalent are a standing-start, flat out sprint. On a conventional track, this equals 4 laps for the men and 2 for the women. There are no qualifiers or knock-out stages, with the winner simply being the rider to post the fastest time.

Francois Pervis of France holds the men's world record with a time of 56.303 seconds, while Anastasiia Voinova of Russia holds the women's 500m crown with a time of 32.794. 

Scratch Race

Another simple one, the scratch race is a mass-start, long distance race (at least 15km for men and 10km for women), with the winner being the one to cross the finish line first. Complications do come into play when riders attack, and subsequently lap the riders they had left behind - who then are counted as being a 'lap down'. In a race that can last up to 20 minutes, the chance to take a lap is common, and so the riders will usually have to gain a lap - and usually more - to remain in contention. 


A multi-discipline event similar to athletics' hep or decathlon, the omnium is a relative newcomer to the track cycling world championships, with its first inclusion not coming until 2007. Controversially, the event replaced the madison, points race, and individual pursuit at the Olympics as of 2012, which caused a bit of a stir considering the history and significance that the three former events have in track history. 

All four events retain their place at the world championships though, and the current format of the omnium is based on a points system, whereby contestants gain points in six disciplines (scratch race, individual pursuit, elimination race, time trial, flying lap and points race). The closing points race is a deal-breaker in that points gained or lost during the race contribute directly to every rider's overall score, rather than points being awarded as if the race was a standalone round. The winner of the omnium is the rider with the most points at the end of the points race. 

Points Race

The points race can vary in distance, but for both men and women will be in the region of around 120-160 laps, which can take anything up to 40 minutes to complete. It is another mass-start event, and has points available for riders to win on every tenth lap. 5, 3, 2 and 1 points are on offer for the first 4 riders across the line on these 'sprint' laps, with a bell sounding on the preceding lap to notify the riders of the approaching sprint. 

Depending on their strengths, some riders aim to preempt the sprints by attacking early and gaining the points before the bunch sprints for them, and if a rider (or group of riders) manage to lap the field, they each gain 20 points - rather than become a 'lap up', as they do in the scratch race. This keeps the competition hot for the points available on every tenth lap. The winner, surprisingly enough, is the rider with the most points at the end of the race. 


The madison has its history in six-day racing, installed as a means to allow riders to rest during the non-stop riding that the six-day format entailed. It effectively meant that riders could tag their partner into action and allow them to continue racing while they rested, before being tagged back in a few hours later. 

The modern version is a much more fast and furious affair, but follows the same principal of two riders from a set team being able to tag each other in and out of action while one races and the other recuperates. This can be done in the form of a push, or more commonly a handsling. The rider who isn't 'tagged in' must remain high up on the boards, while the active riders race further down the track, until they are tagged in again (something which can be done at any time and entirely at the rider's discretion). 

The primary goal is for teams to gain laps on others, with the winners being the team that have the most laps gained to their name. There are also intermediate sprint points available on certain laps, which are hotly contested as these contribute to the final standings in the event of teams being level on laps. 

With so many riders on the track, and with the main bunch often splintering into multiple groups due to teams attacking, the race can admittedly be hard to follow. But regardless of whether you can keep track of who's off the front, who's being dropped, and who's in the main bunch, it certainly makes for a spectacle. Just be glad you're not commentating. 

Photos courtesy of

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