The arena for cycling is far from just a wooden track. It is an amphitheatre of dramatic action – a vestibule for emotions and a passageway to transcend international boundaries. Nations battle and compete here, individuals duel, teams sweat and grid gears together. The oval track is as a ring is in marriage, binding and steeply banked with fears and passion. Two straight lines transition through mathematically-beautiful easement curves.
The track itself is 250 metres of well-laid slick wood. The cant, or superelevation on the bends can hit 45° in angle. Centrifugal forces come into play. There are a variety of track disciplines to compete and each type of race uses some of or all of the track, including the red, black and blue sprint lines. Few favour the sky-blue Azure, inside the track. It essentially is dangerous and a way to be disqualified. Every cyclist fears the firing of the starter gun midrace for a reason. Fouls and excessive use of the Azure will trigger the gun.
Hong Kong Velodrome as host to the premier world track cycling tournament, did not fault itself. A huge 344 cyclists from 41 nations of the globe contended for 60 medals (gold through to silver, means 20 events). As the wheels were disassembled from frames and flat-packed like Ikea furniture for homeward travels, 15 nations held medals – with 11 of those as world title holders. Previously Hong Kong had held the final round of 2015-2016 UCI Track Cycling World Cup. It swayed well to their favour.
Sprint – Individual sprint. Often dubbed as “Cat and Mouse” cyclists start side by side. They don’t have to go hell-for-leather and an all-out attack. They can use their tactical experience and sometimes a dash of luck. It is not confined to the sprint lanes. Aerodynamics and jockeying for a good launch position for the finish line come into play very early on. Best watched with the theme music from the Pink Panther in the background. Kristina Vogel (Germany) and Jason Kenny (Team GB) will get your pulse pounding! This is a hell for leather intense-adrenaline race.
Sprint – Keirin. This is a pure adrenaline sport. It can take your breath away. It is huge in Japan, with races subject to gambling, that funds the national health services there! It is beefy and bold. Greats of the sport include Sir Chris Hoy (Team GB), Koichi Nakano (Japan), Elis Ligtlee (Team Neatherlands), Jason Kenny (Team GB), and my personal cycling hero/greatest entertainer of the ring Robert Forstemann (Germany). After a paced start, track cyclists must sprint for victory following behind a motorised pacer. The speed of the pacer (derny) builds up to 50 km/h (31 mph). It leaves the track around 600–700 m (660–770 yd) before the end. Then the speeds can exceed 70 km/h (43 mph)!
Sprint – Time trial. (1000m for men and 500m for women; or 250m flying lap) The flying lap world record of 9.347 seconds, (as set by French rider Francois Pervis, Mexico, 6 December 2013) shaved little off Sir Chris Hoy’s then-Olympic Record (9.815 seconds, 2008 Beijing Olympics) yet results in almost every international competition seem to get close to the record books). It can leave you gripping your cycling programme willing on every single nation, for in cycling, a spectator will support everyone with passion!
Sprint – Team sprint. Guo Shuang (郭爽) and Gong Jinjie (宫金杰) set a women’s record at Rio’s 2016 Olympics for Team China (32.447 seconds). Zhōng Tiānshí (钟天石) and Guo Shuang won China’s first ever Olympics Cycling gold medals beating the previous world record time with a 31.928 second finish.
Endurance – Omnium. The word itself is Latin for “belonging to all”. Think decathlon or heptathlon but it is actually just six events. A scratch race, an individual pursuit, an elimination race, a time trial, a flying lap and a points race. All winners must have more collective overall points than the runners-up. Laura Rebecca Kenny CBE (née Trott; Team GB), aged only 24, has a huge collection of medals from this event.
Endurance – Individual pursuit. The last Olympic men’s winner was Sir Bradley Wiggins (Team GB). It didn’t feature in Rio 2016. Rebecca Romero (now retired, Team GB) and Rebecca Wiasak (Australia) have had good results in recent years. Beryl Burton is a legend of this sport with a museum display at Manchester’s National Cycling Centre. American Sarah Hammer is always in contention for the medals in this event. Distances covered are not so short or so long: 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) for men and 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) for women.
Endurance – Scratch race. Held over 15 km for Elite Men and 10 km for Elite Women. All riders start together and the aim is clear: finish first. This is a great race format for a nip to the toilet. With track cycling, it is very easy to miss the action – and similarly very easy not to wish to miss a moment!
Endurance – Points race. I have been following track cycling since 1994, when the Manchester Velodrome opened ahead of the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. I have watched many points races, and been asked many times by friends and family to explain it. Usually, a sprint is held every ten laps, with 5, 3, 2, and 1 point(s) being awarded to the top four finishers in each sprint. Expect to see 120-160 laps. There are ways to lap the field (gain a lap, gain 20 points). You can lose points for falling a lap behind. To follow many cyclists on a crowded field is difficult. It lasts for around 45 minutes too. Hugh Porter, the voice of TV cycling commentary in the U.K., usually makes the whole affair more comforting.
Endurance – Team pursuit. (Two teams per race) The easiest way to explain this race. It is pretty much similar to the individual pursuit. The difference being that two teams (each of up to four riders) compete. They start on opposite sides of the velodrome. If you see it on TV, it is always in split screen. In the arena itself, it is very dizzying to follow two teams. Thankfully there are judges to determine leaders – and computer technology.
Endurance – The Madison. Two teams per race. Named after Madison Square Gardens, New York City. Hong Kong’s event was the first time this featured for the women’s teams. Teams to watch across the genders include: Team GB, Russia, France, Italy and New Zealand… amongst others!
Other race formats: These include the popular elimination race, Australian Pursuit, in essence eight cyclists start at equal distances. They must catch the cyclist in front to eliminate them until two cyclists remain. The two then scrap out a finale race. Then, there is the Devil Takes the Hindmost elimination race. Last over the line, you’re out. Distances vary for elimination races.
There are even tandem, folding bike, three-wheeled and unicycle races in amongst some major track cycling events – all very entertaining for the crowds. And now, the UCI Hour Record seems to be endlessly up for challenge. Perhaps, you can beat Sir Bradley Wiggins by completing more than 54.526 km (33.881 mi) in an hour on the track?
In the women’s events, Team GB’s Elinor Barker, who I watched as a junior competitor in Manchester, many years ago had a trio of medals to her name. A Points Race gold, a Scratch Race silver and a Madison silver adding to a pleasing tournament for her. Fellow Team GB star Katie Archibald claimed a gold in the Omnium, an event won by Brit Laura Kenny (nee Kenny) twice between a brace of wins by USA’s Sarah Hammer and a single victory by Australia’s Annette Edmondson. Veteran Sarah Hammer for USA was in attendance claiming a silver in the Points Race.
In the Sprint, Kristina Vogel (Germany) claimed gold over Australia’s Stephanie Morton whilst Lee Wai Sze of Hong Kong gathered the bronze medal. Russia, Germany, USA, New Zealand, Colombia, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and Australia were amongst the podium finishes for the women’s events. Sadly, China’s Guo Shuang and Lin Junhong lost the Team Sprint bronze medal race to Germany’s Kristina Vogel and Miriam Welte, on day one. Lee Wai Sze and Sarah Lee produced the biggest cheers of the event, with day three crowds roaring the local superstars on. They allowed mammoth queues to form for interviews and autographs. With stars like this on your doorstep, it will do more than inspire.
Overall Australia’s 11 medals, with France, Germany, Team GB, New Zealand and Belgium on five apiece, whilst USA, Russia and the Netherlands left few medals for other nations. From Asia, just Malaysia’s Azizulhasni Awang registered gold in the men’s Keirin Sprint and of course, Lee Wai Sze’s bronze. Asia scored as many as South America where Colombia claimed two bronzes.
I left the tournament, wishing for more track cycling action. The journey back to Dongguan was full of dreams. I dreamt that Guangzhou’s beautiful seashell-shaped Velodrome, built for the 16th Asian Games in 2010, would be whipped into action by the Chinese Olympic Committee. Track cycling is only getting bigger and it seems a shame that Guangdong is missing out on such events. Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008 adding tracks to Laoshan, Tianjin, Liaoning, Shanxi and Shandong.
To hire a bicycle at Guangzhou Velodrome, you must contact the venue manager. It isn’t easy. At Hong Kong Velodrome, like Manchester’s National Cycling Centre, there are lengthy waits – and simple online booking methods. With WeChat’s success at hiring out MoBikes, Opo bicycles, and other such services, I wonder why Didi or WeChat aren’t plying their trade in venues such as velodromes. There is a hunger for cycling globally and Guangdong needs to attract an event as big as the UCI Track Cycling World Championships or UCI Track Cycling World Cup. The cyclists could even train in the day riding the mountainous routes of Dalingshan or a few laps of a course circling Songshan Lake. A school programme by an international school, perhaps, even one of Dongguan’s giant institutes could pave the way for greater regional and national cycling stars. Velodrome cycling experiences can lead to great things. The stimulus and vision of track cycling may not be here now, but one insight, one flash of brilliance and suddenly all will take shape. Until then track cycling, like road cycling, is not in the view of the people of Dongguan.
There is much potential to fill a velodrome. It can be a clubs and sports management centre, an extreme sport complex, host basketball and roller-skating rinks, house a BMX track, even form a training base for mountain biking. There can be additional space for rock climbing and places to act as a volunteers centre. I’d love to see the monopoly of European and down under nations rocked by an influx of ambitious Asian nations. Perhaps, once the wave of footballing investment gets boring, and rugby is completed, then cycling will be allowed chance to blossom here in China?
Hong Kong’s Velodrome held the UCI Track Cycling World Championships recently. Here are some images via international press agency image archive www.gettyimages.co.uk.
Address: Guangzhou Velodrome, GZ University City, East 4th Road, Panyu,
Address: Hong Kong Velodrome, Tseung Kwan O, Hong Kong
[April 9th 2017] Just down the road there is a chance to see some of the world’s best track cyclists. The 2017 UCI Track Cycling World Championships puts the best of all nations head to head in a pulsating mixture of disciplines. Writer JR Acton gives us a low down on what to expect at Hong Kong Velodrome…
Way back in 1893, the Track Cycling World Championships began. It predates many global football clubs coming into existence. Tissot, as lead sponsor, have captured this premier track cycling tournament having last been held on Asia over 20 years ago (1990 edition, Maebashi, Japan). Hong Kong will host the extravaganza from the 12th to 16th of April. There will be over 350 entrants on the track. 24 countries provide the talent. 20 events will feature following a successful previous edition in London. It will be a revolution in cycling!
Following many Olympians stepping out of the picture, the year that follows the Games, certainly offers a vision of the future. Since 2002, the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland opened its doors. More than a thousand cyclists have graced its wooden track. Around 17 current or ex-trainees will feature in Hong Kong, from all over the world. They will all aspire to be well-known figures in the sport of cycling. Success is in their grasp. Retired cyclist Victoria Pendleton (Great Britain) graced the decks alongside the first rider from an African team to wear the polka dot jersey of the Tour de France, Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eritrea). Three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Great Britain) also trained there.
Behind Japan, China is ranked as the second most successful Asian nation in the UCI World Championships. With 26 medals (4 gold, 14 silver, 8 bronze), they are gaining ground on their local rivals Japan (34 medals – 12 gold, 8 silver and 14 bronze). Since bagging a Women’s Keirin title in 2002, China has gripped eight medals in the team sprint (1 gold, 5 silver, 2 bronze), eight in the sprint (1 gold, 4 silver, 3 bronze), five in the 500m time trial (3 silver, 2 bronze) and five in the Keirin (2 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze). Hong Kong’s team have six world medals (three gold, one silver, and two bronze). Keep an eye out for Lee Wai Sze.