Types of Track Events


There are literally dozens of track events, with combinations and variations of each.  I haven’t tried to discuss them all below, but have focused on the most common events in the sprint and endurance categories.



Sprint events on the track are, by road standards, incredibly short.  At the elite level they are contested by people who look more like linebackers than cyclists.  The physical and mental aspects of these events are indeed similar to American football, power lifting, or perhaps martial arts – they require explosive efforts over very short periods of time.  Training can be highly specialized, and doesn’t necessarily involve riding many miles.  The emphasis is on top speed.


  • Keirin—Keirin is a uniquely Japanese form of racing, but has been fully adopted by the international track racing community.  The race is contested by five to seven riders over two and a half laps – so it’s a medium-distance sprint event – but its distinctive feature is that the riders are paced by a motorbike or derby bike  up to 50kph in the laps leading up to the “start”.  In other words, it’s a flying-start sprint event with a group of riders.  Tactics are very important, given that the race is too long for most riders to win in an all-out effort from the front.  And because the track is relatively crowded with riders competing at top speed, the Keirin has a reputation for being relatively dangerous


  • 200 Meter Time Trial—This event is generally used only to seed riders for a match sprint tournament.  It is a flying-start all-out sprint for 200 meters, and takes around 11-13 seconds for most amateurs to complete; the world record is around a 9.9.  Because it is flying-start, technique for how to use the banking of the track to gain speed  before  the start line is important.  Otherwise, it’s just an all-out effort for 200 meters.


  • Match Sprint—Match sprint is well-known  for being the “slow race” where riders pace one another around  the track at a casual pace before exploding into a full-on effort.  There are so many rules and idiosyncrasies to match sprint that I won’t get into it here – but among aficionados of the sport, the match sprint is considered one of the most suspenseful and exhilarating spectator events.  The race is three laps long, though often the sprinters won’t fully engage the sprint until the last 200-300 meters.  A good way to get familiar with match sprinting is to find some match sprint videos online – there are dozens of good ones available.


  • Chariot— A chariot race is contested by a group of riders over a short distance (commonly two laps of the track).  The riders are held at the start, so that they can immediately accelerate away from the line.  Tactics in this form of racing are not nearly as prominent as in Match Sprint or Keirin, as the race can be won on brute strength – but drafting still matters.  Because the race is from a standing start, a strong acceleration (and a welltightened rear wheel) are important.


  • Kilometer Time Trial—The “kilo” is just a 1,000 meter standing-start time trial.  Like the 400 meters in running, it’s a bit too long for an all-out sprint, but too short not to sprint . . . it’s just painful.  It no longer appears in the Olympics, but is contested at World’s, Nationals, etc.  Sprinters and Keirin riders with a lot of endurance can be successful in this event, but most match sprinters don’t have the endurance for it.  Some pursuit riders have enough explosiveness and speed to be good at the kilometer, too – so it’s an event that sits right at the  intersection of sprint and endurance events.


  • 500 Meter Time Trial—Women and masters don’t generally contest the kilometer, but ride the 500- (or 750-)  meter standing-start time trial instead.  The 500 is so much shorter than the kilo that it can be taken as an all-out effort, and the speed of the  standing start is that much more important.




Endurance events are not very long compared to road races, of course – but they deserve to be called “endurance” events in comparison to the sprint events, which generally last less than a minute.  Endurance events range in distance from 3,000 meters (womens/juniors pursuit) to 40km (an unusually long, but not unheard-of, distance for a mass-start race).  Most endurance races are between 5km and 20km, which would be 20 laps and 80 laps, respectively, on a 250-meter track.


  • Individual Pursuit—A pursuit pits two riders against one another in a time trial in which they start on opposite  sides of the track.  In some pursuit formats, the race ends when one rider catches the other, but in modern racing this is rare.  More typically,  both riders compete over a fixed distance, even if one rider is caught by the other, to record the fastest time.  Typically, women and juniors will ride 3,000 meters and men will ride 4,000 meters.


  • Team Pursuit—Team pursuits are contested with teams of three or four riders per side, with riders working together to record the fastest time.  Mens’ distance is generally 4,000 meters and women/juniors ride 3,000 meters.  The time is usually recorded on the third rider to cross the line.


  • Scratch Race—The basic race format – a “scratch race” is simply won by crossing the line first.  It has a separate name because so many other race formats on the track are calculated by points or other mechanisms.  Scratch races can be any distance, but do tend to be shorter than points races.


  • Points Race—At many tracks, the points race is the heart of the racing schedule.  Because of the focus on sprinting and lapping the field, points races capture several essential features of mass-start track racing.   Riders score sprint points for periodic sprints during the race, and also score points for lapping the field.  Because the result is calculated on points and not the final finish order, it is possible to win a race even if other riders are a lap ahead of you, and it is possible to win a race even if you score no points in the final sprint.  Distances and formats vary, but a typical points race might be 60 laps, sprints every 10 laps, points awarded 5-3-2-1 to the top four riders on each sprint, and 20 points awarded for lapping the field.  There may or may not be double points (10-6-4-2) awarded on the final sprint.


  • Tempo Race—A tempo race is a form of points race, but with points awarded either every lap or every other lap, usually to only the top one or two riders.  It’s called a “tempo” race because, with points awarded so frequently, the riders can’t really sprint all-out for every points award; the race tends to be a fairly sustained effort with tactics determining who is at the front when points are available.


  • Snowball— Another form of points race in which increasing numbers of points are awarded as the race wears on.  Formats vary, but a 10-lap snowball might award points on every second lap to the first rider only, with points available as follows: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10.


  • Miss-And-Out—The miss-and-out is distinctive to track racing, and at many tracks it is one of the cornerstones of the racing schedule.  The missand-out, as its name suggests, is a race at the  rear of the field to avoid being the last rider across the line.  The distance of the race is determined by how many riders there are, because  only one rider is eliminated at a time, so the field needs to keep going until nearly all of the riders are eliminated.  Formats vary, but a typical arrangement on a 250-meter track might be to eliminate the last rider to cross the line on every second lap until the field is reduced to three, and from that point to have either two or three laps remaining for the last remaining riders to sprint for the top three places.


The miss-and-out deserves a few extra words about tactics, since it is so different from other races.  The natural dynamic of a miss-and-out is for the back of the field to accelerate into the front of the field on each elimination lap, compressing forward  and up-track as they approach the line.  Riders at the front have no incentive to accelerate as this compression takes place, since they are safe from elimination.  In the early stages of a miss-and-out, eliminations are largely a tactical matter, and most riders are eliminated not because they lack the strength to move up, but because they were “boxed in” and couldn’t get forward from their current position.  In most early eliminations, the elimination comes as a surprise to the rider, and he leaves the track without having expended much energy in the race – he just got stuck, usually low on the track near the back of the field, and was unable to get up-track and forward fast enough to avoid elimination.


There is much more that could be said about miss-and-out racing, but an early lesson for most riders starting out is that riding low on the track inside the field is a dangerous place to be, because the natural movement of the field on an elimination lap is to go up-track and forward.  Riders feeling safely positioned in the sprinter’s lane in the middle of a field of 20 will very quickly find themselves boxed in low on the track with the entire field rushing past them to the right.  These are the riders who get eliminated early.  Put another way:  stay up-track and keep your options open.  The best place to ride in a miss-and-out is two or three riders back of the very front, but never on the inside of the riders in front of you.  Keep your wheel placed up-track (meaning you only get a partial draft) and defend your position aggressively – don’t get boxed in.  Once the field narrows down to five or six riders, eliminations will happen on strength rather than positioning.


  • Win-And-Out— The win-and-out is an unusual format, and there are many variations.  The idea is to award the victory to a single rider on the basis of a sprint – and then that rider leaves the race.  The rest of the riders – whether they were last in the sprint or got second place by half a tire – are left to duke it out for second place in the next sprint.  Naturally, riders need to gauge which sprints to go for – when to expend their energy.  There are variations on this format, including versions in which the lower places are awarded first – i.e., fifth place is awarded to the winner of the first sprint, then fourth, then third and so on.  Obviously this introduces a very different set of tactics.


  • Madison—The Madison is a points race contested by two-rider teams,  with only one rider competing at a time while the other rider – called the “relief rider” – circles the top of the track waiting to come into the race.  The distinctive feature of Madison racing is the hand-sling; a relief rider enters the race by grabbing hands with his partner and being physically slung into the action.  Because of this, and some of the complexities of how exchanges are to be conducted in a field of riders, a full discussion of the Madison would fill a small book.  For riders who want to compete in the Madison, it is important to study and practice the event intensely before competing in it.  But for now I will note that the essential rules are much like a points race.  To get a feel for what a Madison looks like, it’s worth finding some Madison videos on the internet – Madison racing has a very different feel than any other type of race.


Source: Track Racing – an Introduction



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