Track Racing: A Brief Introduction to an Olympic Sport

I discovered track racing, an Olympic sport closely followed in Europe, this past June. I am fortunate enough to live only a couple hours away from a Velodrome, a racing track used for the sport.

Track racing was once as popular in the United States as it is in Europe today. In fact, in the 1920s, it was one of the most popular spectator sports. However, track racing lost its popularity in the 30s and 40s, and almost all of the indoor and outdoor tracks were destroyed. During the cycling boom of the 1970s, the U.S. could only claim nine world-class tracks. Velodromes are very slowly being built again, but there are still very few in the country.

Although I was scared to death the first time I tried it because a track bike is very different than a road bike, my experience as a Spinning instructor allowed me to quickly adapt and I fell in love with the sport.

Unlike road riding, there is no coasting and no sudden stopping in track racing because track bikes are fixed-geared and have no brakes. My years of teaching Spinning classes helped me adjust to the fixed-wheel of the track bike, which requires constant application of force on the pedals. I found that I could easily turn out high cadences on the track, and in good form.

Other differences between track and road bikes include the shape of the fork blades, the frame geometry and tire clearance. Fork blades on track bikes are oval, rather than round, which makes them stiffer and more rigid laterally. Since tracks do not have bumps or pot holes, they have more upright frame angles than road bikes. Track bikes also have a very tight tire clearance because there is no reason to use anything but the narrowest tires on a track.

Velodromes resemble something between your high school running track and a NASCAR track, and are very diverse in construction. They can be found indoors or outdoors, can be made of wood, concrete, asphalt or cement, and can range in distance from 250 to 333 meters.

There are many different types of track races, each with its own set of rules. Some popular types include match sprint, Olympic sprint, individual pursuit, team pursuit and points race.

I began to compete in pursuit events, which are as close to a time trial as it gets on the track. The women’s 3k pursuit is considered an endurance event because many of the sprints last between 10 and 30 seconds. There are also mass-start races, which resemble criteriums, except they are much shorter in duration and the intensity is much higher.

This is a very limited introduction to track racing, but I would encourage you to try it if you live near a Velodrome, and to check out the provided resources for more information.

Megan Hottman, a licensed attorney, is a STAR 3 instructor and has been teaching since 2000. She is the founder and director of a multi-state women-only cycling and triathlon team called Defined Fitness Training, LLC. Additionally, Megan races as a CAT II road cyclists throughout the race season in CO, and she is the 2007 Colorado Time Trial Champion in the women’s pro/1/2 category.

Th author, Megan, during a 3k pursuit at Track Nationals in Carson, CA at the ADT Event Center.

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