by Adrian Hegyvary
Winter is often the time of year when cyclists take a step back from their training, think about the season, and plan their approach to the following year. During this time it’s important for athletes to determine their strengths and weaknesses, and figure out how to structure the following year to address those skills. For many riders, one of the most beneficial modifications to their season is to integrate track racing into their training regimen.
There are three crucial skills that track hones more than any other type of racing: pack positioning, leg speed, and maximal power output. Many track races can be thought of as the key parts of road racing without all the filler—the final minutes of a race, the crucial splits, etc. without the miles leading up to them. And considering that each night you go through these scenarios multiple times, race skills and tactics get pounded into your head like no other discipline.
Three events that can improve your racing are scratch races, points races, and miss-n-outs. A scratch race is the simplest of all—you race for a set number of laps and the final sprint decides the race. But what’s special about this type of race on the track is that everything happens so quickly that there is little time for thinking and immediate decisions and responses are crucial to success. There are also different ways to win—waiting for the sprint and keeping the race together, attacking and sprinting from a break, or lapping the field (sometimes multiple times) to ensure a placing.
Points races are similar in that they demand constant attention to pack position, but differ in that a wider range of tactics can be employed to race successfully, sometimes simultaneously. Points races are over a set distance but also have intermediate sprints—usually every 5 or 10 laps. The first four riders across the line at those sprints receive points (5, 3, 2, 1) and the person with the most points at the end wins. Because there are several “finishes” throughout the race, you have numerous opportunities to try different tactics and catch your competitors sleeping, but consistency is still rewarded.
Miss-n-outs are the most tactical and difficult races to ride at first. In this event the last rider across the finish line is pulled from the race each lap until only three remain. After one neutral lap, the three riders sprint for the win. Miss-n-outs demand constant attention to what your competitors are doing, and racers frequently have to anticipate one another’s moves in order to remain at the front of the field. Though this skill doesn’t have a parallel in other types of racing, it teaches quick thinking and rewards riders who can “read” a race well.
Finally, the physical demands of track racing compliment any training regimen and create strong, well-rounded cyclists. Because you have just one gear, leg speed is a crucial skill for a track racer. Simply putting on a huge gear doesn’t make you race faster, because it becomes so difficult to accelerate that you won’t make it to the front of the race for the finish. Thus, track finishes are frequently decided at cadences well above 140rpm, a number most road riders would never even consider racing at but does great things for coordination, and ultimately your overall sprinting ability. Similarly, because most track races last just a few minutes, riders build their maximal power output with frequent race efforts lasting between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. These intervals are the ideal duration for developing VO2 max, and that fitness translates perfectly to the important parts of road racing, mountain biking, cyclocross and triathlon—the start, the short hill, the crosswind, the crucial field split, the final laps, etc.
The best way to start track racing locally is through the Marymoor Velodrome’s introductory track class and Monday night racing. Information can be found at http://www.velodrome.org. For riders who are interested in pursuing track racing at a higher level, or those who already race on the track and wish to further hone their skills and training, Cycle University will offer intermediate-level track classes designed to take your riding to the next level. Information can be found at http://www.cycleu.com, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for details. If you’re ready to take your riding to the next level, be prepared to get on track this coming season.