Track cycling refers to a type of cycle racing in which the competition takes place on a closed loop or oval (the track) in special purpose stadiums called velodromes. The competition venue may be either indoors or outdoors. Outdoor track surfaces are usually concrete while the fastest indoor surfaces are made of wood slats. The length of the oval is between 250 meters and a quarter of a mile.
The rider use special purpose bicycles called track bikes which have no brakes and a fixed gear (no freewheel).
There are a variety of events which are commonly part of track cycle racing and several of these are Olympic Games medal events.
At one time, track cycling was a very popular sport in the United States, much as it is even today in Europe. In the last decade of the 19th century, and the early decades of the 20th century, it was on a par with baseball as a spectator attraction. Thousands of spectators would attend the top track cycling events in venues such as Madison Square Garden, and the racers themselves could command salaries of the same order of magnitude as the top baseball players of the day.
After the sport's golden age during the 1920s, the spectator appeal declined during the 30s and 40s due to the depression and the advent of auto racing. As a result, most of the indoor and outdoor velodromes which had once been so heavily used were torn down.
The track time trial is a solo event in which the riders are timed over a fixed distance from either a standing start or a flying start. In a standing start, typically a holder will hold the rider in the upright position until the starting signal, at which point the rider is released (without either being restrained or assisted with a push).
The track time trial is an Olympic Games medal event with 1000 meters being the distance established for men and 500 meters for women. Both are from a standing start. The 200 meter flying time trial is often used for preliminary placement for the seedings in the matched sprints event (see below).
A scratch race is a race over a fixed number of laps of the velodrome track with all riders starting together in a "rolling start". The winner is the first rider to cross the finish line at the end of the specified number of laps, with the following riders occupying positions according to the order in which they cross the finish line. Thus, this type of race is, in terms of its structure, very much like a traditional track and field foot race (e.g., the mile run). Riders do not receive any bonus points for position during the race (see points race below), but there may be preems which are special lap prizes (though, again, these preems do not count in the final finish order).
In a points race, as in a scratch race, the field is sent off with a rolling start for a fixed distance race. However, unlike a scratch race, riders accumulate points over the course of the race on certain sprint laps designated prior to the race. Normally, these sprint laps where points are awarded come every 5 laps or so on a normal sized velodrome track. The first few riders across the line on each sprint lap are awarded points in descending order of their finish on that lap (commonly 5-3-2-1 for the first 4 riders). Bonus points may be awarded for gaining a lap on the "main filed" and, similarly, points may be deducted from any rider who loses a lap to the main field.
A variation of the points race is when the number of points increases with each successive sprint lap. Or, only the lead rider scores points, with the number of points likewise increasing with successive sprint laps.
The end of the points race occurs when the leader completes the last lap of the race, at which time the total points which each rider has accumulated determines the final finish order.
The keirin is a sprint race in which the riders sprint after completing a pre-set, fixed number of laps (for a total distance of approximately 2 km) behind a pacer, usually a motorized bicycle or a regular motorcycle. The pace vehicle starts at about 25 kph, then, after picking up the riders who follow behind, gradually increases the speed up to about 45-50 kph (the lower speed for women, the higher speed for men). The riders must ride behind the pace vehicle, but can draft on pacer's wheel or on each other's wheel. Approximately 2 laps before the finish, the pace vehicle is ordered to pull out. Once the pace vehicle pulls out, normal track sprint rules apply.
Pursuit (individual and team)
A pursuit race is a timed, fixed distance event in which two individual riders, or two teams of riders, starting half a lap apart, attempt to either overtake and pass the other competitor or cover the specified distance in the shortest time. The distance for both the individual and team pursuit is 4000 meters for men, 3000 meters for women, and 2000 meters for juniors.
In a large field (whether teams or individual), there are preliminary or qualifying rounds in which the riders (or teams), after being seeded, are paired against each other and race for time, very much as in a standard time trial. The four fastest riders (or teams) are then paired in the championship races, with the two fastest racing for first and second, and the next two fastest racing for third and fourth. In these championship pairings, the race is over when one rider (or team) catches and passes the other or when the specified distance is complete, with the rider (or team) covering the distance in the fastest time being the winner.
In the individual pursuit, which is an Olympic Games medal event, the two riders start from a standing start, half a lap apart on opposite sides of the track.
In the team pursuit, which is also an Olympic Games medal event, two teams consisting of 4 riders each race in a format somewhat similar to the individual pursuit with the two teams starting at opposite sides of the track and attempting to catch the other team or cross the finish line in the shortest time. The riders work together in a pace line in order to take advantage of each others' drafting effect and improve aerodynamic efficiency. Usually, the lead rider pulls out and drops to the back of the pace line every half lap so that each of the team's riders will take turns sharing the lead position. The team's time is determined by the third rider's time in crossing the finish line.
Sprints (matched sprints)
The miss-and-out race (sometimes referred to as the "devil take the hindmost") is a mass start race in which the last rider over the finish line on designated laps (sometimes every lap) is eliminated from the race. The miss-and-out can be ridden until only one rider remains, who is then the winner with the finish order of the rest of the field being determined by the order of elimination. Alternatively, it can be ridden until a fixed (pre-designated) number of riders remain, after which a conventional sprint determines the final finish order.