Monday, 6 December 2021

Track Champions League wows London cycling fans and riders

Track Champions League at Lee Valley Velodrome (Photo: SWPix.com)

It had been billed as a top engagement on the cycling calendar, and had been talked about since when it was announced in the Spring of this year, so finally when the Track Champions League came to London's Lee Valley Velodrome everyone was pretty excited.

The fast and furious adrenaline-filled nature of track cycling tends to be a crowd puller, as you see at the Olympics for instance. Velodrome tickets always sell out first before other cycling disciplines. But this Track Champions League brought things to another level. 

The races were done as a league based on six races, each to be contested every week for six weeks. between November and December and in velodromes across different parts of Europe, including the Lee Valley (Olympic) Velodrome in London and the National Velodrome on the outskirts of Paris.

The short format races saw the World's top-ranked racers contest sprint, keirin, elimination and points races in rapid succession - which in itself was a challenge for the competitors who normally have long breaks in between races during a track meet.

Added to that were flashing lights, pumping sound system and animated commentators. Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend, due to illness. But from what I saw on the TV it looked pretty impressive. It seemed reminiscent of the old "Revolutions" series that used to take place in the autumn in velodromes around the UK, but on steroids!

What I noticed were the rather zany looking skinsuits that the athletes were wearing, which were designed by Santini, the Italian-based family sports clothing company. In fact, I wrote an article for the Santini website about the very tight process the company had in place in order to design the kit and have them ready for every one of the 72 riders.

The organisers of the event, Discovery Sports Events talked through what they wanted to achieve with this event. The idea, being to engage a wider audience to track cycling by making the format of the races easy to understand, and displaying athletes' performance data like what you see when watching Formula 1 on TV. Interestingly, the Head of Discovery Events, Fran├žois Ribeiro, comes from a background of motorsport and bring some of those effects from Formula 1 to cycle racing. Funnily enough he also added that the effects that are being used in cycling, which are deemed revolutionary, were being used in motorsport twenty years ago. So, another reason for cycling critics to call it an old fashioned sport then!

The events went well, and wowed the sell-out crowds. Unfortunately, as has been the case with most sports events Covid-19 caused significant changes to the programme, with Paris, Berlin and Tel Aviv being removed from the rota as their velodromes were used as Covid-19 vaccination centres. Londoners were treated to two days of racing at Lee Valley.

Katie Archibald (SWPix.com)

In the sprinters' competition Harrie Lavreysen (Netherlands) won the men's race and Emma Hinze (Germany) won the women's race. For the endurance competition Britain's Katie Archibald was the winning woman while Gavin Hoover (USA) pipped the fancied Spain's Sebastian Mora to the post.  

When the race came to London I managed to get an interview with a couple of competitors, notably Ed Clancy, who was doing his last ever race as a professional, and Nicholas Paul, racing for Trinidad.

Ed Clancy:

"I honestly think track cycling has been crying out for something of this nature for a long time – I’m probably biased but, track cycling is a great thing. The racing is short, action packed and I feel like the Revolution races gave it a really good go, to try and bring a bit of entertainment to something I’ve been very passionate about. This is the same sort of thing, but with the backing of Eurosport and some big sponsors. I think it’s mint. The crowd are loving it. Everyone I’ve spoken to that’s seen it back home on TV have loved the format. I hope for the next generation, it’s going to be around for decades to come.

Ed Clancy (Photo: SWPix.com)
"When you’re an athlete for the Great Britain Cycling Team and you have that potential to win Olympic Gold medals that would have been your first and foremost priority. Wouldn’t it have been great to do something like this in what is now their off-season. I think it’s a great way for the riders not just to have fun and publicise themselves, but to make a decent living doing it as well. There’s decent prize money at the sharp end. I feel like it’s a scenario where everyone is winning. Hopefully the sponsor Eurosport are getting everything they want out of it; I know the spectators are and I believe the riders are having a good time as well."


Nicholas Paul:

"This is almost the end of my 2021 season, so I’m going into a break after until maybe January, just like road days something like that, and then I will be starting my preparation again back in Switzerland for the Nations Cup coming up, in the prospect of qualifying for the World Championships at the end of the year, and also they have the Commonwealth Games. 

"The Track Champions League is a big big change for track cycling. We are not accustomed to getting all this coverage, so I think it’s a step in the right direction for track cycling to let people know that it’s on the rise and it’s an exciting sport. I think that’s a step in the right direction, and the Track Champions League is doing a great job of raising the profile of track cycling.

Nicholas Paul (Photo: SWPix.com)
"For me, it’s always a pleasure to represent the red white and black to put my country out there. It’s a little island, so I think for me to be able to put it on the map and let people know that Trinidad & Tobago has great athletes and great talent, I think that’s always a great thing for me." 





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