Professional riders power through races at break-neck speeds, nipping through seemingly impossible gaps and performing teeth chattering manoeuvres. That top level is a long way off for most of us but the basics used to stay safe and in contention run right through every level of track racing.
It’s vital that you learn these basics early on too, because there’s little room for error on the track. That’s why velodromes insist that you undertake introductory track courses. You need to progress through the basics and learn the etiquette before launching into anything competitive. From there it’s a case of thinking, relaxing and learning.
Track racing is as much a craft as it is a competition. Not only is flying around a velodrome in a huge bunch incredibly exciting, the skills it will teach you along the way will be invaluable in most other areas of cycling.
Apart from the super climbers, just about all top pro road racers have either already learned or continue to develop skills on the track. So get out and give the track a whirl.
Retired medallist Rob Hayles tells us how it’s done…
1. Do your basic preparation
Your first time riding on the track can be a real shock. The sheer intensity and speed can take you by surprise – even I struggle if I’ve been riding on the road for a while. That’s why it is important to put in some basic power and cadence work beforehand.
It doesn’t matter how fast you are on the road, things are different on the track. You not only need to have a high power output permanently, you need to have a fast cadence along with it. The best way to replicate this is on rollers or, failing that, a turbo trainer. If you can do this using a fixed wheel then all the better because that’s what you’ll be riding on the track. Work on the required power and leg speed, but also on attaining a relaxed position. This is where rollers are the best choice because they force you to stay composed.
2. Choose the right wheels
I use various wheels, depending on the event and the conditions. For long races I’ll use spokey wheels because they are more comfortable. I almost always use tubular tyres because they’re so much more flexible and responsive than clinchers. Make sure they’re stuck firmly onto the rim and keep an eye on the sidewalls; with the pressures you put in and on them they can get ragged and you can’t afford any problems on the track. Also try to have a spare set of wheels with you.
For outdoor tracks you can often get away with using high pressure clincher tyres because the surfaces are rougher and the banking is not so steep, so if you do puncture you won’t slip as badly as you could when riding indoors.
3. Get the right bike
For some reason people like to have the best and latest kit when it comes to their road bikes, but want to keep it really cheap for the track. This is okay, and you can easily get away with secondhand bikes, but make sure they are ‘straight’ – that they haven’t had any bad crashes, and that things are in good and safe working order.
Track kit will last a lifetime, and for general bunched racing weight isn’t crucial, so you can ride almost anything. Carbon is fantastic for a track bike, but I also use aluminium and even an old steel bike.
Most track bikes will have 165mm or 170mm cranks which makes it easier to pedal fast. For a pursuit race I may use 172.5mm cranks in order to get more power out.
It’s always important to make certain that your chain is tensioned and clean, too.
4. Get a comfortable riding position
Getting a really comfortable riding position is crucial on the track. My bunched racing position is totally different to my road position, but that’s not the case for everyone. You need to be very comfortable and relaxed, and able to look ahead.
Remember that when you are riding on the track you will rarely get out of the saddle so this relaxed approach is important.