Track Racing and the Velodrome: Background information when reading Gold

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Gold by Chris Cleave
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2012, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2013, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Guidarini

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Track Racing and the Velodrome

Print Review

The first velodrome was built around 1870 in Brighton, England. The word velodrome derives from velocipede (Latin: fast foot), which is the term used to describe any human-powered land vehicle with one or more wheels; and drome, from the Latin dromus meaning racecourse.

There are thousands of velodromes in the world, both indoor and outdoor, located everywhere from Europe to Tahiti which vary in shape, size and materials used - inexpensive tracks are usually made out of concrete, tarmac or even cinder, while world class tracks tend to be made out of timber or synthetics; but to be considered an Olympic or World Championship velodrome the track must be 250m, consisting of two steeply banked semi-circular bends connected by two straight stretches. The banks aim to match the natural lean of the bicycle through the curve, so that the bikes stay more or less perpendicular (i.e. at 90°) to the track even when curving at speeds of 50+ mph.

Track bikes have only one gear and no brakes, adding both to the thrill and the danger of the sport. The International Cycling Union (UCI, French acronym) controls all aspects of track bike specifications. Speed is arguably the goal and attraction of track cycling but strategy plays a large part. In fact some races, such as the sprint, tend to start very slowly with bicyclists vying for the optimum position, as explained by Gold medalist Victoria Pendleton. Track racing requires superior athletic ability and strength in order to reach and maintain the speeds necessary to essentially fling oneself around the track. Team and individual track racing require different skill sets and strategies. Needless to say, all forms of the sport require intensive training.


Useful to Know About Track Racing at the Olympic Games

  • Track Racing is one of four bicycle sports in the Olympics. Road and track racing were both present at the first modern Olympic games in Athens in 1896. Mountain bike racing debuted in Atlanta in 1996 and BMX was added in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics.

  • In the 2008 Olympics there were ten track events - seven for men, three for women. In the 2012 Olympics there will still be ten events but split equally between men and women. The events are for teams and individuals, with a mix of sprint and endurance events.

  • In 2012 the Omnimum will make its Olympic debut. The Omnium features individual riders competing against each other across six different elements on the track. In a controversial decision, it has replaced three previously held events - the individual pursuit, the points race and the Madison.

  • Finished in early 2011, the London velodrome (pictured below) was the first completed, purpose-built structure for the 2012 Olympic Games. The structure is an ultra-modern mixture of treated red cedar (exterior), glass and steel with a treated pine floor for the interior track. Six thousand spectators will be able to root on their team inside this building.

    From above the structure resembles a nickel, after it's been put on a railroad track, stretched oval and then bent upward slightly at the ends. An attractive, modern design, the building is easily recognizable from the air, its style blending in nicely with the surrounding landscape of East London. Once the Games are over the velodrome will become part of a larger complex dedicated to bicycle sports, including BMX.

  • If you miss out on the six days of track racing during the Olympics but happen to be in Scotland during the summer, you'll likely have the chance to catch a bit of track cycling - as the event (raced on flat sports fields) is a popular part of many Scottish Highland Games alongside shot-putting and caber-tossing!
Olympic Velodrome

More Information


Also of Interest
A brief history of bicycles through World War II.

Article by Lisa Guidarini

This article was originally published in July 2012, and has been updated for the April 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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