Differences between Tracks

23 Aug

Track racers can discuss at great length the differences between tracks, and I certainly won’t attempt a detailed discussion here. The first thing one notices on any track is the idiosyncrasies of the surface itself – bumps and cracks and other oddities to look out for. For any but strip-wood tracks, these imperfections are inevitable and impossible not to notice. For strip-wood tracks, the surface tends to be very good, with only a few issues around loose boards.

In any event, problems with the track surface don’t matter much tactically – but differences in length and banking make a significant difference. Three differences between different tracks would seem to matter the most:

(1) Banking: Tracks with steep banking are dramatically different than tracks without much banking. In fact, much of the commentary above presumes a relatively steep banking – because it’s the banking that really distinguishes track racing from road racing, at least on a steep track. The thing to be aware of is this: if you’re accustomed to racing on a steep (typically, less than 333- meter) track, making the transition to racing on a shallow-banking track is easy. But it doesn’t go the other way.

Very competent track racers who are accustomed to the relatively shallow banking of a 333 track have a major adjustment to make when transitioning to a 250. This is evident every year in America when top riders converge on the 250-meter ADT Center in Los Angeles – because many of those riders have never (or rarely) raced on a steep track. When racing on a steep track, there are the obvious issues of not sliding down the banking, and a generally “tighter” feel to the racing, as riders “stack up” above and below one another on the banking in a way that takes some getting used to. But the bigger significance of a more steeply banked track is that it is generally shorter – which matters a lot to racing tactics.

(2) Length: Track length matters for two reasons: it changes the amount of time and distance a breakaway needs in order to take a lap, and it means a longer straightaway in which to pass during a sprint.

So – moving to a shorter track makes the racing that much more intense because breakaways can go around on the field much faster. Indeed, on most six-day tracks in Europe and a few tracks (e.g., Burnaby, BC and London, ON) in North America, the track is under 200 meters, and the field can turn a lap in around 10 seconds. Longer tracks are a different affair – lapping the field is fundamentally harder to do, which may mean that your approach to the race changes altogether. Where you might pursue an approach of taking laps on a shorter track, the same race on a 333- meter track might involve no breakaway attempts at all.

As for straightaway length, this has been discussed above – but a longer track affords more space within which to pass a lead rider after the final corner. Conversely, with ultra-short tracks, it’s just not possible to come around a lead rider on the final straight; you have to start the pass much earlier.

(3) Position of the Finish Line: This is a detail, but worth knowing about. Different tracks will position the finish line in different places – even if the tracks are otherwise identical. Basically, the finish line can be at the very end of the home straight, or it can be a little closer to the middle (though never truly in the middle) of the straightaway. The benefit of having the line closer to the middle is that it allows spectators (and judges) to see the finish more clearly. The benefit of having it nearer the end of the straightaway is that it allows more space between the final corner and the line.

One obvious implication of this is that the position of the line affects how early you need to start your pass in a mass-start race. The other, far less obvious implication is that for 200-meter time trials (the only time trial measured against the finish line instead of the pursuiter’s line), the position of the finish line affects where the 200 meters starts, and that affects technique coming into the 200 meter effort. I won’t get into a discussion of this, other than to say that using the banking effectively is an important key to success in a 200-meter time trial, and you will use the banking differently depending on where the 200 meter line is positioned – and that depends on where the finish line is.

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