Sprint events on the track are, by road standards, incredibly short. At the elite level they are contested by people who look more like linebackers than cyclists. The physical and mental aspects of these events are indeed similar to American football, power lifting, or perhaps martial arts – they require explosive efforts over very short periods of time. Training can be highly specialized, and doesn’t necessarily involve riding many miles. The emphasis is on top speed.
200 Meter Time Trial—This event is generally used only to seed riders for a match sprint tournament. It is a flying-start all-out sprint for 200 meters, and takes around 11-13 seconds for most amateurs to complete; the world record is around a 9.9. Because it is flying-start, technique for how to use the banking of the track to gain speed before the start line is important. Otherwise, it’s just an all-out effort for 200 meters.
Match Sprint—Match sprint is well-known for being the “slow race” where riders pace one another around the track at a casual pace before exploding into a full-on effort. There are so many rules and idiosyncracies to match sprint that I won’t get into it here – but among aficionados of the sport, the match sprint is considered one of the most suspenseful and exhilarating spectator events. The race is three laps long, though often the sprinters won’t fully engage the sprint until the last 200-300 meters. A good way to get familiar with match sprinting is to find some match sprint videos online – there are dozens of good ones available.
Chariot— A chariot race is contested by a group of riders over a short distance (commonly two laps of the track). The riders are held at the start, so that they can immediately accelerate away from the line. Tactics in this form of racing are not nearly as prominent as in Match Sprint or Keirin, as the race can be won on brute strength – but drafting still matters. Because the race is from a standing start, a strong acceleration (and a welltightened rear wheel) are important.
Keirin—Keirin is a uniquely Japanese form of racing, but has been fully adopted by the international track racing community. The race is contested by five to seven riders over two and a half laps – so it’s a medium-distance sprint event – but its distinctive feature is that the riders are paced by a motorbike or derny bike up to 50kph in the laps leading up to the “start”. In other words, it’s a flying-start sprint event with a group of riders. Tactics are very important, given that the race is too long for most riders to win in an all-out effort from the front. And because the track is relatively crowded with riders competing at top speed, the Keirin has a reputation for being relatively dangerous.
Kilometer Time Trial—The “kilo” is just a 1,000 meter standing-start time trial. Like the 400 meters in running, it’s a bit too long for an all-out sprint, but too short not to sprint . . . it’s just painful. It no longer appears in the Olympics, but is contested at World’s, Nationals, etc. Sprinters and Keirin riders with a lot of endurance can be successful in this event, but most match sprinters don’t have the endurance for it. Some pursuit riders have enough explosiveness and speed to be good at the kilometer, too – so it’s an event that sits right at the intersection of sprint and endurance events.
500 Meter Time Trial—Women and masters don’t generally contest the kilometer, but ride the 500- (or 750-) meter standing-start time trial instead. The 500 is so much shorter than the kilo that it can be taken as an all-out effort, and the speed of the standing start is that much more important.