What You Should Know About Velodromes
Track cycling is one of the oldest forms of cycling competition. However, if you could look at the track used for the very first Track Cycling World Championships back in 1893 in Chicago (USA), you would discover a design very similar to that used today. It would be an oval shape, with banked 180-degree turns at either end, connected by straightaways. Of course, in the intervening century-plus, there have been many advances in materials and construction, but the basic design has remained consistent.
Velodromes are constructed in many sizes and configurations, and the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has recognized this in its regulations on cycling tracks [Articles 3.6.064 – 3.6.101 of UCI Cycling Regulations].
The length of tracks varies widely. The Forest City Velodrome (non-homologated) in London (Canada) is, at 138 meters, one of the smallest in the world. On the other hand, certain outdoor tracks are 500m (the longest that can be homologated) or more. Over time, the standard track length for international competition has shortened from 333.33m to 250m.
Track surfaces can be made from a variety of material, including wood and concrete. Wood, in particular pine, is the most common for indoor tracks.
It should be noted that all races take place in a counter-clockwise direction.
The UCI Regulations set out four categories for tracks that meet the standard for competition, ranging from the highest Category 1 (suitable for UCI World Championships and Olympic Games), through to Category 2 (UCI World Cup and Continental Championships), Category 3 (other international competitions) and Category 4 (non-international, domestic-level competition and training).
All tracks are required to meet local building code standards for safety, as well as specific UCI criteria. Category 1 and 2 tracks face the most stringent criteria, since they will have riders reaching the highest speeds. The width of the track (7-8 metres for Cat 1/2) and radius of the bends must fall within certain parameters to ensure that the track can be ridden safely at speeds of up to 110 km/h. The surface must be consistently smooth over its entirety.
This still allows considerable latitude for design, with professional designers instilling each track with its own unique characteristics. Category 1 tracks, since they host the highest levels of competition, must also cater to larger numbers of spectators, as well as television and media, which necessitates, for example, the installation of excellent lighting.
Since track racing is contested over a multitude of events, timed and head-to-head, individual and mass-start, the markings on the surface all have specific purposes. Between the flat apron of the infield and the track itself is a blue band (the ‘Cote d’Azur’) which is the transition to the track proper. It is not part of the racing surface of the track, and trying to pass on it below another rider is against regulations.
Twenty centimeters (20cm) above that is a 5cm wide black line, whose inside edge defines the actual length of the track. The black line is marked every 5 meters and numbered every 10 metres. Then 90cm higher up again is a red line (the Sprinters’ line). Between the red and black lines is the shortest and most efficient path around the track. Once a rider is racing in that zone, anyone wishing to pass them must go around above them, and will be disqualified for trying to push a rider out of the lane, cutting down on them or trying to pass below.
At one-third the width of the track from the bottom is a blue line (the Stayers’ line). This line is used for specific events such as the Madison or motor-paced events.
The finish line runs across the track at the end of one of the straightaways, a few metres from the start of the bend. A white line across the track, 200m from the finish line, marks the start of the length used for Sprint qualifying (200m flying lap). Red lines running across the track on opposite sides halfway along each straightaway mark the start-finish lines for pursuit events.
Since it is important that officials are able to observe action on the track at every point without obstruction, roof support beams for indoor tracks are not possible inside the track service. This makes velodromes more costly to construct.
Many of the more advanced velodromes include sophisticated ventilation and heating systems that manage temperature and humidity, providing optimal conditions for peak performances.
The modern track is both a link to the earliest days of track racing and a technological marvel.
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