Track Races - Explained

Track Races - Explained

There many different types of races in track cycling, here is a brief description of common events.

Scratch Race

The most fundamental race in the velodrome. All riders start at the same place (on scratch). The rider that crosses the finish line first on the final lap wins. Scratch races vary in length from 8 laps and up, and are typically the first event of the evening (can be refered to as a Heart Starter).

Dash or Chariot Race

A 1.5 or 2 lap “drag race” to the finish line from a standing start. Riders qualify to race in a final by competing in preliminary heats of 4-6 riders. These races are the fastest races in the Velodrome.

Points Race

Riders cover a specific distance (4km - 40 km) and set number of sprint laps. The rider who accumulates the most points, wins the race. Points are awarded on nominated Sprint Laps, signaled by a bell or whistle. The first four finishers in these sprints are awarded 5,3,2 and 1 points respectively. If a rider laps the field, he or she is awarded 20 points. Any rider that loses a lap on the field has 20 points deducted from his/ her total.

Match Sprint Race

This is the classic sprint race on the track. The race matches two or three riders against each other over three laps of the track. The first one to cross the line at the finish is the winner. Only the final 200 meters are timed.

Keirin Race

The Keirin is a massed start sprint event of 6 or 8 laps in length. During the first 3 1/2 to 5 1/2 laps the riders are paced by a “pacer” or motorcycle. The speed starts slowly at 20 kph and gradually accelerates to 40 kph before the “pacer” pulls off the track, leaving the riders to sprint for the finish. Riders often qualify for a final through preliminary heats.

Team Sprint Race

The Team Sprint matches two teams of two or three sprinters against each other and against the watch. Each rider of a team takes his or her turn leading the group for a lap at maximum effort. After the completion of lap one the lead rider pulls up and out of the race leaving the rest of the team to continue. After the second rider completes his lap at the front he also pulls up and out of the race allowing the third rider to complete the race. Often this race is run through heats advancing to a final. Sometimes run as a time trial where the fastest time wins.

Elimination Race

The Elimination, Miss and Out, or “Devil take the hindmost” is a race in which the last rider across the finish line every (other) lap is withdrawn from the race. One by one the field is whittled down to the final two or three riders then sprint for first second and third place.


One of the most exciting races to watch on the track, the Madison (so named because it originated in Madison Square Garden) is a race consisting of two-rider teams. The riders are required to switch off during the race by means of an exchange. While one member of the team races his partner slowly circles the track above the blue line. When they meet, the racer passes his momentum to his partner via a push or “hand sling” before moving up to the blue line to recover for his/her next effort. Races may be run over a specified number of laps or over a period time. Often, sprints for points are offered as a means of enlivening the action.

Kilometer Time Trial (men) 500 meter Time Trial (women)

From a standing start, the cyclist rides as fast as possible for 1 kilometer or 500 m. Results are easily determined: the fastest time wins. Foam pads are placed at the inside edge of the track to prevent riders from “taking a short cut” through the turns.

Individual Pursuit

This event covers four kilometers for men, three for women. Two riders start exactly opposite from each other on the track and literally chase or “pursue” each other around the track. A rider can win the race in one of two ways: by either catching his opponent or by recording the faster time. Times are posted when a rider reaches each half lap. The best riders follow a “schedule”, generally announced track-side by their coach. The event may be run with riders qualifying through heats to a final round or as a time trial in which the rider recording the fastest time overall is declared the winner.

Team Pursuit

The Team Pursuit is similar to the Individual Pursuit, except that each team consists of three or four riders. The racers ride single file, known as a “pace line”, and take turns leading the team around the track. At each turn the lead rider moves up the embankment to slow down, allowing the other three riders to pass underneath, and then drops down the track to the back of the “pace line”. The lead rider is responsible for setting the pace while the other cyclists work inside the draft to keep their speed while recovering. The winner is determined by the time recorded when the third member of the team crosses the finish line. A team is considered caught, when the third member of one team is passed by the second or third member of the opposing team.


A track handicap event is one in which the strongest riders are given the greatest distance to travel in accordance with past performances with the aim of equalising the competition between all riders.

Handicap events are typically held over 1000m – 2000m. Riders must start at the mark given to them by the Handicapper.

Unknown Distance Scratch Race

This event is a scratch race with the distance not advertised prior to the start. The race may have intermediate Sprints or a Points score system. The whistle shall be blown with one lap to go.