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Old 08-08-12, 03:46 AM   #1
SlackerInc
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In Olympic velodrome, what if someone started out fast?

I am "car free" and ride my bike every day, but I've never raced or anything like that. However, I do find it fascinating to watch the velodrome when the Olympics come around every four years. My wife and kids saw it for the first time this year and found it utterly bizarre that the racers attempted to go so slowly until the final sprint. I had a hard time explaining it to them (that would be a tangential question to pose to those more knowledgeable), and in particular I didn't know how to answer the question in my subject line, which actually seems reasonable.

Presumably when this sport was invented, it was expected that, just like a track and field event like a 1500m, racers might pace themselves somewhat and wait to make a break for the finish line at the end, but they would still ride reasonably fast before then. I'm assuming the advantage of drafting was so great that before long, it evolved to the way it is now. (Which also begs the question: why not just make the race distance a lot shorter so as to dispense with all the slow riding that does look silly to casual viewers?)

I'm just wondering though: what if someone unexpectedly went out there and just started hauling a## right from the get-go, taking their opponent by surprise? Mightn't they "get the drop" on them such that their opponent wouldn't be able to catch up close enough to get into drafting position?

On the other side of the coin: why hasn't this "evolution" caused longer road races like the Tour de France to become slower and slower except for the stretch run? (Other than the time trial stage, of course.)
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Old 08-08-12, 06:12 AM   #2
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The slow starting sprint is called a match sprint, the desired spot is to be drafting front rider because the front rider would break the wind for you, thus conserving energy for the explosive sprint at the end. Match sprints have a lot to do with tactics more than pure muscles, if you want a pure speed with no build up, then a team sprint and time trials would be more appropriate events to watch. If you start out to haul ass right from the get go, you will exhaust yourself before you can reach the finish line, and the rider behind you will win. It's basically all about drafting and conserving energy for the sprint at the end.

A multi-staged race like the Tour de France is completely a different animal than track racing. Heck, even one discipline of track event is completely different from another. Basically, Tour de France winners could be separate into 4 classifications; the general classification (yellow jersey), the mountain classification (polka dot), the points classification (green jersey), and the best young rider (white). It's all about tactics, conserving energy on the road, and recovery. In a way, they are slow at first and go all out at the end, but the energy they conserve is expended more evenly in a stage race. Since match sprint is such a short and explosive event, they need to go really slowly, sometimes a complete stop, to bait the riders go before you in order to sit on their wheels. In a similar light, a sprint finish on a flat stage is the same as a sprint on the track, except they are already at a really high speed. The riders still need to sit on someone's wheel to conserve maximum energy to use it at the last very bit. Sorry if this is confusing to you but here's a video of a stage sprint:
[video=youtube;4C4diLFBfcs]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C4diLFBfcs[/video]
The reason why you see how long the line of riders is because if a team wants to win that day's stage, they need to up their pace in hopes of weaving out the other contenders. Again, sitting in each other's slipstream to conserve energy. At the 1 minute mark of the video, the front rider, Mark Renshaw, is basically the rider who will spend all his energy to break the wind for his leader, Mark Cavendish, for the win.

This is pretty much what the track riders are doing; the front does all the work, the second wheel just attack at the end. Except your lead out man in a match sprint is your opponent. At the end, it's basically all about saving your energy.
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Old 08-08-12, 07:15 AM   #3
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It does happen - but due to the taxing nature of such an effort is rarely done.

Once getting past the flying 200m qualifier, there can be quite a few match sprints to just make it to the final.

[video=youtube;j73jfBHDFyc]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j73jfBHDFyc[/video]
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Old 08-08-12, 07:20 AM   #4
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This post and article should help explain that to ya:
http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...7#post14579927

What you describe (Just jump and go fast) has happened successfully at local or national levels. You really have to catch the other person off guard, jump hard enough that he can’t catch your draft, and be strong enough to stay in front without running out of steam.

Generally the person in the back has the advantage because they can easily see everything and are usually higher on the track – giving them more momentum on a jump.

If you want a silly race – you obviously have not seen the hour long match sprint races in Europe – that turn out to be more like hour long endurance trackstand contests.
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Old 08-08-12, 09:26 AM   #5
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What you describe (Just jump and go fast) has happened successfully at local or national levels. You really have to catch the other person off guard, jump hard enough that he can’t catch your draft, and be strong enough to stay in front without running out of steam.

Generally the person in the back has the advantage because they can easily see everything and are usually higher on the track – giving them more momentum on a jump.
+1

Also, being a guy that likes to chase from behind, if the guy jumps early that gives me a "rabbit" to chase and I can measure my approach and subsequently overtake him.
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Old 08-08-12, 06:23 PM   #6
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If you want a silly race – you obviously have not seen the hour long match sprint races in Europe – that turn out to be more like hour long endurance trackstand contests.
Can we agree that something is broken in this sort of unintended evolution of tactics based on the parameters provided? Happens in other sports too, but then rules are usually adjusted to prevent it. A great example is in basketball, when Dean Smith at UNC invented the "four corners" offense to run out the clock once his team had a lead--even if there was nearly the entire second half left. So they instituted a shot clock to force the action.

It's not as easy to think of a simple rule to prevent the "endurance trackstand contests" you describe, although maybe it's just what I mentioned in my OP: take a look at when riders typically start to really race (what, a lap, lap and a half to go?) and just make the race that long so as to dispense with the several laps of very slow silliness.

Dalai, thanks for the video you posted. Exactly what I was envisioning: "catch 'im napping"! I kind of see the idea of "you can only do it the once", but is that really right? I play poker, and it seems to me that mixing this in randomly a certain percentage of the time the way you do with bluffs would be pretty smart. I mean, first: why can't he do it the second time? Because the opponent will be ready for it and ready to take off themselves, right? Except then if--psych!--he doesn't do it the second time, strikes me that he's more likely to be able to get the opponent to jump on ahead of him and let him get the tailing position.

One more thing: I've watched five of these races (including the video above) in the past couple days now, and in every single one the initial leader (the reluctant leader in four of five, of course) was the one who won the race (though in most cases by a very close margin), making me question the conventional wisdom that it is such a disadvantage.
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Old 08-08-12, 07:02 PM   #7
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One more thing: I've watched five of these races (including the video above) in the past couple days now, and in every single one the initial leader (the reluctant leader in four of five, of course) was the one who won the race (though in most cases by a very close margin), making me question the conventional wisdom that it is such a disadvantage.
It's very dependent on a combination of rider style and track geometry. It's much harder to come around on a track with shorter straights than with longer ones, making it in many ways preferable to be in back when it's slow (so you can see the other rider easier) but in front once the sprint is engaged. If you try to pass in the turn you have to ride significantly farther than the inside rider (the red line is about a meter from the bottom of the track, and you can't cross it), or time the pass perfectly so you're charging into the front rider's draft during the turn to get your acceleration in reduced wind resistance, and come out of the draft in the straight with enough speed to get around. Back in the days of 333 m tracks the straights were much longer and coming around was probably easier to pull off. Even among 250 m tracks there are variations in geometry that will affect how to ride a sprint.

As far as sprints becoming "endurance trackstand contests", there are UCI rules to prevent it: at the start, the rider who draws the lead is required to lead at at least a walking pace for at least the first half lap and "make no maneuver to force his opponent through" unless the other rider takes over the lead (at which point the obligation of the rider drawing the lead is met). If the riders stop for more than 30 seconds, the starter will direct the lead rider to continue (penalty for not continuing is stoppage of the heat and relegation of the lead rider). USAC rules also put a limit on how far you can ride backward-- it used to be something like 18 inches, and I think now it's much less (or even zero), but I'm too lazy to dig up this year's rulebook.
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Old 08-08-12, 07:20 PM   #8
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On the other side of the coin: why hasn't this "evolution" caused longer road races like the Tour de France to become slower and slower except for the stretch run? (Other than the time trial stage, of course.)
Helicopters, Motorcycles, and fixed wing TV relay aircraft.

Back in the early days of the tour up until not that long ago, many of the stages were long cruises at tempo interrupted by races through towns or over mountain tops, and ending with a race to the finish (leadout and sprint or climb). It still does happen to some extent today, particularly on flat stages just before hard mountain days, but the nature of TV and money has changed that-- they now have continuous TV coverage of the race, and sponsors want to have their teams' jerseys visible on the camera as much as possible, so the racing has gotten more intense. Jackie Durand was famous for taking 100 mile solo flyers, but you never saw him win much. He got contracts every year though because there would be 4 hours of TV coverage twice every tour with just him and his sponsor's jersey. Nobody can afford to buy a 4 hour commercial like that...
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Old 08-09-12, 02:52 PM   #9
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Slacker,
I understand your good will, and interest in track racing. But it is kind of disheartening to read some one with no experience, and only minimal(no insult ment) understanding to tell me that one of my favorite events is broken. I strongly, strongly disagree.

Part of the enjoyment of racind and watching match sprints is the cat and mouse game of getting the person in the right place, and how to trick them so you get the jump. I am not a sprinter, but can win a match sprint often enough because I have the tactical advantage over many racers.

Without the understanding of what is going on, match sprints may not be the easiest race to watch, but I have found that once a person understand, they are instantly a fan favorite. If the rules were in effect "you must race hard all 3 laps", theny you would have nothing but a kilometer two person scratch. Which is a pretty boring event to watch in my eyes.

Track cycling is track cycling. So making a comparison to running races or auto races doesn't make any sense. There are reasons that those races are gone full bore from the start, just like there are reasons for bike races to not. It is part of the fun.

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Old 08-09-12, 03:30 PM   #10
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Track cycling is track cycling. So making a comparison to running races or auto races doesn't make any sense. There are reasons that those races are gone full bore from the start, just like there are reasons for bike races to not. It is part of the fun.
A lot of people are confused about racing-- mass start racing isn't about going the fastest, it's about crossing the line first. It's a sometimes subtle difference in approach that makes a huge difference in how the races work. I've even seen two-up breakaways in the tour who had a lead over the pack big enough that they got into the cat and mouse game, including trackstands, because neither one of them thought they had enough left to just drag race it to the finish.
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Old 08-09-12, 03:42 PM   #11
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A lot of people are confused about racing-- mass start racing isn't about going the fastest, it's about crossing the line first. It's a sometimes subtle difference in approach that makes a huge difference in how the races work. I've even seen two-up breakaways in the tour who had a lead over the pack big enough that they got into the cat and mouse game, including trackstands, because neither one of them thought they had enough left to just drag race it to the finish.
Didn't Andy Schleck and Contrador almost do track stands in the 2011 (or 2010) tour when climbing a mountain pass because Schleck didn't want to lead?
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Old 08-09-12, 04:02 PM   #12
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I'm not sure if this exists, but if you want to get rid of the stalling, how about a race where each competitor starts on opposite sides of the track, and whoever can pass the other rider wins. It could be a sprint, or it could end up being a gruelling endurance event.
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Old 08-09-12, 05:32 PM   #13
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I'm not sure if this exists, but if you want to get rid of the stalling, how about a race where each competitor starts on opposite sides of the track, and whoever can pass the other rider wins. It could be a sprint, or it could end up being a gruelling endurance event.
That'd be a pursuit. Pursuit's generally stop after 4k though, because we don't have all day.
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Old 08-09-12, 06:30 PM   #14
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That'd be a pursuit. Pursuit's generally stop after 4k though, because we don't have all day.
I've been in Australian Pursuits that degenerated into that, and the announcer would put on some music and say that whoever was leading at the end of the track was the winner. Unfortunately it would sometimes be a 10 minute dance mix and we'd collapse before that...
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Old 08-09-12, 08:36 PM   #15
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Slacker,
I understand your good will, and interest in track racing. But it is kind of disheartening to read some one with no experience, and only minimal(no insult ment) understanding to tell me that one of my favorite events is broken. I strongly, strongly disagree.
Kayce, if you're fine with it being a small sport with a cult following, then great. Other sports aspire to be enjoyed by spectators (live and on TV) far beyond a specialised niche. And some of those sports succeed, get regularly broadcast on TV (not just during the Olympics), provide a nice living for the people involved with them, etc. If track cycling aspires to be one of those kinds of sports (or even to be as popular as the Tour de France), it needs to ditch the track stand stuff, that just looks silly to the casual fan.

As for the more technical question of whether it is "broken" in terms of how it is played vs. how it was designed to be played, do you have any cite to offer that the person or people who designed the parameters of the sport really intended cyclists to use these kinds of tactics? I don't have proof, but I strongly suspect that in its early days, competitors went at a good clip from the "starting gun".

I don't think it's necessary to be defensive or offended by what I'm saying, either. I mentioned that Dean Smith "broke" college basketball with the four corners offense, that required instituting a shot clock to "fix". I didn't mention that I grew up in Chapel Hill, idolising Smith, and still admire him greatly. Good for him: he figured out a legal angle to shoot, used it effectively for a while, and then they changed the rules and he was still a great coach once that loophole was taken away. I have faith in track riders that similarly, they would be able to adapt to a change in rules and put on great races that even casual fans could enjoy.
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Old 08-09-12, 10:38 PM   #16
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Kayce, if you're fine with it being a small sport with a cult following, then great. Other sports aspire to be enjoyed by spectators (live and on TV) far beyond a specialised niche. And some of those sports succeed, get regularly broadcast on TV (not just during the Olympics), provide a nice living for the people involved with them, etc. If track cycling aspires to be one of those kinds of sports (or even to be as popular as the Tour de France), it needs to ditch the track stand stuff, that just looks silly to the casual fan.
Track cycling is one of those sports in europe, where cycling is far more popular in general. Six-day races still sell out and are televised, and the riders get paid pretty well.

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As for the more technical question of whether it is "broken" in terms of how it is played vs. how it was designed to be played, do you have any cite to offer that the person or people who designed the parameters of the sport really intended cyclists to use these kinds of tactics? I don't have proof, but I strongly suspect that in its early days, competitors went at a good clip from the "starting gun".
Trackstanding and playing for position were probably discovered one or two heats after the invention of the 2-up match sprint, if not the very first one. If you've ever raced a bicycle you understand that wind resistance is a (the?) dominant factor, and that mass start races (even the stage races) aren't won by speed but by acceleration. Those two factors make match sprint tactics what they are. If you want to have a drag race you might as well just put them on ergometers and measure max power over a specific time. If you take wind and acceleration into account, you can get results where someone like me (very much an endurance rider) can play tactics on sprinters and beat them in a short race, even against guys with a 2 second advantage over 200 meters.

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I have faith in track riders that similarly, they would be able to adapt to a change in rules and put on great races that even casual fans could enjoy.
There are already rules to prevent 2 hour trackstands (and I've summarized them above). To me, watching TTs (what you're proposing) is like watching paint dry, though I've seen a packed building cheering wildly even watching the 25th kilo time trial in a row. I'm happy to match sprints with a lot of tactical action all day. And at the elite level, stoppages have gotten much rarer as riders have moved to racing much larger gears on steep 250 m tracks. Big gears at low speeds on steep tracks lead to slides down to the apron. They seem to happen most often between riders who are very closely matched and have raced each other a lot.

And then there's the Keirin, which may be what you're really looking for. The motorcycle takes over the role of lead rider and dealing with the wind while the riders fight for the position they want, then with 2.5 laps to go the motor pulls off the track and leaves it for the riders to finish. Until about 5 years ago it was about the closest thing to gladiators racing chariots that you could find. In Japan it's a betting sport and the riders make good money, and they have times of year when they invite foreign riders over to race, who are also well paid.
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Old 08-10-12, 01:52 AM   #17
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Kayce, if you're fine with it being a small sport with a cult following, then great. Other sports aspire to be enjoyed by spectators (live and on TV) far beyond a specialised niche. And some of those sports succeed, get regularly broadcast on TV (not just during the Olympics), provide a nice living for the people involved with them, etc. If track cycling aspires to be one of those kinds of sports (or even to be as popular as the Tour de France), it needs to ditch the track stand stuff, that just looks silly to the casual fan.
It isn't a small sport everywhere. If by "casual fan" you mean fans who can't be bothered to understand the tactics and therefore get some idea what is going on, I'm fine with that. Speaking as a European, I find baseball and basketball incredibly dull. I'm sure they can be exciting to those who understand them, but I've never taken the trouble. What you suggest would turn match sprints into something resembling a NASCAR race between two cyclists, which would be unendurably tedious. In fact, NASCAR is a good example of what happens to a sport when you dumb it down sufficiently for nobody to have to bother understanding much...

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As for the more technical question of whether it is "broken" in terms of how it is played vs. how it was designed to be played, do you have any cite to offer that the person or people who designed the parameters of the sport really intended cyclists to use these kinds of tactics? I don't have proof, but I strongly suspect that in its early days, competitors went at a good clip from the "starting gun".
I can't speak for the earliest days, because track cycling is a nineteenth-century invention. But I've been watching cycling for almost forty years, and I can assure you that track standing was far more prevalent in the 1970s than it is now.

You need to understand that a track meet will typically involve the whole panoply of races one would see in a six-day event. Endurance races like the points race, Madison and scratch race, maybe an eliminator - "casual fans" usually like those, they're very accessible. Then there'll be pursuits, maybe a Kierin, as well as the matched sprints you are struggling to understand. The races follow one another on the track at intervals of only a couple of minutes. It is anything but tedious. However, I recommend you watch your first Madison in the company of someone who knows what they're looking at. You'll find the tactics of a matched sprint are an open book, by comparison.
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Old 08-10-12, 02:01 AM   #18
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It's the tactical cat and mouse in the initial laps and explosive power of the match sprint is what make it!

As already mentioned - there are enough races such as the individual pursuit which go at a steady pace from the beginning.

Not every event needs to be at a level that everyone can understand it on first look. Plenty of events in the current Olympics aren't perfectly clear to me initially, but once I've made the effort to learn the nuances of the event I can then appreciate it and have become a fan.
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Old 08-10-12, 07:02 AM   #19
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Just wanted to say, holy crap you're arrogant. Nobody cares if dumb people can't understand match sprints. We'd rather you didn't dumb the sport down that's been played much longer than the ones you cite and is extremely popular in many countries.
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Old 08-10-12, 08:36 AM   #20
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So you don't race and you only watch track cycling during the Olympics? Yet you're ready to restructure an event so that it suits your sense of how it should be?

Track cycling isn't basketball. Let it go already.
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Old 08-10-12, 10:27 AM   #21
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Speaking as a European, I find baseball and basketball incredibly dull. I'm sure they can be exciting to those who understand them, but I've never taken the trouble.
Speaking as an American, who has actually played my share of baseball, I find it about as exciting to watch as vacuuming the living room floor. It can be mildly entertaining to play, but it's arguably even less exercise than golf...I suppose cricket could be worse. I have the same opinion of Basketball as the OP does of match sprinting. I don't see why they bother playing the first three quarters. They could replace them with a running race that we don't have to watch and then play for 15 minutes, as most games seem to be nearly even until the last quarter and the play only picks up near the end.

One of the things I like about track racing is that it has all the elements of road racing and crits, but distilled down to remove all the boring bits where you're just noodling (or even cruising at high speed) along without a lot of tactical action. And many of the races have significant "game" elements (i.e. you have to score points) rather than just being drag races, so you have to be not just strong, but able to keep track of the game score and play multiple parallel games of prisoner's dilemma while in oxygen deficit.
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Old 08-10-12, 10:27 PM   #22
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Aw, where did he go? It was just starting to get fun...
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Old 08-11-12, 12:05 AM   #23
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Aw, where did he go? It was just starting to get fun...
And don't get me started on american football or golf...
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Old 08-11-12, 04:38 PM   #24
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And don't get me started on american football or golf...
My favorite part of the NFL is everyone is inside watching leaving the roads for us!
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Old 08-11-12, 11:37 PM   #25
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