Reuters, PALMA, Spain
Once every four years the world’s best track cyclists enjoy the Olympic Games limelight and captivate television audiences around the globe with high-octane gladiatorial racing.
For the rest of the time, road cycling rules and the velodrome specialists, outside of powerhouse nations such as Britain and the Netherlands, live a niche existence.
Cycling’s governing body, the International Cycling Union (UCI), hope that is all about to change as the inaugural Track Champions League was to start yesterday at the Velodrom Illes Balears in Mallorca.
The quick-fire, made-for-TV series featuring 72 of the world’s best riders competing over five weekly rounds is designed to elevate the sport to a new level.
With broadcast partner Discovery Sports Events promising an innovative approach with live rider data and fan engagement, the UCI hopes to hook a new audience and provide riders with the stage to raise their profiles and, more importantly, make a decent living.
Britain’s six-time Olympic track champion Chris Hoy, an ambassador for the new league and who helped devise its format, believes the new series could be a game changer.
“I feel like the sport has always been the poor relation compared to road cycling. So this is what the sport needs, this will give it the boost to take it to the next level,” he said.
The complexities of track cycling, while fascinating for the aficionados, can be mystifying for the casual fans, while even experienced cycling journalists can be left scratching their heads at times during a Madison race.
For that reason, the Track Champions League has adopted a boiled down format with 18 male and 18 female sprinters battling for points in sprint and keirin, and the same number of endurance riders contesting the scratch and elimination races.
Each round of the Champions League would last about three hours, with riders scoring points in every race and results tallied up to decide male and female champions in the sprint and endurance leagues after the final round in Tel Aviv on Dec. 11.
While there are some notable absentees, such as Britain’s golden couple Jason and Laura Kenny, yesterday’s cast in Mallorca was to boast 29 Olympic medals and 63 world titles.
The four overall winners would receive 25,000 euros (US$28,879) with 1,000 euros for the winner of each individual race with equal prize money for male and female riders.
“With the commitment these riders have, they should be getting rewarded,” Hoy said.
Following the Mallorca round, the action moves to Lithuania on Nov. 27, before two rounds in London on Dec. 3 and 4, and the climax in Tel Aviv.
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