What's a madison? A quick guide to track racing

This is not a madison

As we digest exactly how well we did in the Track Cycling World Championships at the weekend and how this sets us up for the Olympics in Rio, it helps to know exactly what those weirdly named races were all about. Even if you’ve seen a few track races before it might not be particularly clear. So here’s a guide, beginning with the most confusing of all …


The one that Wiggo and Cav won gold in at the weekend, this is a 200-lap, or 50km, relay race which is raced by teams of two riders who take it in turns to complete laps of the circuit while the other circles at the top of the boards. As the rider ‘in play’ comes around he will sling the resting rider into the race and take a rest himself.

Often a team will consist of a rider who is a better sprinter and another who is strong at endurance so both sprint points and distance can be achieved.

While there are points for sprints every 20 laps, the aim is to lap the opposition, which will result in a win. Points only come in if all teams are on the same lap at the finish.


As short as the madison is long, the sprint is a three-lap race that involves a good deal of tactics and cunning. Riders set of at a near-standstill which can seem a bit odd for a race but they’re actually trying to out-wit each other before they make a dash for the finish. This game of who can be slowest can sometimes last up to two-and-a-half laps before the riders make a dash for the finish line. Other times, such as with Sir Chris Hoy, it was a case of blast off early and batter the opposition to exhaustion.

Before the race proper there’s a 200m flying start time trial to decide placing.


The noisy one and arguably the most spectacular as a little pedal moped-type thing called a derny is brought out to pace the riders. The sound of the engine and the smell of the two-stroke petrol fill the velodrome. This race was born in Japan and proved popular over there because it was legal to gamble on it.

The derny veers off the track with 2.5 laps to go and having got the bunch up to  decent speed. Riders then race flat out for the win.

The keirin is raced in rounds, with heats and two finals, one for the medals and the other for the placings.


A mass-start race of the most basic kind. First across the line after a 15km (10km for women) race takes the prize. This however is the equivalent of 60 laps and anything can happen during that time. There will be specialists in all the disciplines - sprinters, endurance riders, etc and there’s plenty of time for strategy. Lapping the field is a favourite tactic and will put a spanner in the works of the sprinters who are saving their legs by hiding in the wheels for the finish, but by going off the front there might not be enough energy to get to the end.


The objective of the race is to score as many points as possible through intermediate sprints every ten laps of the 40km race (men) and 25km (women) race. This is the equivalent of 160 laps with 16 sprints for the men and 100 laps with 10 sprints) for the women. The winner of the sprint lap takes five points with the next three riders getting four, three and one respectively. If you lap the field you get a whopping 20 points, but losing a lap will set you back 20.


Fast and intense, this is a race over 4km (3km for women). Racers go flat out from the start but need to be consistent to last the distance. Qualifying rounds involve individual riders posting times before a head to head between the fastest four in the finals. First rider to cover the distance wins unless someone is lapped. Then the race is won.


Teams of three (or two women) race over three (two for women) laps with each rider taking a turn at the front for a lap. The idea is to lead out the final rider and position him for the final blast to the finish line. Just like a road race sprint finish, the lead-out men expire when their turn is done

Teams set off at the same time from opposing sides of the track.


A massive game of chase involving two teams of four riders who who set off on opposing sides of the track for a 4km race. To win three riders of your team have to cross the line first, with the time taken from the front wheel of the third rider. If one team catches the other then that’s it, race over.


Two days, six events involving a flying 1 lap time trial, points race, elimination race, individual pursuit (4km for men and 3km for women), scratch race and time trial (1km for men and 500m for women).

The idea is to gather the most points over the six events, with the winner of the first five disciplines taking 40 points with second place receiving 38 points, third place 36 points etc. These accumulated points then decide the positioning for the final points race. Points will either increase or decrease according to performance in the points race.


A race against the clock from a standing start, 500m for women and 1km for men.