Following on from our popular feature about the changes to the Omnium competition, we decided to have a look at the changes to the Sprint disciplines – the Sprint itself, the Kilometre and 500m Time Trial, the Team Sprint and the Keirin. In the first of three parts, we concentrate on the Time Trial and the Team Sprint.
We spoke to a number of coaches and riders after the first two World Cups in Glasgow and Apeldoorn about the changes, the impact they’d had on the races we’ve seen so far – and on the way the events are likely to evolve in the future.
We began with German sprint legend and Great Britain coach Jan van Eijden – who was quick to correct our assumptions about the importance of the Kilo and the 500 to the GB team since its removal from the Olympic programme.
The changes to those disciplines – in terms of the addition of an extra round of heats – are similar, in terms of their effects, to one of the major changes to the Team Sprint, Before the changes came in, a lot of coaches, riders – and armchair pundits – said that doing three Team Sprints in one day – or two kilos in a day – was going to be too much. It doesn’t seem to have been…
Jan van Eijden “Well, the first thing I want to see is that we don’t really not care about the 500m and the Kilo – because it’s still a valuable event and we have used the Kilo and the 500 as a development pathway for our younger riders. For that reason, for example, Ryan [Owens] and Joe [Truman] did the Kilo at the Euros – and when you look at the past Callum [Skinner] came through the Kilo – and, you know, Chris [Hoy] came through the Kilo – even though it was then still Olympic. But it’s still a pathway for us.”
And, we suggested, it’s a good training ground for a Team Sprint Man Three as well. “Yes – it’s a fantastic development opportunity for Man Three – and if you look at the limited numbers you have to go to [the] World Championships, the younger guys sometimes don’t have a chance to go – and the established riders might choose not to do the Kilo. Then it’s an opportunity for the younger ones to go the Worlds – to have the experience. Obviously, they’ve got to perform at a certain level, but they can step up up on the world stage and deliver.”
But two in one day? “I think it’s going to change the shape of the event – it might very much become an endurance event. Also, if it’s on the first or second day of the World Championships you really need to think twice about how much damage you do as a sprinter – whereas I think, as an endurance rider you see at the Omnium they do it – or, they did it… – as the last event and they still pumped out 1:01s and 1:02s and then – the worst thing – they stepped off the bike and… they walked!
“You see a Kilo rider and they can’t walk again. So I think it’s going to shape and change the event.”
When the changes were first proposed, the UCI was talking about a 750m in qualifying and then a Kilo for the finals… which would have fundamentally changed it. Was van Eijden happy with the compromise? “Well, the original was half distance – and then it became 750 – which would have completely changed it again. Like, a 500 – you take the Man Twos – they do a qualifier 500 in 31 and a half – the top Kilo guys – some of who’ve got the length – they wouldn’t even qualify. And then in the evening the Kilo would be won in a 1:02 or a 1:03.”
“It’s going to change it – it’s going to be interesting to see where they’re going to put it, how they’re going to fit it – but, definitely, I think for those who have ambitions in the individual events and the Team Sprint – which are Olympic – they’re probably not going to contest from a sprint point of view.”
So – on to the Team Sprint. Again, everybody said ‘You won’t be able to knock out three rides like you used to in a day’ – and yet, when you look at the times, quite often the third ride’s the fastest.
“I disagree with that. I think you see it at the Olympics every four years – people do it. You just have to alter your training slightly – but the amazing thing for me is when you look at the times done here by some nations – it’s already Olympic-competitive – except if you take the British out and the Kiwis at the game – but it’s just going from strength to strength.
“And we did the same… it changes. The first round is not as important as it used to be – where before if you qualified fifth because of a mistake you were done – you were fifth. You were not in the final – bad luck. [Now] – even if the first one is not the pinnacle –the second one is the important one because that gets you to the medals, which changes the complete approach again.
“But I do think we’re going to see through the years a very high level over three rides.
What about the other change? The changeover has been changed – primarily – to make it easier to judge, but will it impact the riders? “I personally think it’s a good thing. It sort of just makes it front wheel – clear. It’s going to take a little bit of time for the riders to adapt to it because they’ve got it so ingrained at the moment to go through the pursuit line to swing up – so who’s leading needs to swing out a bit earlier so the second one can rush – and I think, also, because of this we’re going to see faster times. The times we see here [in Apeldoorn] are already a little bit of a reflection of the change over – because you can actually come earlier, come quicker and therefore we see slightly quicker times.”
And what about the rider’s perspective? We caught up with Great Britain youngster – and newly crowned National Sprint Champion, Ryan Owens. “The Kilo, I think, it’ll have a bigger impact on than the Team Sprint, but we’ve not actually had a chance to run that one out yet – I think that will be at one of the later World Cups – but in the Team Sprint, we’ve actually found that we’ve had our best ride in the last ride of the day, in the third ride.
“We did at Glasgow and, I think, Joe [Truman] who’s the Man Three – who you’d expect to be the one feeling it the most by the third ride – actually did his best time in the Senior Euros in the Final – I think he went 13.1 instead of 13.3 in the previous two rounds, so it’s not affected it the way some people may have thought it would, in terms of times.
“It does draw the day out longer – so, often it’s been that you have two rounds fairly close together in the morning and then, in the World Cups anyway, we went back and then came back in the evening for the Final – or Apeldoorn was the other way round, with one in the morning and then two in the afternoon or the evening.”
We’re glad we’re not the only ones that loses track of what time it is in the velodrome!
“So, in terms of adding overall fatigue to the week, I think it does – it adds that extra long day one, whereas the Team Sprint used to be a fairly quick day.
“In terms of times and stuff, I think a lot of the teams that have been at the competitions lately are still, kind of, gelling and getting used to working together, so actually having they extra run out – or practice – on race day, in one of the rounds, can kind of mean that by the third effort that you’re a bit more drilled.”
What effect does the different timing approach have? Having two close together, presumably, has the advantage that you can stay warm and stay on it – and your legs don’t seize up in between the two – so do you have any thoughts as two whether you’d rather see the two qualifying rides together and then a gap to the final or the other way round?
“I quite like the way it was done in Glasgow, where you had the two qualifying fairly close together and then the Final reserved for the evening session. You’re calling eight teams back in for a second round the way the Apeldoorn one did it, whereas [Glasgow] whittled it down so you’ve just got the medal rides coming back for the evening session, which is more of a show anyway.
“The way the Senior Euros ran – which was pretty much three Team Sprints, placed an hour apart – was based on what happened at the Olympics and, actually, having them all in one session – from a rider’s perspective at least – wasn’t that bad. You can stay on top of your warm-ups and not have to worry about that.”
So by the time you’ve warmed down and it’s time to warm up again there’s probably not a huge amount of down time between them, is there? “In Glasgow we finished about two o’clock and we had to get back to the hotel and then come back by about five to start the warm-up again, so by the time you’ve warmed down and ridden back to the hotel – which is half an hour – rushed your dinner down you and them come back, you’ve not really had any time to unwind and relax and rebuild – so it actually just kind of extends the period where you’re kind of in your race mode, which does tire you out over the course of the week – so, from that perspective it’s harder.
And what about that the new change over rules? “I think it will definitely make the times a little bit quicker because the old change over was approximately a tenth – because you had from the front of the front wheel of the Man One to the f back wheel – that distance was about a tenth – so that was the old perfect change over – whereas theoretically now the new perfect change over is nothing.
“So, at best, you could change a tenth per change – so two tenths over the course of the race.
“At the moment – I don’t think anyone’s fully practiced on it – and it’s a lot harder to judge than it used to be – because from my opinion the old system you used to just aim for the back of the back wheel that you could see. Whereas now, the perfect change would be to get to the front of the front wheel, which is something you can’t see until you’re next to it.
“So when I’m trying to aim at that as Man Two, to get the rush right, it’s quite tricky.
“As it is, at the moment, it has made it a safer change – there’s not been many DQs – in fact, I don’t think I can remember a single DQ from the Euros or the last couple of World Cups – but when people get more practiced – the perfect change is the front of the front wheel again, so all I think they’ve really done in that area is just shifted the point to a different point and everyone’s just going to try to get as close as they can to it, so still – once they’ve had time to work on it.”
So does Owens think we’ll see relegations coming back in to at as people get used to the new system? “Yeah, I think as people start to get more confident on it and start to get over confident again… at the moment, people are still used to timing their rush to hit the back of the back wheel, so a lot of the time in mine I’ve kind of approached it and aimed like the old change would have been and then don’t worry about back pedalling or anything – if you feel like you’ve over done it.
“At the moment, it feels like there’s more space, but obviously all the teams are going to go away and practice and it’s a big area where you can gain time. A normal changeover, as I said, was a tenth, so if you can take two tenths off just being disciplined on change, then that’s massive.”
We’ve had riders who’ve come away from the World Championships with three out of the four sprint titles and I guess with two Kilos and three Team Sprints in two days it’s going to get harder – particularly if you’re Man Three in the Team Sprint – to do that kind of thing. “Yeah – absolutely – especially two kilos in one day… I mean, speaking as more of a short, sharp rider – that would pretty much finish me off for quite a few days, I think. So guys like [Pervis] that have wrapped up the whole thing – the whole competition, almost – in the past, may struggle to do that any more, for sure.
“You’ve just got the longer days beforehand – especially if it’s the same arrangement as it was this year where the Kilo’s the first day and then the Team Sprint the second day, by the time you even find yourself directly racing wheel to wheel with another opponent, you’ll have done – if it’s all gone to plan – five very long efforts – at that point.”
So, on balance, the riders and coaches seem pretty happy with the changes to the timed events. In the second part of this article, we’ll see what they have to say about the changes to the Sprint and then, in part three, the Keirin.