In part one of our two part feature on the changes to the sprint disciplines we looked at the timed events – the Kilometre and 500m Time Trials and the Team Sprint. Now we turn our attention to the Sprint.
The changes to the Sprint seeding are interesting. Looking at the results – and if you look at results historically, the chances of the top four qualifiers being in the finals were always pretty high – but it’s now almost inevitable. We asked Great Britain Sprint coach Jan van Eijden how he sees the impact. “It does change a little bit. I think the one thing – I mean, I agree with it – no repechages any more – I think the only one that is left now is the Keirin – but that’s fine – I mean, the winner goes through, that’s OK – tough luck for the one who loses.
“I also can live with that, the top 4 there is a benefit – although sometimes I think it’s not a benefit because you qualify fastest and then you have about an hour and a half until your next race – where the other ones, they have a hit out, they’re keeping warm, they have the hit out – they get their bearings right and then you – all of a sudden – you come to the next round and – because of the new seeding system – you’re not actually going against the slowest in qualifying, who made it – you’re all of a sudden up against someone who’s slightly closer to you.
“So I do think sometimes that’s a disadvantage – but I think it’s a good thing, you know – qualifiers should get a benefit, which is fine – and it opens up the competition for a few more riders – the one thing I just don’t like is the new seeding system.
“I would like to see it go back to fastest against slowest and build it up for the final – because, otherwise, if you’re fifth qualifier you don’t really have an advantage. You’re better to qualify 12th or 17th because you get the slowest qualifier. So that would be something I would like to see being changed.
“But I think if I take the whole changes have made, you know, I think the UCI is proactive – they’re trying to move forward, they’re trying to be attractive for spectators and the television audience, which I think we have to, if we want to stay on the circuit where we are.
“On the other hand, if you ask 20 people, you’ll get a different answer every time. But, as I said, as a whole the sprint changes I think is absolutely fine – it’s just I would love to see them change the seeding and then that’s fine.”
We also spoke to one of van Eijden’s up and coming young sprinters Ryan Owens, to get his view on the changes. “So, I got a bye – they didn’t run [the new seeding] at the Euros, but they did at Glasgow – so I got a bye in Glasgow and came in at the 1/8 Final round. I think, that in a way, the bye does help – in one day it’s such a long day that any fewer rides you can take to get to the Quarter Finals and Semis, which is where they start going to best of three is good because by the end of that day it’s often who’s lasted the best.
“But that first ride often – for the higher seeds, anyway – was a bit of a – I don’t know – it wakes you up and gets you into it, without it being too much of a challenge. Because if there was a big gap in qualifying, you could go into it with confidence and just kind of get used to how the day’s going to feel on the track and everything else.”
And if you were one of the higher seeds in qualifying, the [time] gap between having done your 200 and doing the 1/16 Final could be really short – it could be 10 to 15 minutes almost between getting off the track and your heat getting under way – whereas now you can have an hour or so between qualifying and the 1/8 Final. “Yeah, effectively you skip out that round and you’ve had – often it was like a twenty minute difference between the qualifying and the 1/16 Final – all depending on where you seeded in qualifying and where you went up. And then another 20 minute recovery or something until your 1/8 Final, so you do miss out on having to rush that recovery quite so much.”
So it might be a little bit of a disadvantage in the 1/8s, but by the time you get to the Quarter Finals and Semi Finals, you’re a little bit fresher… “I think the 1/8 is always a bit of a worry when you’re coming in, because your first race, I always find, you have to kind of settle in to the day, but later on in the day I think it will help you.
“I found the biggest difference with the Sprint has been the seeding – more than the bye in the first round – in that you can… it’s almost strange that fourth is almost the best place to qualify – in terms of getting up to the Semi Final stage – because fourth gets the easiest ride in the 1/8 Final and then the easiest Quarter Final – and then they race against second in the Semis. First gets the highest qualified person that didn’t get a bye in the 1/8 Final, which, to me, hasn’t made a lot of sense so far.
“And it’s confusing as anything for the coaches who are looking at these matrixes trying to figure out who’s got who in the next round – that’s been a bit confusing. “
And yet, despite all that, it doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference to who makes the Semi Finals. “No, I’d agree – it’s strange how it’s actually unfolded – it’s really not made a lot of difference at all. I found that the biggest difference it made for me was when I qualified fifth in Apeldoorn – which I think is probably one of the worst places to qualify out of the higher positions now, because, at the Quarter Final stage you get the first place qualifier.
“So, I think, in the old system you used to have fifth versus fourth – which is where you were close together and you’d see the shake-ups in the order and everything else. Whereas now, everyone’s kind of an equal distance apart in each heat – so first-fifth, second-sixth, third-seventh and so on – I actually think, if anything, it’s going to shake things up in terms of who makes the top four even less.”
Particularly as the top four are also rested – so you’ve got one less ride to do and an advantage in the draw. “So we’re grasping a little – as a group of riders, we’re grasping at what they thought might happen with it. It’s not really shaken up the qualifying order so far – although obviously it’s a different group of riders riding these races, really, to previously, so when they come back – when the big guys come back from the Olympics – you could see a shake-up in how they compare against each other, but in terms of the initial format, I don’t think it’s really had that much of an impact.”
In the third, final – and longest – instalment, we look at the changes to the Keirin.