In the third and final part of our feature on the changes to the sprint disciplines, we’re looking at the discipline with the largest number of changes – the Keirin.
We spoke to Great Britain coach Jan van Eijden before the Keirin had been run for the first time in the new format and he was really enthusiastic – was he still happy with the changes after three major competitions? “Yeah – I still think – especially the three laps – for the lads – absolutely fine. It’s going to take a little while to be really properly ingrained but I just think it changes the whole tactics with it – for the better in my opinion, because it’s just a lot clearer – and the riders know when they can go – there’s no ‘might be, maybe not’ – it’s clear for everyone. Good change.
“For the women, I think it’s going to take a while. It’s a long way for them, but already you see it’s working and I think when the top girls come in it’s going to change again.”
We suggest that the Keirin’s always been a slightly different race for the Women – even when it was two and a half laps, you had races when the bike would come off and the pace would drop… it was less explosive – and more tactical. “And I think that’s just what it is… but they’re going to adapt to it and I think it’s going to make it very interesting. Its going to play tactics even a bigger place for the girls than it had before – because if you go even a bit too early – or if you wait too long….
“The thing with the start – I’m not quite sure whether, sort of, you know, changing your position is one of those because you are limited by the draw now – and you’re not even given the chance to change that.
“And then reducing it to six laps in total I think is also good because it goes quicker – it’s better for the spectators. A little bit of the build-up is missing, because normally it’s just like – it goes, but we’ll get used to this – but the one thing I don’t like is no motorbike. I need the Derny – I need the noise with it, it just doesn’t…”
From a photographic point of view, we observe, the other problem with the electric bikes is that they’re much taller and much wider, so the pictures are awful. “Yeah, you don’t see anybody behind. I want my Derny bike.”
In terms of having to stay where you’re drawn, I guess the one advantage of that is that you then need to be able to ride from any position. Traditionally, GB have been very good about getting riders behind the bike if that’s where they wanted to be… “Yeah, we were – but again – you’ve not always got to the bike and looking back quite a while ago, Chris won I don’t know how many races from the front and we did say to him “No, you have to start going from the back because it could be at the Games – or at the Worlds – you’re not getting on the bike and the, all of a sudden you think ‘Ooh – what do I do now?’”
“So you have to be versatile for every position and we’ll try with our riders at different races to simulate different situations and scenarios, so – so, that’s the same again – you’ll have to adhere to it.”
Great Britain sprinter Ryan Owens agrees with his coach. “I actually quite like the changes to the Keirin. I’ve only actually done one race to practice it and it probably wasn’t the most relevant because it was at a 200m track in Aigle, but just from having watched some of the races in the Euros and at the two World Cups – I think it’s turned it in to a more tactical event – the top guys like Eilers who would just get to the front and sit on and know that no one would come round him, I think may still be able to do that to an extent, but it will be harder because you’ve got to hold out for that extra lap.
“You’ve seen guys like Tomas Babek who’s just been incredible in the Keirin since they’ve swapped the format and it’s all through the timing of his moves – he seems to get it just right each time.
“And I think it leaves it open for some more – I don’t know about more tactical guys, but it does change the tactics. I haven’t seen people just get on the bike and take it on with three to go and not see anyone come round them, because it’s that much harder.”
“I think it does make it little bit more uncertain – the dynamic of it has changed with… I don’t know if the old Chris Hoy tactic of just slamming it on the front would work any more. But to my memory I’ve not seen anyone fully do that.
“In all of Babek’s wins he’s kind of come over with maybe two to go – two to one and a half to go.
“So in that respect, I think it has sort of opened the event up a bit – we’re dealing with unfamiliar– not unfamiliar – but less familiar names in the last couple of evens at the World Cups, but when you’ve got another event with your normal suspects – Kenny and Eilers and Dmitriev and other Keirin specialists in the Final, it’ll be interesting to see how it compares to the past.
“I think we’ll see quite a few of them starting to come back and staking a claim for the Worlds in the next couple of World Cups and it will be really interesting to see that unfold at those – and see what happens when you’ve got the same riders that you’re used to watching dealing with the new format as well.”
We also asked ‘the Flying Doctor’ Lewis Oliva – one of the stars of the first three ‘new format’ Keirins for his views. “I think all change is welcome. I think the schedule of events obviously needed a bit of a shake-up and it’s good to keep things fresh. And the changes to the Keirin directly change the nature of the event.
“The new 3 lap Keirin – where you’re released from the bike with three laps to go – lengthens the race by half a lap in comparison to the old rules – however, the average speed of those three laps seems to be slower than the two and half lap ‘cousin’”.
“I think it’s going to take a bit of time for the riders to work out the new format properly. It’ll take a few protagonists – guys who have been missing from this World Cup schedule – to really animate the racing.
“Having said that, the structure of the racing at the minute seems a lot more open. I think it allows sprinters from Kilo backgrounds – as well as, potentially, a Man One in a Team Sprint background – for the first time to compete side-by-side in the Keirin. And the reason I say that is because… well, we’ve already started seeing it, with the likes of Tomas Babek – who’s so strong in the kilo events – and he can afford to take it out early and be dominating the pace from as early as three laps on.
“However, there almost seems to be two races now – with one for the early dominance, if you like, and then another with a lap and a half to go for the guys like myself who can afford to be a little bit more patient – I say ‘can afford to be patient’… Only have the option to be patient and with one big move between two laps and one and a half go…
“So we may start to see an unusual amount of riders being able to contest the Keirin competitively now – which I think is a great thing. It’s levelled it up slightly and it’s gone that one step further now in the direction of the Japanese Keirin.
“I think that’s a positive move. I think bringing it closer to the Japanese format allows a bit more all-inclusive races, so you have sprinters from all different backgrounds – whether they be kilo, or specific positions in the Team Sprint – who can actually contest the Keirin competitively now, whereas before I think the Keirin was a lot more restricted – it was a lot more obvious from a rider’s point of view when the key players were going to make a move. I think it was a lot easier in the old Keirin to be a little bit more dominant – riders on a good streak of form could really show their dominance.
“At the minute I think it leaves the racing much more wide open and a as a result, more hotly contested. And I think it’s going to bring about a positive from a personal point of view, but from a UCi point of view, I think the racing the racing is spectator friendly. You do only need three laps to get worked up to speed – I’m not sure of the relevance, any more, of having five and a half laps behind the Derny – looking back it seems a little bit silly now that we were behind the bike for so long – because we can no longer use our bodyweight and barge for positions, so they’re almost made redundant now.
“They’ve made those warm-up laps slightly redundant – aside from creating atmosphere and the sound of the Derny – I think it’s a good move now they’ve shortened the race, but it also means the riders can’t now switch off… because – without admitting too much to my coaches – there was a point where the laps got so long and so mundane, almost, sat there behind the Derny that you could afford a couple of laps to switch off a little bit, whereas now it seems like you’re in the race much earlier and you can execute your plan a lot earlier – which I think is a positive move.”
And having to stay in your draw position? Owens again – “I actually quite like it – the start of a Keirin always used to be a sort of fairly scrappy process and there were some times when you’d get restarts and things from where people had messed it up – and then the Keirin takes a long time to set back up as well, as you know.
“So the think the just falling in line thing – whilst it does take a little element of the race away in getting off the line, it does force you to ride from a certain position – and I think the way they’ve shortened the amount of time you’re behind the Derny is good. There were some times when you’d be following it around just thinking… well, the last couple of laps of it, at least, you’d kind of feel that you were up to speed and you’d only add like a couple of k and hour every half lap or so from that point, so I think the falling in line and speeding it up quicker will make it a better spectator event.”
No argument from Oliva, either “No, I think it is a good thing, because riders were getting very much used to riding in a particular style before, with the old rules – and guys with a particularly great standing start could get the back of the bike nine times out of ten…”
We’re surprised that having to stay where you’re drawn isn’t a bigger deal for the Great Britain riders as it means coach Kev Stewart’s monster push is no longer a competitive advantage. “Oh, we’ll still happily use him in the flying 200!” Owens insists.
But, in all seriousness, he did have a knack of getting people behind the bike at the start of the Keirin. “Yeah, he did – and you can still use it in that it makes the start a lot easier in the big gears that you’re using in the Keirin – but, yeah, from a race to the bike perspective, unfortunately, he’ll have to take a back seat on that one.”
Oliva concurs “Yeah : Kev’s put me on the back of the bike from Man Six and I’m 105 kilos, so… He can fling Jason and he’d be on the back of the bike. And if you look at the likes of Awang, you’ve got John Beasley pushing him – and I’m sure John wouldn’t mind me equating him to a pretty big shove – and, you know, these guys were get used to riding from Man One – and you can tailor your training to that.
“But now I think – from personal experience from riding the World Cups – it does make you think “How am I going to ride this? From the middle? From the back? From the front?” It makes you think a lot more. It means you have to be a lot more versatile. It means your training has to cover a number of different bases now – which it never used to – and I think it’s really going to sort out on the day who is the strongest and most versatile Keirin rider. I think it’s been a positive move.
That three lap finish is a long drag – we haven’t really seen anyone go from the moment the bike pulls off and hold on to take a win. “No,” Oliva agrees, “I think this is exactly what I was thinking about the World Cup races and the Europeans – you know, this year – like you say, I think you’re waiting for a few main protagonists there who are used to riding kilos and are used to sort of going for longs ones and hitting out early in the races – and as you say, that new rule now for the changeover for the Derny is designed so that riders can take a bit of a run up now and, you know, hit the ground running when it comes to the three free laps at the end.
“I hope you’ve not giving any one too many ideas – to start hitting out early – because it’ll make it particularly hard for riders like me.”
Even with the riders coming back, is there anyone that could actually pull it off? Eliers, maybe – Pervis on his best form, and a couple of others – but there aren’t that many who could do, effectively, a flying 750, starting at 50kmh and sustain it… “Yeah – that’s the thing. That’s the secret. Riders like those guys can always seem to hit the front and then do enough to make you think that they’re going flat out and actually, they’re just doing enough so that they can stay and the front and you’re not able to challenge them at that speed. As a result, they can do a raiser ride, if you like, and raise the speed all the way to the finish where they’re just as strong as a normal sprint.
“So they’re the real tricky customers to work out when you’re going to make you’re move – they do lure you in to sitting on their back wheel and not doing much more than that, really.
“With a couple more races and few international Grands Prix and maybe some stuff at Revolution it’ll start to come alive now, that race, because the World Cups were particularly cagey, I think – especially on the Men’s side of things – because I think it was a new format and a little bit uncertain to try out new moves. Obviously the World Cup’s quite a big stage and that’s not where you want to be trying your new tactics. It’s the races now like Revolution and the Grands Prix on the circuit where you’ll see riders experiment with what they can and can’t get away with.”
So if there are now multiple ways to win – and different types of riders that are now competitive because of the tactical element to it – the other element is that you’ve got to look around and see who’s in that heat and think about how they might ride the race and adjust your own tactics accordingly. “Yeah – precisely. I mean, that’s something we always looked at anyway, with the old Keirin – you very much take each Keirin on a heat-by-heat basis – you don’t ride a four-up Repechage the same way you would ride a 6-up Heat, or a 6-up Semi Final – or even in the Final. They all very much play different parts and they require different characteristics.
“It’ll take a few of the guys back from the Olympics at these big races and you can give yourself a real thought process as to how you’re going to ride against some of the strongest Kilo and Keirin riders in the world – and for that makes the racing that much better.
“In the Sprint events now, you’ve really got an accumulation of not just your physiology, but you’ve got your tactics – which have never been more important – especially now in the Keirin – so yeah, bring it on.”
The last word goes to the current World Cup Leader and European Champion, Tomas Babek.
“I think that shortening the time riding behind derny made the first part of keirin less boring for spectators, but the fixed positions behind derny made that first part less spectacular because the fights after start were typical for Keirin
“However the changes brought some new interesting things. For example, if rider must keep the position then he need to come out with the specific tactic which help him if he has harder position in back.
“The second part without the derny is longer, which leads to more dramatic sprint, now nobody can attack full gas immediately when derny’s off, because it is just too far. So the moment of tension before somebody will attack is much more dramatic. So yes, I like the new rules.”
“And no I had no special training for the new keirin I only tried once before the Europeans, but it was in the race in Aigle on 200m long track – which was totally different”
So, does the new format suit him – or is it just coincidence that the format changed and he was on good form? “I think a bit of both. I had good form, plus the new format suits me.”
What is it about the new format that suits him? Is he just smarter than everyone else? “I would not consider myself smarter than other opponents, I respect them all – some of them are my good friends… I think I just wanted it the most…
Would he say it’s more tactical than before? “Yes it is more about the right moment. It is more about to trust yourself and your instinct plus your performance…”
And the ‘right’ time is different every race – depending on your draw and the riders in the heat? “Yes, for sure you must know your opponents and watch them and be prepared to react”
So – with the exception of the sprint seeding, the changes to all the disciplines seem remarkably well received. With some of the more experienced, big hitters returning to the track in Cali and Los Angeles, we’ll be watching closely to see how the racing continues to evolve.