The penultimate round of the 2022 UCI Track Champions League saw a change in leader in two of the four championships, a narrowing of the lead in one and the virtual conclusion of the other.
Let’s start with the changes. In the Men’s Endurance, a breakaway by Will Perrett of Great Britain and Moritz Malcharek of Germany succeeded – despite the relatively short length of the race. Perrett took the win from within the main bunch, with Malcharek holding on to second, despite blowing up on the run-in. Dylan Bibic of Canada took third and, significantly, Sebastian Mora of Spain took fourth.
Mora had finished Round 3 in third overall – behind Mathias Guillemette of Canada and Claudio Imhof of Switzerland. With Imhof in 10th this time – and Guillemette 14th – it was
Mora who was starting to emerge as the strongest challenger for the title.
Imhof had a much better Elimination race – hanging on for fourth place. Guillemette’s second place behind America’s Gavin Hoover kept him in the hunt, but Mora’s third would see him end the evening tied on 99 points with his Swiss 6 Day rival – but ahead on countback. Guillemette is just six points back on 93, with Will Perrett’s fifth in the Elimination combined with his Scratch win leaves him just three points behind the Canadian.
The Spaniard will, of course, not need reminding of last year’s finale, where he was relegated for causing a crash and threw away the title on the final evening.
The Men’s Sprint was the other competition where we saw a big change around. It was a night of few surprises in the early stages of the Keirin –Stefan Bötticher of Germany, Harrie Lavreysen of the Netherlands and Santiago Ramirez of Colombia – third, first and fourth in the overall standings at the start of the evening – won their heats and were joined in the final by Kevin Santiago of Colombia, Matthew Richardson of Australia and Mateusz Rudyk of Poland – fifth, second and sixth.
The final was a different matter though, with Richardson taking over the lead of the competition with a win and Lavreysen finishing down in fourth. The Australian had gone from being two points down into a five point lead – but he looked absolutely spent after the race and the Dutch rider in the leader’s blue jersey must have thought he had a good chance of retaking the lead in the Sprint.
In the Sprint Heats, too, Lavreysen and Richardson booked their Semi Final places in the final two heats – Richardson edging out Azizulhasni Awang of Malaysia, racing again just seven months after open heart surgery – with Quintero winning heat two. The first heat had seen Jeffrey Hoogland of the Netherlands through, with Mikhail Yakovlev of Israel taking heat 3 and Rayan Helal of France heat 4.
Those minor upsets were tidied up in the Semi-finals which set up another Lavreysen vs Richardson clash. This time we were treated to a couple of track stands, before Lavreysen finally took the win by seven thousandths of a second.
The damage had been done in the Keirin final, though and Richardson goes into the Final round with a two point lead.
The Women’s Endurance competition has been a little odd. Jennifer Valente of the USA has lead since round 1 in Mallorca but coming into London hadn’t won a single race. A third and a second in Mallorca were enough to give her a comfortable lead over Anita Stenberg of Norway – who won the Elimination race but came 12th in the Scratch – and Katie Archibald – who won the Scratch but was first out in the Elimination.
In Berlin, Archibald won both events, but Valente’s two second places still left her six points clear of the Scot. Paris saw a first in the Elimination and a second in the Scratch for Archibald – with Sophie Lewis of Great Britain taking the Scratch. Lewis was no threat to the American’s overall lead and a third in the Scratch and second in the Elimination saw her retain her lead – but now by just a single point.
The two contenders watched each other in the opening Scratch race and let Emily Kay of Ireland power off the front to take a fine solo win. With Archibald second and Valente only fourth, the American lost the Championship lead for the first time – the Great Britain rider now ahead by three.
It was as good a time as any for Valente to take her first win – and take it she did. Archibald made it through to seventh, but it was a disappointing result in her battle to retain her title. Valente fought out the final sprint with Stenberg, but the Norwegian had nothing left and the American had her first win of the season and a comfortable, but not unassailable lead going into tomorrow’s final two events. Even if Archibald wins both races, Valente will still take the title – provided she takes second in both. Anything less and Archibald will do the double.
The Women’s Sprint competition has seen two riders – Great Britain’s Sophie Capewell and Germany’s Lea Sophie Friedrich dropout of the competition. Shanne Braspennincx of the Netherlands led after the opening round in Mallorca, off the back of two fourth places – with Martha Bayona of Colombia winning the Keirin but coming 14th in the Sprint – and Mathilde Gros of France winning the Sprint but coming 16th in the Keirin. Bayona took over the lead after Berlin with a second and a sixth, with Gros again winning the Sprint but failing to make the Keirin final and Kelsey Mitchell of Canada winning the Keirin and coming fifth in the Sprint. That put her second – a point behind Bayona and two ahead of Gros.
Paris saw Gros take her third Sprint win – and finish second in the Keirin, in front of her home crowd. That meant she headed to London with a nine point lead over Bayona, with Mitchell just one point behind the Colombian.
Spoiler alert – Gros hadn’t been beaten in a Sprint competition since taking the World title in Paris in October. She has now.
She eased through to the Semi-final, along with her closest rivals Bayona and Mitchell – with Olena Starikova of Ukraine, Braspennincx and Steffie van der Peet of the Netherlands taking the other three spots.
Gros faced the two Dutch riders in the first Semi-Final and, to absolutely nobody’s surprise, progressed to the final. Mitchell and Bayona were no match for the diminutive Starikova in the other Semi, though – and the Ukrainian took a fairly comfortable win in the Final.
The two Dutch riders who made the Sprint Semi Finals won two of the three Keirin heats – Mitchell taking the third – and their compatriot Laurine van Riessen, Gros and Urszula Los of Poland took the remaining berths.
Van Der Peet won the final, ahead of Mitchell – with Gros in 6th and Bayona out in round one. That leaves Gris nine points clear of Mitchell going into the final day, with Olympic Champion Braspennincx and Van Der Peet both moving ahead of Bayona in the standings.
With all four titles stlll very much up for grabs, it will be fascinating to see who can back up their performances with just 21 hours recovery time.