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Track Worlds 2015

It was an intense weekend.

Days later, I’m only just recovering, and I didn’t even complete one pedal stroke in the city of light. The World Championships are full-on, Very Serious Business. I mean, I thought I was a freak about track racing until I witnessed True Love:

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(Whoever said the course of true love never did run smooth¹ clearly never got to ride the new French National track.)

Seriously, though: I snapped that photo after the Madison, the last event on the schedule, which (thanks for asking!) was incredible. Fast and tense, we had to wait until the end of 200 laps to crown the winners.

France (Morgan Kneisky & Bryan Coquard) drew first blood, taking the first sprint 20 laps in. It was a smart move to bank points as early as possible; the finish would come down to the smallest of margins. But the finish seemed a long way off at the time, and Great Britain snuck off solo with 170 to go, managing to take the first lap. It was a lead they’d hold for most of the race, despite France, Italy, Belgium and Spain trading attacks.

No team wanted to let anyone else off the front, although Colombia managed to escape with 110 laps left. But they got stuck in no man’s land, unable to lap the field before the momentum of the 6th sprint brought them back into the fold.

The winning move turned out to be Italy and Spain’s attack with 40 laps to go: they won the sprint and just kept going, probably hoping to catch the others off guard. But France and Germany weren’t going to be caught out, and Belgium went along too, and all of a sudden the selection was made, and we had a five-team race on our hands. When Spain took the second-to-last sprint, there was only a six-point difference between first and fifth place. Australia jumped next, no doubt hoping to finish on the same lap as everyone else, but to no avail.

So it would come down to the last sprint. Italy and France were the strongest, ratcheting up the speed with two laps to go and taking the first two places – in the sprint and on the podium – for themselves. Spare a thought for Italy, who missed out on gold by one point, and for team Spain, who, tied on points with Belgium, could have taken bronze if they’d finished better in the final sprint.

But this is why I love the madison: for the story, for the changing of fortunes, for the strategy and the speed. We couldn’t have asked for a closer contest to finish the track season.

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The women’s omnium was another highlight of the weekend. In Saturday’s scratch race, Tatsiana Sharakova, Caroline Ryan, and Ausrine Trebaite worked together to take a lap, and eventually Amalie Dideriksen did as well – solo! With these four taking the majority of the points, Annette Edmondson pipped rival Jolien D’Hoore in the bunch sprint for the line, valuable points which would help her to the top step of the podium.

The women’s (omnium) elimination finished Saturday night, a race so good that it kept all of us at the track until the very end. When reigning omnium champion Sarah Hammer was eliminated to take 10th place, I swear I could hear her swear from the top row of the stands. Jolien D’Hoore took third, and then Laura Trott caught Kirsten Wild off guard to take the sprint.

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(Three laps to go in the women’s omnium elimination: Laura Trott, Kirsten Wild, Jolien D’Hoore.)

Well, I say “off-guard” like I know what I’m talking about. Ms. Wild also raced the non-omnium scratch race earlier in the afternoon, winning impressively by getting on the front with two laps to go and holding off the field. Chapeau to Allison Beveridge, who crashed with twenty-something laps to go, and jumped back in to take bronze.

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(from left to right: Amy Cure, Kirsten Wild, Allison Beveridge.)

So going into Sunday’s points race, Hammer, on her third try, finally took a lap with the help of Sheath. We have to recognize Olaberria, Berthon, Ryan, and Sharakova’s brave attack, riding away from the group with 17 laps to go, only to get caught with two left. Wild took the sprint (surprise!) but Edmondson knew she had battled well enough to win the war:

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(If you’re looking for the post-race high-five shot, no worries because it’s right here.)

Speaking of screaming fans: it must be said that the crowd was partisan², but polite. Yes, they go crazy – mostly when there’s a French rider on the track – but they pay attention to other racers as well: gasping for close finishes and close calls, applauding brave attacks, booing the officials when they relegate racers. All of this made it impossible not to turn your head when a French rider was competing, especially when the sprinters took to the track.

Sadly, I missed the men’s keirin held on Thursday, but the sprint competition (which started on Saturday) was good even from the very first rounds. Honorable mention to Callum Skinner, up against Grégory Baugé in the first round: he went full gas when he heard the gun, hoping to catch the defending champion off guard. No dice – he was caught on the back stretch – but the crowd loved it.

Things got a little bit wonky in the répechage rounds, because three-up sprints meant that François Pervis had some help from his French teammate Michaël D’Almeida. Rules are rules, I suppose, but it’s hard not to feel bad for Stefan Bötticher, who posted the fastest time in the qualifiers (and was world champion in 2013), but was denied a fair fight in what should have been his second chance to get back into competition.

François Pervis³ racing against Grégory Baugé was the standout match in the sprint competition. Both are multiple world champions, both are strong and cunning sprinters, both have fan clubs whose members wear matching t-shirts, and, of course, both are French. I had seen them race last fall in Grenoble, but to see them compete with the noise of 5000 people screaming elevated the competition to another level. Pervis took the first of three sprints, but it would be the only loss Baugé would suffer en route to the gold.

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(One down, one to go.)

France’s fine showing had the crowd on their feet, but for all of us that had trouble finding our seat, we had these guys to help us out:

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(Extra cheese. Do you copy? I said extra cheese!)

The security guards at the French National Track just don’t stop hassling racers, fans, or fake journalists – such is their commitment to being in the way. ESP, the private security provider for events at the track, is the kind of walkie-talkie-and-beer-gut-based organization that employs people men who hold up the self-checkout lane at the supermarket, because they certainly have three items over the 10-item limit (either because of their counting skills or just because they’re above the rules) and for lack of the reading comprehension skills to efficiently operate a touch-screen.

No time to let The Man Get Us Down©, though, because there was too much great racing. For all of the ink⁴ I’ve spilt on French sprinters, the real deal was the women’s sprint competition. Kristina Vogel put on an impressive show, winning one sprint from Elis Ligtlee by just one-thousandth of a second. Well, that’s not the whole story: Vogel won in two of three sprints, both from the front, and, of course, she doesn’t have a car as cool as Ms. Lightlee’s:

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(No doubt about who just cut you off in traffic.)

The last big story of the weekend was that of Fernando Gaviria, who started the weekend as The Guy That Beat Cavendish and finished the weekend with an omnium gold medal. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds though, he crashed twenty laps into the points race but jumped back in to hang on to the lead.

Thomas Boudot’s attacks were the most evident, of course, because of the crowd, but the group hung him out to dry. I counted four attacks by the time the race is over that amounted to nothing; maybe he should have hooked up with Aaron Gate, who managed to take three laps by the time the race was over – and was rewarded for his efforts and smart racing by jumping from 12th up to 5th place by the time the points race was done.

But then, even leaders Glen O’Shea, Elia Viviani, Fernando Gaviria and Aaron Gate were shut down when they attacked with 30 laps to go. Pity for Viviani that he didn’t have the legs to attack again, when rival Gaviria was stuck at the back of the pack four laps later, but this is an easy comment to make when you’re watching the race from the top row of the stands. And I’ll keep going with the armchair commentary: I tipped de Buyst for the madison (indeed, he won the points race), but both are going to be forces to be reckoned with next year. See you in London?

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(All racers get to sign in; the fast ones get to sign out, too.)

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1. First one of you seven readers to identify that reference (author & work) gets a prize! And no fair google-ing, smart guy.

2. It seems to me that complaints about the partisan French crowd were quite common in the Anglo cycling press. I don’t think a non-partisan world championship crowd exists (nor will it, ever), but: what’s up, London 2016? Are y’all going to cheer for sportsmanship, for brave attacks, for riders from countries that haven’t thrown a bunch of money at their national cycling programs? Or are you going to cheer for a flag?

3. I’ve linked this Rouleur article before, but it’s too good not to link it again.

4. Ahem, not ink, but ones and zeros.

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Paris preview

Yes! That’s right! I managed to get a ticket to the 2015 UCI Track World Championships in Paris Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.

First, before you keep reading, check out this prowomenscycling.com post about how to watch from home. Sarah’s put up an excellent guide to follow the action, including what to do if the UCI’s youtube channel is geo-blocked for you. Check it out!

What’s left for me is gossip: obviously, I’m most excited to see the stars of the sixes race without the benefit of spotlights, loud music and a disco ball, but more faithful track fans will have followed the world cup track meets – last November in Guadalajara, Mexico; last December in London, UK, and last January in Cali, Colombia. Anyway, here’s a couple of races to watch out for:

The Omnium (obviously). Much has made of the rivalry between Laura Trott and Sarah Hammer, and for good reason¹: everyone wants to see if the American will win the stripes for the third year in a row. But I’m tipping Jolien D’Hoore, riding for Belgium, with flying Dutchwoman Kirsten Wild² hot on her heels. And I’ll be yelling for Marlies Mejía García, who took fifth in London (and a silver in Guadalajara), because it’s cool to see what the Cuban team can do. Fun fact that Cuba brings a women’s selection but no men’s, no?

And sprinters! It’s hard to ignore Guo Shuang’s dominance in the Keirin these past months. But Elis Ligtlee won’t let her go easily, and Kristina Vogel will be trying her best to defend her title. I’d like to see Juliana Gaviria.

Speaking of Ms. Gaviria, turns out that there are men racing too (!), among them her brother Fernando Gaviria, who you may remember as The Guy That Beat Cavendish Twice In San Luis. Or at least, that was a popular headline in the cycling press last month; as always, check the Alps & Andes blog for, well, real content.

I still don’t understand why the women don’t have their own Madison – it’s a bummer because it’s my favorite event³ – but the men’s is going to be a great race. I spent all winter listening to whisperings about Jasper de Buyst and Otto Vergaerde. While it’s true that six-day racing is heavy on northern european hype, the strength of De Buyst’s accelerations cannot be exaggerated. The 21-year-old was disqualified last year, but he will return wiser and, most likely, even faster.

Regardless, the Spanish Balearic⁴ duo of David Muntaner and Albert Torres won’t go down without a fight. They’ve been spending time refining their technique, and if they race with the form that won the title last year then they’ll be the team to beat. I’m also very excited to watch the European champions Andreas Graf and Andres Müller compete; while others are racing, these two are playing chess, calculating attacks, and finding wheels with one eye on the scoreboard.

As far as the Keirin goes: who could forget Fabian Puerta Zapata’s win in Cali? The home crowd must have helped, but he’s leading UCI’s points world cup standings. Still, Jason Kenny’s not going to make it easy for him, and – above all – keeping François Pervis off the top step of the podium is never an easy task.

Spectators don’t have it easy this year, either: escaping the clutches of the City of Lights and its wine, cheese, museums, expositions, and – finally – good coffee, is a challenge. But well worth it for some of the best track racing of the year!

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1. Probably plenty of bad puns, as well, but I’ll save that for another post.

2. See footnote #1.

3. Obviously?

4. Balearish? Balearese?

The sound and the fury: day five at the Berlin Six

Big Berlin! After fighting my way through two long weeks without seeing any six-day racing, I arrived in Berlin. I know that Texans say that everything’s bigger in Texas (maybe it is, but investigating that fact would require actually going to Texas), but I can say with certainty that it’s true about Berlin: big, wide streets, three-point-something million people, 890 square kilometers, and of course, a velodrome, set into the ground, that holds 12.000 people.

I’m off to walk an estimated 72km around the city, but here’s a quick list of first impressions:

1. You can buy almost anything at the Berlin Six. Yes, at other sixes there are vendors, but here it’s turned up a notch: food from at least eight different countries, bikes, bike accessories (€9 inner tube, anyone? no? nobody? weird), bike clothing, men’s suits, real Italian espresso out of a real Italian Ape, ear plugs – it gets real in here, and real loud – and, why not, world-championship track bikes:

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(Quick! Someone loan me 1.224 more euros!)

2. The Stehers (stayers? stahers? whatever, they’re big dernies, because go back and read the third sentence of this post) are incredible. I thought the dernies made enough noise and smoke and speed, but oh how wrong I was. These guys ride their motorcycles standing up, with a contraption on the back to keep the cyclist from bumping into the back of it.

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(Obviously, brought to you by Esso.)

3. Hey, Mr/Ms Cyclocross, have you ever seen a track sprinter take a hand-up¹? Me neither.

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(“Please tell me this isn’t a shitty pilsner!”)

4. But the handoffs go both ways:IMG_8684 - Version 2

(As I said: this might not be the best thing about six-day racing, but it’s top three.)

5. In between races, you can practice your marksmanship:

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(Grosse Jagd ², indeed)

6. Oh yeah, speaking of which, there’s racing too:

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(I hope you told him to put on his suffer face.)

The lead has changed every night, with three teams within a lap (Lampater/Kalz, Muntaner/de Ketele, Rasmussen/Hester), and three more within striking distance (Havik/Stöpler, Grasmann/Lea, Graf/Müller) going into the last night. Full report, as always, over at the UIV site, but the final is still up in the air: will hometown heroes Lampater/Kalz can hold on for the lead, or will they have to come to Copenhagen next week to exact revenge from the Danes? Or will World Madison Champion David Muntaner take a big victory in the stripes?

7. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what was going on right now in the concert hall. Cover band Right Now was rocking the Monday night crowd:

You may or may not like Prince, but you cannot deny that this video raises two very good questions: do Europeans understand the “act your age, not your shoe size” line differently? And: how good is that last line?

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Notes:

1. Yes, a beer hand-up. Is there any other kind?

2. For those of you who are just tuning in: the German word for Madison racing is Jagd, which translates back to “hunt.” There are normally two each day: a big one and a small one.

Everything track racing should be: an interview with Korina Huizar

I’m not sure where to start, I feel like you have a lot to say about track racing, and women’s track racing. But maybe start by telling me how you wound up in Belgium?

Track racing is an individual sport, and there aren’t really teams surrounding it. Last year on the road I raced with Vanderkitten, and they supported me on the track as well. Unfortunately, they folded, and that left me in the position of having to find a new team for both road and track.

I’ve signed with a great road team [BMW Happytooth], and for the track, I wasn’t sure: there aren’t any track teams in the US, except for Felt, and they’re pretty international; they only pick a handful of riders. So it created the opportunity for me to find all of my own sponsors that I wanted to work with. There’s a few, like Fast Forward Wheels, that I’ve been working with since I got started on the track in 2012, so it made sense to reach out to them. They’re my title sponsor for this year, and I’ve got a few other great ones on board, like Nuun, Castelli, Marc Pro, so yeah, it really worked out.

This next year is all about accruing UCI points, this is a UCI scratch race. Almost all of the six days – they don’t have women’s madison racing –

Yeah, why not?

I don’t know. It’s not that popular in the US, although that’s where it gained its popularity [note?], and there’s definitely people trying to make it happen again – Jack Simes, the godfather of cycling, is trying to bring it back. He did the Hollywood Six Day two years ago, and I think are hopes that it’ll happen again this year.

But for me, I ended up in Belgium wanting to start my season racing on the track, it’s my favorite. I feel like it’s the hardest form of racing, so it’s a great way to start the season, to come out here and get a few track races in. I’ll go to Berlin after this, and it sounds like I may do the Revolution Series after that.

After that it’s back to the US, we have our road team camp at the beginning of March, and then my season kicks off in April.

What do you think needs to be done to help women’s cycling? I mean, I know that you’re a racer and not a promoter, but…

I think it’s just as simple as promotion. Everyone knows about six-day racing, but not many know that there’s a women’s race in conjunction with that, and just having it broadcasted in the pamphlets, that the women are doing certain races, or highlighting women’s racing, for whatever weekend it is, I think our races are just as hard. We crash just as hard, bleed just as easily, we put everything out there.

Have you only ridden [a Six] here and Fiorenzuola?

Yeah, it’s the only six-day race I’ve done.

And how do you feel, the second time around?

I love it. It’s crazy, its a big production and yeah, it’s a bit stressful coming in, we had our meeting at 1 and we were on the track at 2 and there are people everywhere. But it makes it fun.

Absolutely. Most of the racers that I’ve been talking to are really into the six-day thing because the crowd is louder, more excited, there’s music… do you even hear it, by the way?

Oh yeah. You can even hear kids with the noisemakers, sometimes they catch you off guard. But it’s a blast.

The kids are really into it too…

It’s a show, and I think that’s how racing should be. We were talking about it, it’s kind of a show for spectators, it’s more than just racing… I feel like the track community in general is pretty easygoing, it’s a lot of fun.

I’ve never been to Fiorenzuola, would you tell me a little bit what that was like?

It was beautiful. It’s Italy, to start off with, so that just sets the precedent: it’s in a beautiful countryside, and the racing was phenomenal. I’ve never, even to this day, raced in such a hard, world-class start. It was phenominal: Georgia Bronzini, Kirstin Wild, we’re talking world-cup status. For me, it was a great opportunity to race with them and get that experience firsthand. And I think once you get a taste of six-day racing, you just want to come back. It’s a blast, and it’s hard, and it’s fun, and everything that racing is.

One of the things that I think is unique to Bremen is that everybody’s at the hotel afterwards, to chit-chat and have happy hour, but at two in the morning. Are you joining in the fun?

We’ll see, it’s kind of hard, the track is kind of like a casino: you have no idea what time it is, even how you’re supposed to feel. When you get back [to the hotel], your sense of time is so skewed. We’ll still be racing at 10pm, that’s not the norm, so to get off at two, when racing ends, you still have your adrenaline pumping, you’ve just been racing all-out, so it’s hard to just shut it off and wrap it up. It’s only natural.

And talking about the track community as a whole: that’s the beauty of it, we race hard on the track, and then everyone comes out and hangs out on the infield.

What else should I know? What am I missing about track racing, or women’s racing?

Well, I was going to introduce you to my friend Verena Eberhardt, who I met at Fiorenzuola. It’s funny, you show up to the same races and it’s nice to have familiar faces, so you instantly become friends because you’re all doing the same thing. Most of us went to that race alone, you have to wrench everything yourself, juggle all the chaos, it’s nice to have other people understand how stressful and exciting it is.

You do your own wrenching? Your own wheel changes?

Yeah, of course, but that’s the tough thing: you saw me getting bandaged up as the women’s elimination race was about to start, so I’m running after them, no time to cool down or anything. But it’s fun, I wouldn’t do anything else.

I think that’s all I have for you…

What do you ask the guys?

Mostly I go after the older racers, the ones who have been around for a few years. I wanna know how six-day racing has changed, I want to talk to someone who has something to say. You know what I ask them: what else do you do, outside of racing? What do you do for fun? What music do you listen to?

Oh, I listen to everything. Right now it’s the weekend, on repeat. It’s hard to be in Europe without loving European music, I dunno, I love it, it’s different, it’s dance-y, it’s fun.

Did you get a chance to catch Mickie Krause yesterday? You gotta check it out tonight, I don’t know if you’ll like it but you have to see him, mostly because by the time 23h15 rolls around, everyone’s been drinking enough to sing along with him.

That’s the other crazy thing about six days! Sometimes there’s beauty pageants in the middle, and pop stars, the famous YouTube girl… it really is a show.

Are you living full-time in Belgium now?

No, just for the next few weeks, until the end of February, and then back to the US. I had the opportunity to come over here for road racing last season, and yeah, I love it. It’s such a different style of racing, and it’s really hard – I didn’t do well with it, to be honesty, but I enjoyed that the most. I truly enjoy a challenge, and I’d rather get my butt kicked and learn from the best than… just ride my bike. I’m here to race. So I hope to be back here for either road racing or track racing.

Well, I hope to see you back here!

Thanks.

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Further reading: Ms. Huizar’s excellent blog, Instagram, and guest articles at Freeplay Magazine.

A live game of Memory: five questions for Bobby Lea.

I had the good fortune to corner Bobby Lea at the Bremen Six Day race a few days ago.

What do you think of your first six days?

I think it’s quite an experience, although the first night was a shock to the system, I had no idea what was going on, didn’t even know where on the track I was. I was just pedaling like mad and waiting for it to be over. Riding with Luke [Roberts] has been great for me, he’s a great teacher, a good guide to teach me how to ride these things, especially on a small track. After two days I kind of got the swing of it, was able to settle into the racing and enjoy it, really start to have fun here.

I’ve been following you on Instagram, which made me realize that you can’t see across the track [because the VIP area is on a platform which obstructs a clear view]. That really changes the strategy, no?

It’s like a live game of memory. You get a little snapshot of what the race looks like, then you wait for the group to come around the turn and see what’s happening then. So it’s a little bit interesting but it keeps you on your toes, and after a while you get used to the pace and it starts to feel normal.

I was also reading about your bike – not only because I’m a bike nerd – and I noticed that you have a favorite. How do you choose a favorite bike? Me, I only have two bicycles and I think it’s hard to choose.

Well, really it’s my favorite track bike. I’ve been with Cervélo, to some degree, since the end of 2011, and I got on the team just over a year ago. It’s a beautiful bike: light, fast, stable at high speeds, even on this small track.

I can imagine that the geometry makes a big difference, sometimes the bike you ride just clicks into place.

Yeah, exactly.

What are you looking forward to most this coming season?

At this stage in the game, every week is a new adventure, and so it’s really just one day at a time, one race at a time, so right now I’m really enjoying this Bremen adventure and tomorrow we can start thinking about Berlin, and then the Worlds… still one race at a time.

One last question: what else do you do, when you’re not eating or sleeping or training?

Little hobby of mine is playing with antique motorcycles, whatever spare time I have I wind up digging into those things, I like working on them. I don’t work on them very well, but I’m good at taking them apart.

You gotta start somewhere.

Yeah.

Thank you!

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For further reading, check Mr. Lea’s twitter, and, of course, Instagram. Jack McCallum’s profile, in Bicycling Magazine, is also well worth a read.

¿Listos para Berlín?

La lista de corredores para los seis días de Berlín es impresionante. 16 equipos quiere decir 32 tipos en la pista de 250m a la vez, y vaya pelotón: David Muntaner (correrá con Kenny de Ketele), Robert Lea, Leif Lampater, Achim Burkart, Daniel Holloway, entre otros, claro.

También hay una copa femenina muy competitiva: Stephanie Pohl, ganadora del año pasado, vuelve, pero también Laura Süssemilch, campeona del scratch alemana. Y después de ver Martina Ruzickova, Korina Huizar, y Alzbeta Pavlendova correr en Bremen, es obvio que nadie lo tendrá fácil.

Y entre todo eso, claro que hay fiesta! Fiesta-rockeros Right Now tocarán cada noche, también DJ Heinz, habrán fuegos artificiales, tiros del arco (no sé yo, tampoco)… y seguro que mucho más.

Nos vemos allí!

Across the pond: track world cup in Cali

Though it’s slightly out of the scope of this blog, I had to post a little something about the UCI track cup in Cali (Colombia). Partly because real newspapers like the BBC only care about their national teams, but mostly because I wish I had been there. This is the last stop on the world cup tour, the last chance to earn points before the UCI Track Worlds in Paris.

If you’ve a spare moment, it’s well worth checking out the UCI Youtube Channel to see video of the races. If you can stomach a crash, the video of the women’s Keirin is pretty exciting. I won’t ruin it for you, but I will say that Lin Junhong’s early-ish move will have you on the edge of your seat.

Ditto for the men’s keirin. Well, no crash, just a great photo-finish sprint:

Official report here.