UCI Track Champions League: the latest innovation in track cycling’s long history

Part of the Olympic Games since 1896 and with World Championships organised by the UCI since 1900, track cycling is steeped in a history that few sports can rival.

Over the years the bikes have evolved, racing formats have changed, new specialities have been introduced… but the magic of racing on the oval banked track has remained a constant.

The beauty of track cycling is its tradition combined with its ability to move with the times. Now, we are just days away from the latest innovation: the UCI Track Champions League, a new dynamic and spectacular series of racing, with five rounds being held between 6 November and 11 December.

As explained by the Union Cycliste Internationale’s (UCI’s) Head of Track, Gilles Peruzzi, the new League is part of a carefully thought-out overhaul of track cycling to ensure the discipline is coherent, accessible and attractive for riders, nations, teams and fans.

History transitioning to the future

“The UCI is hugely proud of track cycling’s rich history, which goes back more than 125 years. But we also want to ensure that the discipline continues to flourish over the next 125 years,” says Peruzzi. “That is why, since 2016, we have carried out in-depth studies with our stakeholders to find out how we can build on its potential and increase its popularity even further, particularly in the years between the Olympic Games.”

The result has been to replace the UCI Track Cycling World Cup with a shorter – three rounds only – UCI Track Nations Cup. Tailor-made for national teams and with fewer rounds, this new format introduced in 2021 aims to ensure more nations compete at all events of the series. Held from April to June (as opposed to between October and January for the UCI World Cup), the UCI Track Nations Cup enables National Federations to earn valuable points that count towards qualification for the Tissot UCI Track World Championships (and the Olympic Games).

Those UCI World Championships, held for the first time this year at their new October date (as opposed to early in the calendar year previously), finished on 24 October in Roubaix (France). Not only were athletes vying for the prestigious rainbow jersey, they were also aiming to qualify for the brand new UCI Track Champions League.

“The League will kick off in Mallorca this year and we are very excited to see it come to fruition after much reflection and extensive consultations,” says Peruzzi. “The racing will include a mixture of sprint and endurance events. It will be easy to understand, spectacular to watch and accessible to fans worldwide. With the very best riders in the world, all of whom had to qualify to compete, we are guaranteed excitement, tension and emotion in each host velodrome.”

Each round will take place in one day with the same racing programme to ensure an interesting and coherent narrative across all rounds: individual sprint and keirin for the sprinters, and elimination and Scratch Race for the endurance riders. Eighteen riders can take part in each race, with hard and fast action guaranteed:

  • Sprint: over 3 laps

  • Keirin: 5 laps (2 behind derny)

  • Scratch Race: a relatively short 5km

  • Elimination: the last rider across the finish line every other lap is eliminated.

The same number of men and women will be competing and will receive equal prize money.

Television feast

The UCI has partnered with Discovery Sports Events for this new and exciting UCI Track Champions League. This partnership ensures global coverage via Discovery channels that include Eurosport and Global Cycling Network.

For François Ribeiro, Head of Discovery Sports Events, track cycling has the potential to be one of the most exciting forms of televised sport: “Discovery Sports Events has applied its experience in motorsport, which shares similar DNA of high speed, adrenalin, and unpredictability, but also engages audiences with an accessible, short format, live data driven approach,” he says. “This isn’t about rewriting the rules of track cycling, but simply dialling up the excitement and making it accessible to a wider range of sports fans.”

He explained that European venues have been favoured in the first edition of the series in order to mitigate travel and logistical challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Consequently, we identified a number of world class velodromes including a mix of more established sites such as London and Palma as well as newer venues including Panevezys and Tel Aviv,” he explained.

For fans unable to make it to these top-class venues, the television-viewing possibilities are vast, as François Ribeiro explains:

"The league will be broadcast globally by Eurosport and will also be available to watch live and ad-free on GCN+. In addition, we've secured a number of prestigious international broadcast partnerships. At this stage, we're able to confirm that RTL (Netherlands), RTBF (Belgium), SBS (Australia), Sky New Zealand and RTVC (Colombia) will all broadcast the UCI Track Champions league, and several more will be announced before Nov 6 kick-off."

UCI Track Champions League programme

A round scheduled to take place in St-Quentin-en-Yvelines on 20 November had to be cancelled as the velodrome is being used as a Covid-19 vaccination centre. The remaining rounds are:

6 November: Mallorca (Spain)

27 November: Panevezys, (Lithuania)

3 December: London (Great Britain)

4 December: London (Great Britain)

11 December: Tel Aviv (Israel).