“I’m really proud to be the first woman to wear the leader’s jersey in the sprint,” the German star acknowledged after a few days to reflect on this new series at the highest level of track cycling. Her Dutch counterpart concurs and goes one step further: “I hope I can be the leader from round 1 until round 5 [in Tel Aviv, on December 11, when the overall winners of the first UCI Track Cycling Champions will be crowned]”.
The UCI Track Champions League sprint ranking is calculated on the athletes’ performances in both the keirin and the individual sprint. Athletes compete in the two events during an intense racing programme lasting just a few hours and also including the Scratch Race and Elimination for the endurance riders.
Absolutely dominant in sprint events over the past three years (11 UCI World and Olympic gold medals in the keirin and the individual and team sprints), Lavreysen leads the standings with 37 points thanks to a victory in the sprint and 2nd place in the keirin (behind Germany’s Stefan Boetticher), in Mallorca. Hinze, who also racked up five rainbow jerseys across 2020 and 2021, left the Balearic island with a similar record, finishing second to Canada’s Kelsey Mitchell in the keirin before winning the sprint.
Both Hinze and Lavreysen have mastered their disciplines. And both say the UCI Track Champions League threw new challenges at them, to their delight, and to everyone’s enjoyment.
Sprint: a thriller with extra nerves
As part of a thrilling reshuffled format, the sprint was raced with three riders per heat in the first two rounds, ahead of the final face-off. With only one heat and one qualifying rider per round, there was no room for mistakes.
“I was a bit nervous ahead of the first heat of the sprint,” Lavreysen acknowledges. “I think the last time I did that was five years ago.”
Hinze also had to dive down memory lane. “We do [sprints with three riders] at the Grand Prix Cottbus, where I live, so I did it before. It’s faster from the beginning and everyone wants to be in a good position. You don’t really use the whole track, you just go faster and faster and then you start your sprint,” she describes with a laugh. “Some other riders also did it in Cottbus. And it’s been a while for me, so I don’t think I had an advantage.”
“You really need to think about how you’re gonna win the race, because you need to position well, and it’s really different than it is with two riders”, Lavreysen adds. “Like, if you’re in second position, you want to use the track or have a gap on the first rider, but if you do that, the third rider will use it and take your position and you’re in third spot again. So it’s hard, it’s hard.”
Still, the Oranje star powered to the final where he dominated Russia’s Mikhail Iakovlev before moving on to the keirin. For Hinze, it was the other way around: her victory against her compatriot Lea Sophie Friedrich was the last race of an action-packed night.
Keirin: fast, furious, and extremely tactical
“It was hard to recover in between the heats, because we didn’t have a lot of time, but it’s cool to do the keirin and then the sprint”, Hinze explains. “The keirin was really fast. I wanted to go to first position in the final, but the other ones didn’t want me to, so I ended up behind again. Then I tried to go across Lea [Friedrich] but Kelsey [Mitchell] was even faster. She was in the third row and she crossed the line in first position.”
Second place got Hinze off to a strong start - “I hadn’t done a keirin since Tokyo, and there I was not as good [7th]. So I was really happy, and I’m even happier with the sprint.”
Going into the keirin after three rounds in the sprint, Lavreysen felt confident and also a bit worn. “I hoped to win of course, I always want to win, but after the sprint my legs were not that fresh anymore so I was happy with the 2nd spot,” he says, before stressing the high challenges of the UCI Track Champions League: “It’s a lot more tactical and it’s harder to get into the final. I am the UCI World Champion in the sprint and keirin, but it’s way harder to win both races in the Champions League.”
The challenge has only just begun. The next opportunity for Harrie Lavreysen, Emma Hinze and their rivals will come at the end of November, with the second round held in Panevėžys (Lithuania).