World Cup Mayhem

by Veeral Patel

Track racing is one of those disciplines of cycling that has eluded me for me a while. One of the main reasons is because track encompasses many different types of races. With so many formats and strategies it never got my undivided attention and I never completely understood it. On occasion I would watch the odd race on television. On the other hand I’ve always enjoyed looking at track photography capturing the grimace and explosive dynamics of track racing.

One of my favourite cycling photographers is a Japanese photographer based in Italy by the name of Yuzuru Sunada. During the UCI World Championships in Geelong this year, I had a chance to meet Sunada-san and learned about his background and photography. One of the revelations he made is that his favourite event to photograph was tracking racing. I was not surprised at all considering how big keirin racing is in Japan as I had found out while working there many years ago. Sunada-san’s photographic style captures emotive flair of tracking racing in a very unique way that I have not seen anyone else match up to.

Personally, photographing track racing has been on my to-do list for a long time but the opportunity never came around till a few weeks ago. CT had offered to organise the media credentials to photograph the UCI Track World Cup. This would be the perfect opportunity to get accustomed to the intricacies of track racing as well as getting the chance to see the big names in action. It would also offer me the best seat in the house!

Entering Hisense arena was not as straight forward as I had expected. Since you are part of media you had to enter the velodrome from the back, following a narrow passage lit by blue light. This led you into the basement, following the echo of the track commentators to guide yourself towards the pit. The pit is the centre of the velodrome where the crux of the track action is happening. The pit resembled organised chaos of bikes and people. The media area of the pit was smaller than what I had experienced at the World Champs but surprised to bump into familiar faces once again. Each team had a small team area where they got prepared, bikes got serviced, quick rub downs, and coaching sessions. The riders warmed up on rollers whereever they could find space. Some of the riders would have multiple heats during the day and just trying to quantify the amount of energy they burn up during every race was phenomenal.

You don’t get the sense of inclination of the track if you watch track racing on TV, and seeing the track for the first time left my mind boggling. The shear steepness induced a hint of vertigo and makes you wonder how the riders stay upright. The answer is best explained by Newton’s Third Law of motion. Just like the world champs I was again relegated to a green bib. The green bib lets you access the pit and the seated areas but not the track itself. It meant that I couldn’t replicate the head on style shots I normally take on road racing or around a tight corner. Additionally, the curvature of the track itself made it impossible to get a clear line of sight from the seating up above. The nervousness and panic was a blessing in disguise because it was forcing me to take an alternative view how I normally photograph races. Nonetheless, Chase Jarvis’ mantra on if you are not nervous then you are doing something wrong kept running through my head.

All the heats leading up to the finale in all disciplines of track was exciting to watch. The commentators did an amazing job of explaining the subtle nuances of each form of track race and the key strategies to victory. You could say the commentary team could have written a book, the definitive “Dummies Guide to Track Racing”. My favourite event had to be the Men’s Sprint event in particular the Japanese rider, Tsubasa Kitatsuru. All day he had the crowd on the edge with his explosive burst to cross the finish line. Especially the duel he had in the finals with the Dutch rider, Teun Mulder. From the start they kept eyeing each other to see who made the first move till it led to an epic track stand duel which seemed to freeze time and motion together. The audience held their breath till one of the duo made the first attack. Both the commentators and the audience went into a frenzy of elation. That one single moment is the epitome of track racing that has forever peaked my interest in this niche of cycling!

P.S. One thing I was never able to figure out was how Anna Meares’ hair looked so darn good after every single race. What a champion!