Changing China

Giant on the move

Sorting out your madisons from your keirins

August 19, 2008

A cyclist practises at the velodromeFiguring out the rules for the points race at the Olympic cycling, you need a calculator and a cool head. It is over by the time you have worked out what is going on.

The men do 40 km over 160 laps, the women 25km over 100 laps. That’s the easy part.

It starts getting complicated when the action hots up with a series of intermediate sprints. Riders get points for winning each sprint. But then any rider who gains a lap on the main bunch is awarded is awarded 20 points. Those losing a lap have 20 points deducted.

Still with it?

The winner is the one with the most points. But what if there is a draw? Then the judges have to check who placed where in the final sprint of the marathon race.

If you thought that was a tough call, try following the rules for the madison and the keirin. The cycling newcomer will shake his head in astonishment, wondering what on earth is happening in these surreal contests.

In the madison, the riders get to hold hands. In the keirin they get to ride behind a man on a moped. Honestly.

The madison has nothing to do with 1960s dance routines. It is a race named after the first time it was run at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Reading the explanatory resume for the race will leave your head in a spin.

There are two-man teams who take turns in riding and sprinting every five kilometres. They trade off by gripping hands with the outgoing lead rider giving the oncoming rider a “handsling” to propel him forward.

Many a cycling newcomer may be tempted to crack up with irreverent laughter watching the keirin, which originated in Japan as a betting race in the 1940s. The moped, with its rider sitting bolt upright in the saddle, sets off as pacemaker to the field. For five and a half laps, his speed gradually increases from 25 to 40 kph. Then he leaves the track and the riders go flat out over the last two and a half laps.

But, arcane rules apart, nothing beats the thrill of watching up close and personal as riders hurtle round the “wall of death” track at angles of up to 47 degrees.

Those magnificent men and women on their cycling machines take your breath away.


The claim that madison riders “take turns in riding and sprinting every five kilometres” is false. The riders on one team can swap at any time and choose who sprints at any time – many teams choose to swap riders every lap (250 meters on most indoor tracks).

Posted by GK | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see