The Omnium is a fairly new discipline in track cycling and can be easily understood as some kind of cycling pentathlon. Which we are all for. So what is it, and how does it work?
The Omnium made its debut at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, but over time, the Omnium has evolved, refining its format and introducing new elements to keep both riders and spectators engaged. So the Omnium we see today is somewhat different to how it started and continues to change.
In its early Olympic appearances, the Omnium comprised a trio of races: the Scratch Race, Pursuit, and Elimination Race. However, there were calls to make the event shorter, and more interesting- it seemed that particularly the Pursuit was one audiences didn’t enjoy so much and preferred the ‘mass starting’ events where many cyclists are on the track at once.
So, after the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) decided to revamp the Omnium, reducing it to four events, all of which are mass-start races. This transformation aimed to make space for the reintroduction of the Madison, another team event, into the Olympic program.
The current Omnium format consists of four races: the Scratch Race, Tempo Race, Elimination Race, and Points Race. Riders accumulate points in these events, with the ultimate goal of amassing the highest total to win the entire Omnium – exactly like a Pentathlon.
The Omnium commences with the Scratch Race, a seemingly straightforward competition where the first rider to cross the finish line emerges victorious. There are no extra points for lapping the field but the race is ferociously fast and the more distance (or riders) you can get between you and your closest rival, the better.
The race distance differs between men and women – Men compete over 10km and the women make haste for 7.5km
The Tempo Race introduces a little bit more complexity and strategy for the racers. In this event, riders earn points through sprints and by lapping the field.
Sprints occur every lap, with the first rider through the line gaining one point. However, the real incentive lies in breaking away from the pack and making a bee-line to lap the field and secure a 20-point reward. So, the tempo race favours the brave. Yet, there’s a catch – riders who are dropped from the field and subsequently lapped lose 20 points. This dynamic creates a test of speed, and endurance. Clearly, the real challenge is for the race officials who have to define the boundaries of the “field” when riders are scattered across the track.
The Elimination Race is similar to the tempo race in so much as it is a test of speed and endurance.
Sprints happen every other lap, but the twist is that the last rider across the line gets eliminated and must exit the track. This event requires a huge amount of speed and tactical intelligence. Riders’ bikes are equipped with lights to indicate eliminations, although confusion can still arise if riders fail to heed the signal. The jury holds the authority to relegate, warn, or disqualify riders who don’t comply.
The final part of the Omnium is the Points Race, a longer race of 25km for men and 20km for women, with points up for grabs in mid-race and finish sprints. Points earned or lost in this race are added to a rider’s cumulative total from the previous events. A rider who laps the field here gains a significant 20-point boost, but being dropped from the pack and lapped results in a 20-point deduction.
At this point in the Omnium, all eyes are fixed on the leaderboard as it is easy to see which of the riders are competing for the final total point victory.
We absolutely love cycling events on the track- as competitors and spectators. There is something so much more interesting about the Omnium compared to standard flat races or longer-distance slogs.
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