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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Sir Chris Hoy is a fan but time will tell on track cycling’s latest attempt to break into the mainstream

Pitting the 18 best male and female sprint and endurance riders in the world against each other across six consecutive weekends each autumn, live on television, to determine the ‘champion of champions’ in four different disciplines, the hope is it will revolutionise a sport which, in this country at least, gets a huge amount of public money thrown at it, and has its moment in the sun once every four years, but is generally still seen as a bit alternative.

The concept has some high-profile supporters. Sir Chris Hoy, six-time Olympic champion, is an official ambassador for the series. But he insists he would be supportive even if wasn’t being paid to be so. “Track cycling is a sport of untapped potential,” Hoy insists. “This is a first step. But I think the Champions League will evolve and grow, and become better and better. As a starting point, I think it’s really exciting. I only wish I was still racing.”

Hoy says the lack of regular contact between the world’s best track riders is one reason this new series should work for both athletes and fans. “From the riders’ perspective, you get that consistent performance and competition,” he explains. “And from a fan’s perspective, you get to know the athletes, not just once every four years. It’s a chance to really build a fanbase.”

Will it though? There have been attempts in the past to take track mainstream, with limited success. 

Organisers of the Champions League have clearly decided to simplify things for this attempt. There will be only 72 riders in total – equal numbers male and female – and only four disciplines, the individual sprint and keirin for the sprinters, and the scratch and elimination races for the endurance riders. 

Hoy believes this is sensible, rejecting suggestions it is in any way “dumbed down” and adding that the prize money on offer (the overall winner of each category will take home €25,000, while race winners will pocket €1,000 each) should help attract star names. “Track cycling has always been the poor relation,” Hoy notes. “Not so much sprint because track is the pinnacle for sprint riders, but for endurance riders they get lured off to the road because they can make a living from it.” Hoy also points to the planned use of live data in the series as an “interesting step”, with riders’ heart rates and power outputs available to view on screen and via an app. 

This being Olympic year, there are a few notable absentees from what could reasonably be considered a genuine ‘Champions’ League lineup. Laura and Jason Kenny, who do not necessarily need £25,000 but who do need a rest, have chosen to give this inaugural series a swerve. 

But Britain – which hosts two rounds, in London, on Dec 3 and 4, before the finale in Tel Aviv one week later – will be well represented by Olympic greats Katie Archibald and Ed Clancy, and by youngsters Sophie Capewell and Rhys Britton. Can it take track mainstream? Time will tell. But Clancy is adamant it has legs. “This is the best attempt I’ve ever seen to try to bring it to the fans.”

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