Exploding the b-Omnium

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The UCI have overhauled the Omnium rules, the points system has gone topsy-turvy & there is large weighting towards the Points Race, which will now be run as the final event. It’s a relatively new event to major championships, although familiar to domestic riders in most track cycling nations, so we did expect a bit of jiggery pokery, but this is quite radical. Here’s how it’ll affect the event.

The Changes

The UCI have altered the scoring system, points allocation & weighted events, the full list of amendments can be found HERE.

In Omniums up to this point the winner of each event was awarded 1 point, 2nd place got 2 points, 3rd place 3 points & so on. All six events had the same allocation so if you won all the events you got an unbeatable perfect score of 6 points. The winner had the lowest total score when the individual points for the events were added together. Things are quite different from 20th June 2014.

The modified rules are as follows. We still have six events, run in the following revised order. Scratch Race, Individual Pursuit, Elimination (Devil), Time Trial (500m or kilo), Flying Lap, then finally the Points Race. For the first five events, the points allocation is as follows: 1st 40 pts, 2nd 38 pts, 3rd 36 pts, 4th 34 pts, 5th 32 pts, 6th 30 pts etc. From 21st down each rider gets 1 point. So the rider with the highest points total now wins, a major change in the Omnium’s culture.

This is the major event change, the 6th & final event (Points Race) has it’s event points allocation for each rider added to the score from the previous five events. So to give you an idea of how many points could be amassed in the final event, the 2012 Olympic Omnium’s points race had the top three with 79, 59 & 55 points each, the last placed rider had negative 40 points, from losing laps. This means that the riders with a Points Race total above zero will have those points added to their total from the previous five omnium events, any with points below zero will have those deducted from their total. The Points Race has become the key event in the Omnium.

What This Means

The UCI have been slowly removing endurance events from the track programme, the Omnium should have been left as an event for those riders, but sprinters have been able to gather points from the Flying Lap, Time Trial & the Scratch Race (by good positioning & waiting for the sprint). This will redress the balance & re-establish it as an endurance riders event, repeated sprints & taking laps are not the domain of a sprint athlete.

With the result now depending on a very good Points Race, it’s addressed the issue of the reducing opportunity for road/track crossover. The team pursuit has even become an event which favours a sprint orientated rider, such is the pace & duration of the efforts required, it’s also a very specialised event with much time being required to focus on it away from road racing.

Some were worried that the new rules would not favour a rider such as Laura Trott, but Hilary Evans (@OlympicStatman on twitter) calculated the totals from the last Olympics under these rules, Trott still would still have won by 1 point, with 208 points! This format could produce a thrilling finale to the Omnium, with riders fighting for every point in the last event, it’ll certainly be exciting from a spectators point of view.

The Future

I’d like to see this as the beginning of a revamp for the track events at major championships & World Cups. The removal of the 500m, Kilo & Pursuit was a great loss of traditional staple events for track riders, I’d like to see those return & to make an additional change to the Omnium bike rules to make a differentiation. I’d like to see the Omnium raced on one bike, with no tri-bars allowed in the timed events. With the focus now on the final endurance event & riders requiring less time training on a pursuit bike in a velodrome, it could open up the opportunity for more road stars to get involved. We’re really talking about road sprinter types, not the Grand Tour GC contenders, anything that could encourage them to the track could raise the profile & the status of an event like the Omnium.

So I’m suggesting re-introducing the Kilo, this time for both men & women (no 500m TT), plus the Individual Pursuit & then changing the Omnium bike rules to a standard track bike for all events. Would be interesting to hear what everybody thinks of that.

The Gist Of It

Track racing can benefit hugely from having recognisable names from the road scene present, I think the changes to the Omnium format are good for the sport, it creates a very exciting finale to the series & makes the Omnium more attractive to road riders. It could be an opportunity for female road racers to find another means to earn some sponsorship money by riding track too, if there’s not the same specialisation required on a pursuit bike, it could be possible.

The revised rules will also favour racers, rather than wattage slaves, you can’t win a points race by riding to a certain wattage, you require track-craft, tactics & a racing brain. Personally, I look forward to it all coming down to the final sprint on the final lap, it should be thrilling. I still don’t like those bloody handlebar boxed in the Devil, can we not do something about those UCI?

Very Long Cycles

Normally, the year before a Commonwealth Games in Scotland has a bit more of a competitive feel to the top end of the domestic racing scene than the other 3 years, with riders hoping to gain selection for their country in the following years Commonwealth Games, which this time starts at home, in Glasgow. Usually in the actual year of the Games things calm down as selection by this point is more or less decided, this year it feels even more competitive than the usual build-up, there’s a fair buzz and the racing has barely even started.
The Commonwealth-Cycle V The Olympic-Cycle

We often hear Dave Brailsford, head honcho of Team GB & Team Sky always talking about ‘The Olympic Cycle’, this highlights why Team GB get their funding, the National Lottery funds them primarily just for getting Olympic Medals. This results in a public feel-good-factor and keeps the public happy once every four years, everybody glad that our country is once again performing on an international stage, it makes us feel important & it brings everybody together against a common enemy, i.e. everybody else. Olympic performance has a measurable effect on the psyche of a nation, every government holds Olympic success in high esteem for this reason, it takes the pressure off other pressing (or embarrassing) matters and calls for unity behind a nation, while putting sportsmen & women on a pedestal while politicians skulk around in the half-light, knowing fine well that any scandals will be minimised while the Olympics are underway. So for whatever untoward reasons those in power may have to keep us happy, we do benefit from that ‘Olympic Feeling’, we do feel better, we do unite for Team GB, even the most nationalist minded Scots can be seen shouting at Laura Trott in a Devil, we love it.
The Commonwealth Games is inevitably on a lower rung than the Olympics, but to those nations in the UK outside of the one with the largest population base (who often look on Team GB as Team England anyway), it gives everybody else a chance to have some international representation in their favourite sports from athletes who often don’t get the chance to perform on a world-class stage. We have very few sports where Scotland is represented in world championship type competitions, mainly due to some sporting governing bodies which somehow have escaped being amalgamated into a GB or UK bodies. Some minority ones that come to mind are a successful curling team which regularly performs on an international stage but competes as GB in the Winter Olympics, Cricket, Darts, and a lowly ranked football team which brings more misery than rapture.
The above explains some of the reasons for a major difference between the priorities some riders have in these two very different Olympic & Commonwealth Cycles. For riders involved in the Olympic Cycle & the GB Team, the Commonwealths will be just one stepping stone along the way to Olympic selection, from a British Cycling coaching point of view it’s likely seen as an inconvenient blip in Olympic preparation, which could absorb a huge amount of limited funding for little reward towards the main goal, Olympic medals. Olympic places are qualified by World Championships & World Cups on the track, so to look at it from a British Cycling perspective & removing all emotion, the Commonwealths are not important other than perhaps a guide to see what the Aussies are up to (as far as the management go, the riders probably have different views).

Can we perform with home-grown talent?

A Commonwealth cycle is therefore a much lower funded endeavour all round, with the chance than the home nations can come up with comparable preparation & support for some of the athletes who just missed out on Team GB selection for a multitude of reasons, injury, career, family, location, luck etc, these individuals can take a step up and prove themselves on a slightly more level playing field. I’m not saying that the Commonwealth Scottish cyclists have coaching, equipment & medical support that is equal to that of riders in a final year in an Olympic cycle, but there is definitely more chance of competing against the might of a UK funded professional squad, which has other priorities,. These types of performances don’t go unnoticed internationally, so there really is everything to play for from our homegrown talents, riders like James McCallum have used a Commonwealth medal (bronze medal with Cav taking Gold) as a stepping stone to a career as a professional cyclist, previously he was working as a nurse while training, a huge undertaking. This example really shows the possibilities that talented & driven riders, along with some high quality coaching & support from unsung workhorses like Scottish Cycling’s performance coach Graeme Herd can allow our riders to transform into high performers at the Commonwealth Games.

Who are all these talented & driven riders?

The normal Scottish culture is to assume that our riders have as much chance of success in the Commonwealth Games as the Panda’s in Edinburgh Zoo have of mating. I intend to break that idea you’re fighting to believe by showing you who’s performing or preparing to perform at Glasgow 2014. The talent pool in Scotland has always been there, it really looks like we’ll be sending a very strong squad in all disciplines to Glasgow next year, with current developments we should be in an even better position in 2018.

I’ll try to do a series or blogs on the different disciplines, but with the blossoming Breast Cancer Care women’s team harvesting some of the best road talent in Scotland, mountain biking brimming with riders such as Lee Craigie, Katy Winton, Gareth Montgomerie, Rab Wardell, Kenta Gallacher, Dave Henderson, Grant Ferguson & Rob Friel, track racing progressing at an incredible rate with the new Sir Chris Hoy velodrome & mens road talent placed in top British UCI registered teams, things will be very competitive during 2013.

There’s no doubt that some riders will appear throughout the coming season, we have the talent, we have a written pathway for how to gain selection, it’s a good year to be blogging. I’m a volunteer at the Commonwealth Games, seemingly I already have a job allocated, so hopefully I’ll also be there to give an inside & anonymous look at how the Games are progressing.