Of all the different types of bike racing there are perhaps the most unnatural is the velodrome race. That’s the type of race that you see them running on indoor track at the Olympics. And that’s pretty much the only time that a normal person sees these races.
Original velodrome’s were not necessarily just for bicycle racing. They were built in the middle to late 1800s both for bike racing and for other athletic activities. At the time there was no standardization of these tracks. Unlike the ovals of today some were actually more of a rounded square with four straits and for curves.
Eventually as bicycle racing was picked up by the international community, especially the Olympics, velodrome tracks became standardized in the ovals you see today, though not so heavily banked.
The links of the tracks have tended to bury lately they seem to have settled in at 250 m. These high bank tracks are extremely specialized, not lending themselves to any other uses.
The banks also allow the riders to maintain a high rate of speed throughout their journey around the track, much like banks on auto racing ovals allow for higher speeds and corners.
Just as velodrome’s have changed over time, so to have the bikes that the racers use on them. They have no breaks, only one speed that doesn’t freewheel, in other words when the wheel is turning so are the pedals.
There are several different styles races that are run on velodrome tracks. Perhaps the most common when you see is the one on one scratch race, where two riders get on track and see who can come in first over a specified distance.
Elimination races are the type were multiple racers start the race and every lap the last racer is pulled from the race. When only three riders remain the race a final two laps to determine positioning.
Madison races are team races that use a tag team format similar to professional wrestling. These tend to be longer races and the team format allows for high rates of speed over long distances.
Omnium races are series of races where writers are given a point for their position in each race, and the cumulative score determines the winner of the series.
Though an acquired taste velodrome racing can be an exciting form of entertainment. The strategies are quite unique to the format, and once understood can be appreciated.