The first round of the 2023 UCI Track Champions League (UCI TCL) is in the bag, and it kicked off with a bang! Not to be that girl who mentions it everywhere – but it is my birthday today, and for that, I am gifting all of you (and myself) with reliving the action. For all those who missed it, or simply want to dive back in, I have written a summary of the colourful evening in the Velòdrom Illes Balears in Mallorca. At the end, I have included a section very dear to me, called “Bonus: Highlights from Beyond the Track”, so I hope you don’t stop reading before that. Enjoy!

First Sprint Rounds

The action started with the first round of the Men’s Sprint, quickly followed by the first round of the Women’s sprint: six heats per round, three riders competing against each other in each heat.

The first round saw Lars Romijn (Netherlands), Tom Derache (France), Joe Truman (Great Britain), Matthew Richardson (Australia), Mateusz Rudyk (Poland) and Harrie Lavreysen (Netherlands) each win their respective heats and progress to the semi-finals.

In a similarly unsurprising way, Kelsey Mitchell (Canada), Alessa Pröpster (Germany), Martha Bayona (Colombia), Sophie Capewell (Great Britain), Ellesse Andrews (New Zealand) and Emma Finucane (Great Britain) were the Women to qualify for the semi-finals. Mexico’s Daniela Gaxiola did not start, as she is currently still participating in the 2023 Pan American Games. She will join the league from the second round in Berlin on Saturday. Her sister Antonieta Gaxiola, who is competing in the Endurance League, already competed at the weekend.

Harrie Lavreysen wins the first round in the men's Sprint

Men’s Scratch Race

The first Sprint rounds were followed by the Men’s Scratch Race, which took place over 20 laps (5 kilometres). A typical Men’s Scratch Race is held over 15 kilometres. The relatively short distance is due to the UCI TCL’s aim to present short-lived, action-packed racing. Because of this, only one breakaway formed: Claudio Imhof (Switzerland), who contributed significantly to the formation of the group, Tuur Dens (Belgium), Eiya Hashimoto (Japan), Maximilian Schmidbauer (Austria) and William Perrett (Great Britain), with Mark Stewart (Great Britain) and Sebastian Mora (Spain) later bridging on their own from the peloton.

The breakaway was able to gain a lap and rejoin the peloton from behind, leaving only the seven riders who were in it, in the position to win the race. This led to one of the beautifully confusing moments of track cycling: When the joined peloton crossed the finish line, it was not Mathias Guillemette (Canada) who won the race, despite physically crossing the line first. The commissaires had to do the maths to calculate the winner and everyone else’s respective standings: Eiya Hashimoto of Japan celebrated his first victory, leaving Mark Stewart in second and Tuur Dens in third place.

Seven-man breakaway in the men’s scratch race

Sprint Semi-Finals

Then followed the Sprint semi-finals, two heats with three riders each, bringing on the first show-downs between great champions of the sport. In the first Men’s semi-final, Derache won in style from the middle position, fending off Rudyk from behind while simultaneously chasing down Truman in front of him.

The second semi-final marked the first face-off of the league between last year’s winner, Richardson, and the current World Champion, Lavreysen. You could almost forget about the third rider, the young Romijn, until he started an attack that saw him flying away from the two Champions, who were seemingly only watching each other. It was a good idea, but when Lavreysen accelerated, he stood no chance. The Dutchman won by 0.074s over Richardson, qualifying for the final. No surprise here.

In the first Women’s semi-final, the young World Champion Finucane had to face Olympic gold medal winner Mitchell and her compatriot Capewell. Finucane started out from the back before taking off and leading the race from the front for the entire last lap, winning by almost a bike length.

The second semi-final saw Bayona, an eight-time Pan American champion, meet Andrews, the current Keirin World Champion, the seemingly unsuspicious third participant being Pröpster. The young German came from the last position, weaving underneath Andrews and above Bayona and winning the sprint, qualifying herself for the final and defeating two big names of the sport.

Emma Finucane wins the women's sprint semi-finals

Women’s Scratch Race

The Women’s Scratch over 20 laps followed, with Katie Archibald (Great Britain) going into it as the clear favourite. Kate Richardson (Great Britain) and Lily Williams (USA) went in a promising looking breakaway together, but with three laps to go, Archibald turned up the power, leading the chase behind the two. Williams managed to secure the win, but Richardson was swallowed up by the chasing group while Archibald finished second.

Lily Williams wins the women’s scratch race

Sprint Finals

The Men’s Sprint final was as unsurprising as it was fabulous. Lavreysen’s power was so dominant that Derache gave up on the finishing straight, all of his energy spent. This gave Lavreysen time to raise his fist in triumph as he crossed the finish line, winning the first Sprint of the league.

The Women’s Sprint final saw two rising stars of the sport face off, Finucane and Pröpster. The two were no strangers: Pröpster beat Finucane in the U23 European Championships in July of this year. Still, Finucane was the clear favourite after winning the Elite World Championships in August. She was in the favourable second position too, but when Pröpster accelerated and put the hammer down, Finucane was unable to match her strength, finishing second behind the surprise winner.

Pröpster ahead of Finucane in the women’s sprint final

Men’s Elimination Race

The men’s Elimination started normally enough, picking up at a high pace after the formation lap. As is usual in the first Elimination Race of a tournament, the peloton was nervous and twitchy. In the first sprint lap, the first lap that would have seen someone eliminated from the race, a huge crash occurred, bringing down over half of the riders. Just as in road cycling, this can happen in track cycling. At such high speeds; not being able to brake while you’re just centimetres from your opponent - a lapse in concentration, a front wheel touching someone else’s back wheel for just a second, and it’s over. Visors flew, bikes and riders slid down the banked track. The dutchman Matthijs Büchli scraped along the side barriers, leaving a scar in one of the LED screens. He can consider himself lucky that the UCI changed the regulations for these barriers earlier this year: The required height is now 140cm instead of just 90cm.

The spectators were distracted with a huge inflatable ball while everyone’s wounds were being tended to. The wooden track was fixed with duct tape, to prevent splinters from sticking out of it, the LED screen exchanged for a new one. The riders assessed their bodies and equipment. To give them some time, the first round of Men’s Keirin was started earlier than planned.

The scratched LED screen, after its fight with a peloton of high-speed track riders

Men’s Keirin First Round

Over three heats with six riders each, the first and second placed rider would advance to the final. In the first heat, Lavreysen won by several bike lengths, with Vasilijus Lendel (Lithuania) snatching second place and a spot in the final.

Richardson won the second heat in similar fashion to Lavreysen, Derache following on his heels. The third heat saw Kevin Quintero (Colombia), the Keirin World Champion, start and win with dominance, and Tijmen Van Loon (Netherlands) battling for second place.

Kevin Quintero wins the first round of the men's Keirin

Men’s Elimination Race (attempt #2)

Unfortunately, Theo Reinhardt (Germany) and Quentin Lafargue (France) had to withdraw from the competition in the aftermath of the crash. Reinhardt suffered a gash on his chin that needed six stitches, and later also revealed that his bike frame had cracked.

Mark Stewart’s (Great Britain) bike was gone beyond repair, too, which led to him having to use his fiancée Emma Cumming’s (New Zealand) bike. The two of them have a 11cm height difference between them, and while the saddle on Cumming’s bike was put up all the way, the bike still was less than optimal for Stewart.

After two formation laps, the race was started. Gavin Hoover (USA), Endurance League overall winner of 2021, was the first to be eliminated. He was followed by Roy Eefting (Netherlands) and Maximilian Schmidbauer (Austria). Then, Stewart fell victim to his too-small bike. Tobias Hansen (Denmark) followed, and after him, last year’s overall winner Claudio Imhof (Switzerland).

William Perrett (Great Britain), Mathias Guillemette (Canada), Tuur Dens (Belgium) and Philip Heijnen (Netherlands) were the next riders to be eliminated.

Next, Scratch winner Eiya Hashimoto (Japan) and home favourite Sebastian Mora (Spain) had to leave the track, leaving behind a final three of Jules Hesters (Belgium), William Tidball (Great Britain) and Dylan Bibic (Canada).

Hesters could not compete with the strength of the latter two, leaving the current Scratch World Champion Tidball and the former Scratch World Champion Bibic to fight it out between themselves. Bibic proved to have more strength left at the end of the race, and soared to victory.

Dylan Bibic looks at Will Tidball in the Men’s Elimination finale

Women’s Keirin First Round

In the first heat, Lauriane Genest (Canada) and former Keirin World Champion Nicky Degrendele (Belgium) qualified for the final.

Martha Bayona (Colombia) and Kelsey Mitchell (Canada) placed first and second in the second heat, leaving Sprint World Champion Emma Finucane (Great Britain) in fourth place and out of the final.

Current Sprint World Champion Ellesse Andrews (New Zealand) won the third heat with ease, with Alessa Pröpster (Germany) coming second.

Genest with an impressive acceleration in the first heat

Women’s Elimination Race

The Women’s Elimination was fortunately spared of any crashes, and could start regularly after a formation lap. 18-year-old Hélène Hesters (Belgium) was the first to be eliminated after being unsure whether to go up or down on the track. Amalie Olsen (Denmark), Antonieta Gaxiola (Mexico), Francesca Selva (Italy) and Maaike Brandwagt (Netherlands) followed. The next was Emma Cumming, back on her bike after it was returned by Mark Stewart, but unfortunately out of the race. The race went on, seeing Sophie Lewis (Great Britain) and Kate Richardson (Great Britain) eliminated. While Katie Archibald kept on riding in the front, making it look easy, Olivija Baleisyte (Lithuania) had to leave.

Then, favourite Neah Evans (Great Britain) was eliminated – she was riding close to the bottom of the track, and simply had nowhere to go. Sarah Van Dam (Canada), Lara Gillespie (Ireland), Dannielle Khan (Great Britain), Petra Sevcikova (Czech Republic), and Maggie Coles-Lyster (Canada) were the next riders to be eliminated, leaving Scratch winner Lily Williams (USA), Anita Stenberg (Norway) and big favourite Katie Archibald as the final three.

Williams could not repeat her earlier triumph and left the race next. Stenberg put up an honourable fight against Archibald, trying to block her way, but the Brit was too strong. Archibald dove from the high end of the track and won the Elimination Race by a few bike lengths.

Katie Archibald wins the women's Elimination race

Men’s Keirin Final

The penultimate race of the night was a face-off of the titans. The World Champion Kevin Quintero led into the final round, trying to beat his opponents from the front, but Lavreysen, the Dutch King of Sprints, managed to just squeeze past him with a perfectly timed effort, securing his second win of the night. The current Sprint World Champion beat the current Keirin World Champion, setting an impressive benchmark for the weeks to come. Australian Matthew Richardson came flying from the back to secure the third place, leaving Tom Derache, Vasilijus Lendel and Tijmen Van Loon behind.

Lavreysen narrowly beats Quintero and Richardson in the men’s keirin final

Women’s Keirin Final

Another battle of great names and promising talents, the Women’s Keirin Final was equally as breathtaking as the Men’s. Everyone looked cool and relaxed as World Champion Ellesse Andrews led the charge into the final round. It was an honest sprint, no squeezing or elbow-pushing. Andrews came first, but she must have been happy that the finish line came when it came, as Colombian Martha Bayona came flying into second place next to her with an impressive acceleration. German Alessa Pröpster gave it everything she had, securing third place in front of Lauriane Genest, Nicky Degrendele and Kelsey Mitchell.

Ellesse Andrews powering ahead of everyone else in the first round of the women’s Keirin

General Classification

After a spectacular first night of racing, its colourful lightshow only dimmed by the crash in the Men’s Elimination Race, we have our initial standings table. As was to be expected, Harrie Lavreysen is leading the Men’s Sprint League with 40 points after winning both the Sprint and the Keirin.

The Women’s Sprint League leader was less expected: Alessa Pröpster’s first place in the Sprint and third place in the Keirin secured her the sky-blue jersey with a total of 35 points. She will be a name to look out for, and everyone should keep in mind that she has legend Kristina Vogel’s blessing.

Not many people will have had Eiya Hashimoto marked as the first Men’s Endurance League leader, but after winning the Scratch and securing enough points in the Elimination, he is in the lead with 31 points. Looking back at the season he has had so far, it is no big surprise to see him perform well on the international stage.

The leader of the Women’s Endurance League was no surprise: With a second place in the Scratch and her win in the Elimination, Katie Archibald is now wearing sky-blue with 37 points to her name. She will look to extend her lead in the next round.

I can’t wait for Saturday the 28th, when the Track Champions League will go into its second round in the Berlin Velodrom.

A lap of honour for the first sky-blue jerseys of the League

Bonus: Highlights from Beyond the Track

The thousand little things that are happening simultaneously with the racing are part of what makes track cycling so dear to me. You will never catch them all if you are not live in the velodrome, but the broadcasters were so kind as to show us a few moments.

Riders riding in circles in the middle of the velodrome to cool down.

Colombian team spirit between Kevin Quintero and Martha Bayona, a Colombian fan cheering them on from the ranks.

Callum Saunders waiting for his tyres to be inflated.

Kevin Quintero working on an issue of his compatriot Martha Bayona’s bike, just before the latter is starting in the Keirin Final.

Harrie Lavreysen and Katie Archibald taking pictures with fans.

All images courtesy of Eurosport/GCN.

If you'd like to understand more about the background of the UCI Track Champions League, the format, or even just about track cycling in general, go back and check out Emma Bianchi's Racing into the Future: An Unveiling of the 2023 UCI Track Champions League. To find out more about the form and chances of the riders in this year's League, read her UCI Track Champions League: Riders Preview.

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