Inside the secret race at the Track Champions League

Cycling Weekly's Tom Davidson lifts the lid on the private points contests ridden out of the spotlight

Katie Archibald riding alone on the track
(Image credit: SWPix)

British duo Mark Stewart and Katie Archibald won the last of a series of behind-closed-doors points races at the UCI Track Champions League in London last weekend. 

There were no flashing light displays, no frenzied crowds and no celebrations over the line. Events played out late in the afternoon in front of around 50 safety stewards, huddled together in the upper tier of the stands as they waited for the first spectators to arrive. 

Speaking to Cycling Weekly as he cooled down on the rollers, Stewart said: “I didn’t even try to win that.

“My objective was just to warm up, and to do that, I like to hurt. To hurt, you have to be part of the race.” 

The secret events were introduced this series, following feedback from last year’s endurance cohort that there wasn’t enough racing. “You do a 20-lap scratch, and theoretically if you’re out first in the elimination, you come for 23 laps,” Stewart explained. “You’re taking three days out of your training week to do that.”

Throughout the 100-lap event, the Scot kept a low profile, leaving his compatriot Will Perrett to chip away at the sprints with Spain’s Sebastián Mora. In the closing moments, however, Stewart snuck a lap gain, pipping Perret by a single point. 

“Sometimes, if you really want to win a race, you try too hard and you try and force it,” Stewart said. “All I’m trying to do in these races is be really relaxed. I don’t really chase anyone, I let people go. Then, if an opportunity arises in the last 10 laps to get a lap, I can.” 

Though results didn’t count towards the competition's overall standings, the winner received 100 UCI points, the same amount offered for an elimination race victory on the night.

“Normally going into a race, everybody wants to win,” Steward said. “Whereas you go into this, and each rider has a different objective. Maybe only five guys actually want to race them.”

Will Perrett wins in front of the crowds in the scratch race on round four.

Will Perrett wins in front of the crowds in the scratch race on round four.

(Image credit: Getty)

For 26-year-old Perrett, a relative new-comer to the sport’s top flight, there was more at stake. “For me, it’s just an opportunity to learn,” he told Cycling Weekly inside the track centre. “When do you ever get to race the best guys in the world, week in week out, and learn tactically how to race against them?”

This summer, Perrett quit his job as an environmental consultant to fully dedicate himself to track cycling. His goal now, he explained, is to earn a place on British Cycling’s Olympic programme. 

“Of course, the [UCI] points help,” he said. “If you can say you’ve won this many UCI points race this year, it’s a good way of showing you deserve to be picked because it’s down on paper.”

Perrett took one win across the four secret points races, as well as a second and a third place. He is now the top-seeded British rider in the event, and fourth in the world rankings. 

Though he lost out to Stewart in London, the Brit went on to win when it counted most, taking victory in round four’s scratch race in front of the onlooking British Cycling Performance Director, Stephen Park. 

Katie Archibald and Laura Kenny lead a lap of honour for the British riders in London at the Track Champions League

Katie Archibald and Laura Kenny lead their fellow Brits on a lap  of London's Lee Valley Velodrome. 

(Image credit: Getty)

In the women’s points race, like the men’s half an hour before, the bunch floated around the track in silence. There was no commentary inside the velodrome, just the mechanical whirr of the bikes and the creaking of the wooden boards. 

At the halfway mark, Archibald decided she had had enough. The Scot tucked into position, tore off the front and gained a lap on the field. She then did the same again with seven laps to go, rejoining the back of the bunch to secure the win. Even in her warm-up, Archibald was clinical. 

The Scot’s fellow Olympic Madison champion, Laura Kenny, took a more light-hearted approach to the race. “I didn’t come dead last!” she joked. “To be honest, it’s just a bit of fun.

“In the first one [in Mallorca], there was nothing on the line, so I thought ‘Well I’ll just ride round.’ Then in the second one they decided that’s how you are positioned [on the night]. You know how it seems a bit random? So like the leader isn’t always at the front? That’s because it goes off where you finish in the points race.”

Kenny laughed as she admitted she finished last in the first three events. In London, however, on the same track she won her first Olympic gold medal a decade ago, the 30-year-old felt inspired, and won the penultimate sprint to finish on eight points. 

Did the effort take anything out of her? “Nah,” she smiled. “To be honest, it just means now I don’t have to get on the rollers.” 

This story originally appeared in Cycling Weekly magazine on 8 December 2023. 

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