Track cycling has long suffered from an accessibility problem. As enjoyable as it is to watch for those in the know, for the casual sports fan, its many disciplines and myriad rules have historically made it too much of a challenge to follow. If you’ve ever tried explaining what an omnium is all about, or how the madison works, to a non-cycling friend, you’ll know exactly what we mean.
There have been valiant attempts, in the past, to close this understanding gap, and bring the sport to new audiences. The new UCI Champions League, which launched yesterday in Mallorca, might just be the one to succeed. From what we saw on opening night, it certainly deserves to be.
The Champions League is a simplification, but it is far from a “dumbing down”. Nothing has been lost in this innovative incarnation, only added. The spirit and traditions of track cycling have been retained in full.
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Dividing it into sprint and elimination sides, alternating between them throughout the evening’s entertainment, was a masterstroke. With the competition for each taking place across only the two most straightforward, thrilling disciplines - sprint and keirin on one; scratch and elimination on the other - even someone a few drinks deep will be able to get it and keep track.

'A surprise for you!' - Botticher upsets Dutch in keirin

Last night there was a dynamism on display seldom seen in a session in the velodrome. Short events, repeated multiple times per night, make it even easier for the novice viewer to get to grips with what’s going on. Furthermore, there is no danger of audiences getting bored when a victory or a defeat is never more than moments away. Those of us covering proceedings may have struggled to catch our breath at times, but that is a testament to how fast and furious the whole thing was.
Equal numbers of male and female athletes, and equal prize money awarded to each, means it feels modern and progressive. Those are two things cycling can rarely be accused of.
What’s more, by taking place across five nights, in four different venues, with riders from 30 different nations, it showcases the fact that cycling is truly an international sport.
Even the name is inspired. Not despite it being borrowed from an event most will already be familiar with, but because of that. “Champions League” tells viewers there will both be a narrative to follow across multiple rounds - so they’re more likely to come back next week - and that the athletes are among the best in the world, there on merit. Each night will produce a winner, but the league aspect gives you a reason to keep following it, until four overall winners are crowned after the final round of racing in December.
That the Champions League is a competition of smart planning and clever design was clear from the start. Yet what works on paper does not always succeed in practice, despite everyone’s best intentions. We only knew that it would when we saw the riders on the track, and it was, ultimately, they who made the opening night a triumph.

'Strong is too strong!' - Kiwi doubles up in Mallorca

From Katie Archibald to Emma Hinze, Harrie Lavreysen to Corbin Strong, every athlete took it seriously, gave it their all, wanted to win. It was not an end-of-season exhibition; from the starting pistol to the final bell, it was every bit a bike race. We can’t wait for the next one.
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The UCI Track Champions League returns for round two on November 27 and you can watch all of the action live on the Eurosport app, eurosport.co.uk and discovery+. Find out more about the "mind-blowing" new era for track cycling.
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