It is the new darling of the UCI Track world. Today’s must-see event. For some time now, the Elimination Race has been attracting impressive numbers of spectators and column inches. Yet it was by no means destined to have such a high profile. Indeed, when the race was first created, it was not even a recognised track discipline. However, the Elimination gained legitimacy when it was incorporated into the Omnium programme, where it remains to this day alongside the Scratch, Tempo and Points races.
Recently, due to its growing popularity, the authorities decided to make the Elimination Race a standalone event. And it does not look like being a decision they will live to regret. The principle of the discipline is simple: a group of riders sets off as a peloton and periodically – every one, two or three laps, depending on the length of the track – they contest a sprint. The rider who crosses the line last in each sprint is eliminated and must retire from the race immediately.
It reminds you of Roman sports
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As the succession of sprints play out, the peloton is whittled down until only two riders are left to race for the win. They contest a classic one-on-one duel, with victory at stake for the first of the two athletes to cross the finish line. The appeal of the race is obvious: “It reminds you a bit of Roman sports, or chariot racing,” enthuses François Pervis, a huge fan of the event.
Being a pure speed specialist, he admits that the elimination race “is the toughest physically” of all the UCI Track disciplines. It takes exceptional endurance levels to be able to complete lap after lap at such high speeds, while sharing the track with all the other riders. All the more since, as Pervis points out, “sometimes it all comes down to a few millimetres of tyre rubber”, with the position of the rear wheel decisive in the event of a photo finish.
This sometimes leads to widespread confusion in the peloton, with riders continuing to race even when they have been eliminated. To cut down on such incidents, nowadays cyclists are equipped with a box that vibrates to inform them that they have finished last and must therefore leave the track.
What’s more, contesting sprints means racing elbow to elbow, which inevitably leads to crashes. The latter are an integral part of the event, bringing an element of drama and unpredictability to proceedings. “It's normal,” warns François Pervis. “The riders are constantly riding at their limit to try to keep their place in the peloton and avoid getting boxed in.”
Avoiding the last wheel at all cost
This is where tactics come into play. Tactical nous is as important as physical strength in the Elimination Race, and only the shrewdest strategists are capable of holding their own in a pack of hungry wolves. “The most difficult thing is to remain lucid,” continues François Pervis. “It’s not unusual to see guys blow out before the line, such is the intensity of the efforts being expended.”
Generally speaking, there are two main tactics designed to avoid being the last wheel to cross the line: “Either you go to the front and set a very high pace, so that the others can’t overtake you. But that sort of cadence is almost impossible to maintain over time,” explains Pervis. “Or you stay behind and, when the sprints come around, you accelerate and pass everyone on the outside. That also requires a fearsome level of effort, again and again. What’s more, that strategy often begins to feel like playing with fire.”
In other words, there is no fail safe way to survive the elimination race, with all the riders doing everything they can to avoid getting boxed in. It is because it creates this atmosphere of total uncertainty that the Elimination Race is quite simply made for television. “Everything is constantly changing,” concludes François Pervis. Nothing is set in stone and the race is repeatedly being turned on its head.
Falls, suspense and a final shootout: the Elimination Race is like watching an action movie unfold before your very eyes!
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