Gavin Hoover is an American Tokyo Olympian who is racing the new five-event Track Champions League. He is doing a regular column on his experiences, and documenting it with his own photography as well in the gallery below.
Getting back on a second transatlantic flight in a ten-day span is never fun. There’s always unpleasant deja vu when you’re offered the same choice of average airline food and a sense that your life is slipping away while you sit crammed in the back of a flying metal tube.
In retrospect, the smart thing to do would have been to stay in Europe after the world championships and skip the whole process, but I only managed to qualify for the UCI’s new Track Champions League in the very last race of the worlds. So, I got to fly home only to turn around and fly back the next week, at least this time it was to Mallorca where the weather is marginally nicer than Roubaix.
The Track Champions League is a new series that aims to elevate the profile of track cycling worldwide. It features shorter races than the typical world championships or Nations Cup events, and a compressed program to make the event engaging and exciting for the audience.
There are elimination and scratch races for endurance racers, and sprint and Keirin races for sprinters. There are men’s and women’s endurance and sprint titles up for grabs in the points-based series.
There’s also an increased focus on us as riders; we’re sharing power and heart rate data in real-time, and there’s an attempt to let us distinguish ourselves both on and off the bike with custom kits and opportunities to show our faces, not just a generic helmet and glasses.
This is all great news for the sport, and I’m so excited to be part of the inaugural series, but landing in Mallorca late at night what it actually meant was that instead of getting in a nice warm bed I went straight from the airport to the velodrome for a slew of media and bike setup. Headshots, gifs, and a short interview all before building my bike to have it ready for the additional data tracking sensors.
Flying in the day before the race always seemed like a risky proposition, and the added stress the night I landed was not doing me or my jet lag any favors come race day. I spent most of the day trying to stay awake, relying heavily on enough coffee that I eventually lost count.
Related: First round race report from the UCI
Walking in the doors on race night that all vanished. It’s been a long time since I’ve raced in a sold-out velodrome, COVID notwithstanding. Feeling the energy of the crowd, the light show covering the track in something more than the harsh glow of fluorescent and the excitement from the other riders in the pits helped me forget the nagging voice in the back of my head telling me I should be asleep.
In the pits at a race like the world championships or the Olympics, the feeling is never that good. No one really talks to each other; the stress and pressure are far too high for friendly banter between countries.
So, more than anything, having a race where everyone is happy to be there, excited to race their bikes and hang out with friends made the racing, and the entire evening, some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike.
It turns out that’s not bad for you physically either and I capped my night with a second place in the elimination race, setting me up third overall in the series with the next round in Lithuania on the 27th of November.
Until then, I’ll be in Mallorca, enjoying some of the best riding in the world!
Building bikes immediately after a transAtlantic flight is a bit rough. We were given a cabin to share with other riders that was a mixture of bike building and riding rollers.
The room we were in doubles as a locker room with showers off to the side. It’s always a relief when the bike makes it all in one piece.
To safely fly with sets of race wheels we remove all the axles so there’s less risk of a disc wheel getting punctured. Kendall Ryan and team manager Ken Whelpdale put them back together.
You see some interesting things in the storage cabins, like a British Lotus x Hope Olympic bike randomly laid out on a cardboard box.
Time was pretty limited arriving the day before the race. Here, Kendall sets up a place to flush the legs while all the track infield is still being set up by the production crew.
Kendall getting ready to hit the track for a ‘race rehearsal’ we ran through to test the new format of the Champions League.
Racing late at night the day after flying to Europe can be a struggle. The jet lag started to hit pretty hard but Ken managed to find us a few coffees late in the evening to keep the energy levels up.
The Champions League is using live data in the TV coverage to give viewers a look inside what’s happening on the bike. For us, that means way more sensors, cameras, and data collection systems than normal.
The production value for this series is also unlike any race I’ve ever been a part of. There are cameras everywhere recording the racing and the riders off the bikes.
The series opened with a light show that circled the track, displaying the new format and the exciting future of track cycling with this league.
Kendall warming up before her first race of the night.
The women’s endurance riders take to the track to officially kick off the series. Next up, round two in Panevézys, Lithunia.