COLORADO SPRINGS (VN) — Composed of four mass-start races held over a single day, the omnium is perhaps track cycling’s most complicated race.
American racer Jennifer Valente will spend the next four years learning to master the unpredictable event. The 22-year-old rider from San Diego has her sights set on racing the omnium at the Tokyo Olympics in addition to the women’s team pursuit, an event where she already owns an Olympic silver medal and two world titles.
Valente is well on her way to achieving a level of mastery in the omnium. In early November she won a silver medal at the UCI World Cup race in Poland. One week later, at the World Cup round in Manchester, Valente won gold, defeating reigning world champion Katie Archibald of Great Britain in the process.
“Going into this season was definitely a learning season,” Valente told VeloNews. “I was anticipating that going in. Manchester and Poland, medaling in both was probably better than I expected.”
Though she has experience with omnium racing from 2014 and 2015 (back when different events comprised the race), her focus in the last few years has been team pursuit. Valente was a member of the United States team that won the 2016 UCI world title and then scored silver at the Rio Olympics later that year. Last April, the Americans again won the world championships in that event at the 2017 UCI world championships.
The omnium race now includes a 7.5km scratch, a 7.5km tempo, an elimination, and a 20km points race. For as calculated and choreographed as team pursuit is, omnium is fickle, with race dynamics dependent on how aggressive the riders choose to be.
“I really like the intensity,” Valente said. “That’s intensity in speed — it’s very fast-paced. Everything is instinct. Even in a mass start race, it has to be instinct. There’s not much time to think about a decision or plan something out.”
“Mass-start racing is so unpredictable, anything can happen.”
Like an NFL quarterback preparing for a playoff game, Valente studies film of her own races, as well as film of her opponents. She watches footage of the World Cups she raced and also the rounds she skipped. Valente said the film sessions provides greater context for each performance. During the competition, a rider is so locked in on her own race that it is possible to completely miss the tactical action that impacted the race.
“In a 20-minute period, you can see what they do over and over,” she says, referring to the other riders. “Looking at the video you can pinpoint your own areas to improve, anything from tactics of where you need to be leading into a sprint one lap out, two laps out, three laps out, where you need to be in order attack and actually get a gap. Your observation — did you actually know where everyone was on the track at any point in time.”
Between her world-class physiological talent — proven by her 12 national championships and junior world title — and her studious approach to racing tactics, Valente looks to be a favorite for the UCI Track World Championships. She will likely battle against Archibald, who owns two European titles in the event, as well as an Olympic gold medal in the team pursuit.
The two should square off March 2 at the UCI Track World Championships in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands.
Valente also has a bit of unfinished business with Archibald in the Brits when it comes to the team pursuit. Although the American wears the rainbow jersey, Archibald’s British squad handed the U.S. team a stinging defeat in Rio.
Valente is clear that omnium won’t be her sole objective in Apeldoorn: “Team pursuit is definitely a priority.”