Is track the antidote to bike race fatigue?

In high praise of track, or, an indictment of my obliterated attention span.

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It’s off season, which means riders and cycling journalists alike are taking some time away from racing. Unless you’re into track or cyclocross, or you’re a roadie whose team needs UCI points…

For a few months, I’ve been suffering from the affliction known as Bike Race Fatigue (BRF), a term I learned from the wonderful Abby Mickey. For some it starts way back in August, after enthusiasm for the Classics and the Tour de France has come and gone. For others it takes a bit longer, maybe up until the end of September and road Worlds. By the time mid-October rolls around, most will have experienced some form of BRF.  

Symptoms include shock and dismay at how jam-packed the late-season calendar is, declarations of “how am I supposed to keep up with all of this racing?” even from those who were firing up multiple devices and screens back in March, and a general disinterest in all things bike racing related. In short, it is a form of bike race burnout borne of the actually-quite-demanding task of keeping up with racing alongside maintaining a ‘normal’ life. 

Personally, this season, my BRF peaked post-Tour de France Femmes after a long build-up followed by an exciting yet exhausting on the ground experience that made subsequent races feel somewhat anticlimactic. No offence to the likes of the Simac Ladies Tour but it’s a lot harder to summon the same fervour that Flanders or Roubaix incite back in April by the time September rolls around. 

I was pretty glad to see the back of the 2022 Women’s WorldTour season and the imperative to glue myself to the TV of a weekend watching road races. So nobody was more surprised than me when I found myself glued to the TV of an evening this week captivated by the Track World Championships. I didn’t check Instagram once, which, unfortunately, says a lot. 

Martina Alzini, Chiara Consonni and Vittoria Guazzini, and none other than Elisa Balsamo in the team pursuit

Track is perfect for people whose brains have been melted by TikTok (me) and who are a bit tired of the demands of the endurance spectating event that is road racing. Bite-size chunks of excitement with a rapid turnover of events, the ability to see everything that’s going on easily, occasional drama: track is the perfect antidote for BRF sufferers. 

I know this isn’t news to many. I also know that track isn’t the most popular of disciplines despite recent attempts to make it sexier and cooler (jury’s still out on the Champion’s League) but it’s different enough to road whilst also retaining some similar characteristics, including riders. It’s easier to get hooked in when some of your favourite familiar faces from the road are in the mix. 

Maybe it’s because I’m British and got into the sport around the time of London 2012 and the peak of the GB track squad, but nothing has you on the edge of your seat like a nail-bitingly tight pursuit or a close-call in an elimination race. I’m obsessed with the way sprinters psych one another out before a match sprint and the skill it takes to keep your cool while nearly grinding to a halt before letting rip on an effort so hard and fast that you’re probably going to throw up at the end. 

The irony is that a whole track session lasts about as long as a road race. But because, unlike a lot of road races, track offers a banquet of non-stop entertainment in changing forms from start to finish, easily-pleased punters like me don’t notice. In fact, maybe all of this says more about me and my attention span than anything else. 

I promise I’ll be champing at the bit come Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. I’ll be the first one to kick off about the fact that there should be start-to-finish coverage of 160km+ races for women where we have it for men. But for this week only, my exhausted brain and its reduced attention span can’t get enough of the fast and furious world of track. Hopefully by next month I’ll be able to stretch to one-hour cyclocross races.

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