Track cycling: What is the Madison?

Women's Madison at the Track World Championships 2020
Women's Madison at the Track World Championships 2020 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Captivating is the word that best describes the Madison and it made its inaugural appearance for women in the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympic Games while for the men the race returned after being dropped the past two Olympiads.

Dating back more than 125 years, the Madison was named for the venue at which the discipline originated, Madison Square Garden in New York. It was included in the Olympic Games only three times, between 2000 to 2008, but was offered only for men. 

Many countries look to pair an endurance or time trial specialist with a true sprinter, creating a team strategy to gain a lap on the field for maximum points. The UCI has included the men’s Madison at the Track World Championships since 1995, while the women have competed for the rainbow jersey since 2016.

A winning Madison team is determined with points rather than time, but the Australian pair of Leigh Howard and Sam Welsford recorded the fastest average speed of a modern Madison race at 59.921 kph at the second round of a World Cup event in Glasgow in November 2019.

Basics of the Madison

Points are earned for two-person teams in intermediate sprints throughout the race, signalled with a whistle blown with one lap to go, as well as for lapping the rest of the field, resulting in the team with the most points being determined as the winner. However, for teams that are lapped by the entire field, points are deducted. 

Sound simple? Well, amassing the points takes a choreographed sequence of relay passes between teammates – 200 laps (50 kilometres) for men and 120 laps (30 kilometres) for women. There will be 16 two-person teams on the 250-metre track at the Izu Velodrome in each race. It’s a whirl of orchestrated chaos making it a fan favourite. 

Each rider takes a turn being “active” on the track. The “inactive” rider coasts at a slower pace on the upper bank of the track until a relay swap is made. Typically, this exciting sling-shot movement is created by teammates gripping hands and then catapulting one another forward into action. This exchange can happen anywhere on the track and as often as they want.

Netherlands Jan Willem Van Schip and Netherlands Yoeri Havik hand over during the mens 50km Madison final at the UCI track cycling World Championship at the velodrome in Berlin on March 1 2020 Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ AFP Photo by TOBIAS SCHWARZAFP via Getty Images

The men's Madison final at the Track World Championships in 2020 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)


Individual men who have won the most Madison world championships with a team are Spain’s Joan Llaneras (1997, 1999, 2006) and Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish  (2005, 2008, 2016). 

In 2019, Germany was the only men’s team to lap the field at the Worlds and amassed 105 points to win the world title, an unofficial record. The highest points total for a women’s team at Worlds was set by Great Britain in 2018 with 50 points.

The women make history this year as the first Madison contest in Olympic Games history. The last time medals were awarded to men in the Olympic event was at the 2008 Bejing Games, where Argentina  (Juan Esteban Curuchet/Walter Fernando Pérez) defeated Spain (Juan Llaneras/Antonio Tauler) by one point.

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