After four intense rounds at the highest level of competition, the cutting-edge new league crowns its first ever champions. A sold-out London velodrome witnessed a thrilling grand finale.
Image credits: UCI Track Champions League / SWpix.com
December 4 – London, United Kingdom: Four of the world’s best track riders were etched into cycling history tonight, as the UCI Track Champions League crowned its first ever series winners. After four gripping rounds of racing in three countries, Emma Hinze (Germany), Harrie Lavreysen (Netherlands), Katie Archibald (Great Britain) and Gavin Hoover (USA) emerged victorious in the Men’s and Women’s Sprint and Endurance Leagues respectively.
In front of a sell-out crowd of over 5,500, the Women’s Sprint League came down to the wire on the night. After a strong start in Mallorca and convincing performances in Panevėžys, five-time UCI World Champion Emma Hinze came into the London double-header with an advantage of eighteen points over her compatriot and closest rival Lea Friedrich. A high-speed crash in last night’s Women’s Keirin heats reduced Hinze’s lead to just two points going into the grand finale. The German was undeterred however, and strengthened her winning margin over Friedrich on the night, who failed to reach the Sprint final and finished sixth in the Keirin.
Emma Hinze (Germany), winner of the Women’s Sprint League said: “I’m really proud that I take the jersey home because it was really close today and I didn’t know how the race would go and how much strength I can find in my body because I’m really, really tired. I think it was harder than the Olympics today because of two days of racing that much with fast races. I’m pretty proud, happy and really satisfied. Of course, my goal was to win but I didn’t know what to expect because I’ve never done it before. I knew it was going to be hard. I just try my best and I don’t think about the overall win, just heat to heat.”
In the Men’s Sprint League, nine-time UCI World Champion Harrie Lavreysen enjoyed a slightly more comfortable margin in this inaugural league. The Dutch star immediately stamped his authority on the league in Mallorca and produced consistent performances to maintain a convincing lead, despite challenges from Germany’s Stefan Bötticher. Tonight’s final round saw Lavreysen and Bötticher take one win each, leaving Lavreysen victorious overall.
Harrie Lavreysen (Netherlands), winner of the Men’s Sprint League said: “It was really, really good. I’m really happy with the win. After the first heat, I knew I took the jersey for the overall win and that made it really, really special. And I think I’m unbeaten in two years now in the sprint so I really wanted to keep that streak. And I’m really happy with the result. Of course when you’re the World Champion, it’s not like you expect to win but I want to win and I think I feel bad if I don’t win it. Every event that I don’t win, I need to go in with a fresh mind otherwise I make mistakes. I didn’t think a lot about winning before starting this but after this, I’m pretty happy.”
Unstoppable performances across all four rounds earned double Olympic gold medalist Katie Archibald a convincing win in the Women’s Endurance League. The British rider lit the fuse in several explosive Scratch and Elimination races, and enjoyed roaring support from the London crowd this weekend. Tonight, Archibald secured her place in history with a victory in the Elimination and lifted her trophy in front of the British audience.
Katie Archibald (Great Britain), winner of the Women’s Endurance League said: “This title means a big deal, more than that – just how professional it has been, just how much support we’ve had, and the amount of amazing feedback I’ve had. This is year one, Discovery are locked in until 2029 – I just feel so confident that it’s going to go from strength to strength. I’m proud to have been backing it from day one. I would have really loved to go to Israel next week. But selfishly, it feels pretty good to do it here in the UK.”
The Men’s Endurance League on the other hand, was decided at the very last race of the series after a tight contest from start to finish that could have gone either way. In Mallorca, Corbin Strong (New Zealand) took two wins from two to open up a seemingly decisive lead. Lackluster performances in Lithuania however, coupled with a superb ride from Spain’s Sebastian Mora, quickly changed the shape of the overall standings. Mora entered round three wearing the leader’s jersey and retained it with a slim advantage over Gavin Hoover (USA) and Corbin Strong. In tonight’s round four however, things unravelled for the Spanish star, with relegation to fourteenth from the Scratch race for causing two riders to crash behind, ending his championship campaign. Gavin Hoover’s sixth and fourth place finishes on the night secured him the overall win.
Gavin Hoover (USA), winner of the Men’s Endurance League said: “I don’t quite believe it. I was just so excited to be here and get the invitation after the World Championships and I thought, no matter what happens, it’s a success. To win, it’s just incredible and at a new series which I hope is the future of track. I definitely didn’t expect it. I thought I could be competitive but I looked at the start list on the day and thought everyone could win so it definitely wasn’t expected.”
The four winners each received a miniature replica of the UCI Track Champions League trophy, crafted by the renowned GDE Bertoni – creators of the FIFA World Cup trophy. The original is 94cm tall, adorned with an LED strip and reflects the shape of the track. The four leaders’ names were engraved on the night.
THE FINAL LEAGUE STANDINGS
Men’s Sprint League
1. Harrie Lavreysen (147 points)
2. Stefan Bötticher (133 points)
3. Vasilijus Lendel (72 points)
Women’s Sprint League
1. Emma Hinze (128 points)
2. Lea Friedrich (118 points)
3. Kelsey Mitchell (102 points)
Men’s Endurance League
1. Gavin Hoover (107 points)
2. Sebastian Mora (102 points)
3. Corbin Strong (93 points)
Women’s Endurance League
1. Katie Archibald (145 points)
2. Kirsten Wild (100 points)
3. Annette Edmondson (97 points)
Francois Ribeiro, Head of Discovery Sports Events said: “Tonight’s incredible finale is a breakthrough moment not just for Discovery Sports Events and fans around the world, but for the sport of cycling as a whole. To have two categories coming right down to the wire and the other two showcasing standout leaders at the top of their game, is a fitting way to end a game-changing first season. We’ve proven that our ambitious production, cutting-edge format and the world’s best riders is a formula that fills velodromes and thrills TV audiences. We now have a blueprint to take into the next season – and there is much more to come.”
Gilles Peruzzi, UCI Head of Track, Para-cycling and Indoor Cycling, said: “The delivery of this first series in the current global health context was far from an easy task, but the tremendous competitions the track cycling family has enjoyed over the four rounds of this kick-off season are just reward for the great efforts made by all stakeholders. The four 2021 Champions crowned tonight can be proud to be the first listed on the magnificent UCI Track Champions League trophy. Looking at their replica at home will undoubtedly be a great source of motivation to earning their spot for the 2022 UCI Track Champions League. Congratulations to them and to all participants, as well as to Discovery Sports Events for this magnificent inaugural series.We look forward to seeing you next year for more exciting track racing.”
THE STORY OF ROUND FOUR
Women’s Sprint League – Women’s Sprint Final
Separated by just two points at the start of the night, German powerhouses Emma Hinze and Lea Friedrich were expected to line up against each other for the Women’s Sprint Final. Kelsey Mitchell (Canada) had other ideas however, and beat Friedrich by just 0.11 seconds in the semis to take her place against Hinze. The pair took a cautious and steady start, as Mitchell watched her rival closely. The Canadian made her move but was unable to outpace Hinze who took the victory on the line. The result meant Hinze extended her lead in the critical final race of the season.
Women’s Sprint League – Women’s Keirin Final
Lea Friedrich (Germany) survived a scare in the heats to reach the final and keep her hopes of the overall win alive, having taken second place from Japan’s Riyu Ohta by just 0.007 seconds in a photo finish. Slotted in behind the derny, her rival Emma Hinze was just behind. As the last two laps approached, Friedrich let Hinze assume the front. Visibly fatigued, both riders struggled to make an impact on the race itself however, as the final sprint unfolded. Friedrich crossed the line in last place, while Hinze, fourth place, punched the air in celebration as she confirmed victory overall. Ahead of them, Olena Starikova (Ukraine) finished first ahead of Kelsey Mitchell (Canada).
Men’s Sprint League – Men’s Keirin Final
League rivals Harrie Lavreysen (Netherlands) and Stefan Bötticher (Germany) both proceeded safely through their heats to reach the final. Bötticher, who had enjoyed great success in the Keirin throughout the season, led the line behind the derny, while Lavreysen sat in fifth position and attacked from the back with one lap to go. Both riders approached the line side by side for a dramatic photo finish as the crowd roared. Just 0.004 seconds separated the winner Stefan Bötticher from Harrie Lavreysen in second, closing the gap in the overall standings by three points. The leading pair shared a celebratory fist bump to the crowd’s applause.
Men’s Sprint League – Men’s Sprint Final
Harrie Lavreysen (Netherlands) secured his place in the Men’s Sprint final, and with it, victory in the overall standings. He lined up against Stefan Bötticher (Germany) – second place in the league – who looked to take two of two wins on the night. The German followed Lavreysen as the pair swept up and down the track at speed. With one lap to go, the sprint launched and the crowd gasped as Bötticher drew level with Lavreysen. The Dutchman was too strong though, and held him off to the line to finish his season with a victory.
Women’s Endurance League – Women’s Scratch
The Women’s Scratch began at a far faster pace than last night’s race. With 14 laps to go, Katie Archibald (Great Britain) decided to attack. Her move caused chaos in the group behind, with multiple gaps appearing between riders. The main bunch was clearly relieved to catch her four laps later, allowing the riders a brief opportunity to catch their breath. Spain’s Eukene Larrarte was to go next, and brought with her three other riders including Yumi Kajihara of Japan. A half lap lead soon developed before Kajihara attacked from the break. Kajihara continued solo to the finish line as a frantic bunch sprint began behind. Katie Archibald took second place, ahead of Maggie Coles-Lyster (Canada) and Annette Edmondson (Australia).
Women’s Endurance League – Women’s Elimination
Overall victory was already a mathematical certainty by the time Archibald lined up for the Women’s Elimination race. The battle for second place remained very close however, with Kirsten Wild (Netherlands), Maggie Coles-Lyster (Canada), Annette Edmondson (Australia) and Anita Yvonne Stenberg (Norway) all competing for the honor. Stenberg was the first of the four to be eliminated, taking her out of contention. Coles-Lyster followed with just six riders remaining, followed by Edmondson shortly after. Kirsten Wild, riding the very last race of her career, remained as the race reached its finale – securing second overall. As she had done the night before, Archibald outpaced her Dutch rival in the one vs one sprint to the finish. A standing ovation from the home crowd followed as Wild patted Archibald on the back.
Men’s Endurance League – Men’s Scratch
The race was immediately set alight by Portuguese rider Iuri Leitao, who attacked straight from the gun. He was quickly brought back by a fast bunch however. Local prospect Josh Charlton (Great Britain) was the next to go clear and built a lead of 100m, with ten laps remaining. The young Brit soon succumbed to fatigue and was caught with just four laps to go. The race went down to a final bunch sprint. After his breakaway heroics, Charlton crashed with Yacine Chalel (Algeria) at the back of the group with one lap remaining. In the chaos, Dutch rider Roy Eefting took first at the finish, ahead of Corbin Strong (New Zealand), who claimed an invaluable seventeen points in the fight for the overall lead. Meanwhile, Gavin Hoover claimed just ten points with a mid-bunch finish. League leader Sebastian Mora crossed the line just behind the American, only to be disqualified from the race by the commissaires for dangerous riding. The judge’s verdict placed Hoover in the overall lead with one decisive race left.
Men’s Endurance League – Men’s Elimination
After a dramatic Scratch, the Men’s Endurance League hanged in the balance. Gavin Hoover (USA) began the Elimination on ninety-four points, ahead of Sebastian Mora (Spain) on eighty-nine and Corbin Strong (New Zealand) on eighty-five.
In an explosive start, it was yesterday’s Scratch winner Claudio Imhof (Switzerland) who was eliminated first. Next up, among the big names to be eliminated, was Ed Clancy, who waved to a roaring crowd as he finished the last race of his career. Third in the overall standings, Corbin Strong (New Zealand) was eliminated with eight riders left, leaving Sebastian Mora (Spain) and Gavin Hoover in the running for top spot.
The pace increased, and as exhaustion kicked in, Mora found himself unable to contest the next elimination lap. He exited the race, giving Gavin Hoover the overall win. Hoover – now champion – was the next to leave the race. The Elimination culminated in a one vs one between Aaron Gate (New Zealand) and Iuri Leitao (Portugal), who took the win and blew a kiss to the crowd as he crossed the line.