Michael Pavitt

Details were revealed earlier this week about the International Cycling Union’s (UCI) new Track Champions League series, with the governing body seeking to enhance the profile of the track discipline.

The series has been in the works for a while, with the UCI signing an agreement with Discovery last March to develop the product. Management, television production and distribution of the new series were handed over to Global Cycling Network (GCN), with Eurosport’s dedicated event promotion division, Eurosport Events, taking a leading role over an initial eight-year period.

This week’s virtual launch - held across two locations in Paris and Bath - was promising. Representatives from the UCI, Eurosport Events and GCN doing a good job of explaining what they want to achieve and why.

A key word was "narrative" which was viewed by officials as having been lacking previously, with the former UCI World Cup - now Nations Cup - circuit.

With Spain, France, Lithuania, the United Kingdom and Israel hosting six rounds from November 6 to December 11, the hope is the condensed calendar can firstly attract but then maintain the interest of fans, rather than having large gaps between top level action.

Initially billed as the UCI Track World League, the decision to ultimately plump with the Champions League name is both smart and immediately shows the intent to deliver a top-level series with the best riders.

A total of 18 riders will compete across sprint and endurance categories, meaning a total of 72 riders will participate, with equal numbers of male and female. Prize money will be on offer for finishing positions in each of the sprint, keirin, elimination and scratch races, as well as for their overall placing in the final standings.

The presence of star ambassadors in Sir Chris Hoy and Kristina Vogel was useful in providing context to how the series could potentially help riders, offering enthusiasm and expertise. The multiple Olympic and world champions explained how the series differed to what they had experienced in their career.

British track cycling great Sir Chris Hoy is an ambassador for the UCI Track Champions League ©UCI
British track cycling great Sir Chris Hoy is an ambassador for the UCI Track Champions League ©UCI

"I think track cycling is such a TV friendly sport, anybody who goes and sees it live comes away totally enthused so to package it in a way that’s appealing to a new audience and it’s kept simple," Hoy said this week.

"One of the criticisms we get of the sport on TV is ‘I don't know what’s going on, what’s happening in this event, what’s happening in that event?’ This is going to be super-simple, there’s endurance and there’s sprint and in both events essentially the first rider across the line wins, even in an elimination.

"I think it’s going to be simple, it’s going to be exciting, for the riders it’s a chance to raise their profile too.

"I don't think there has ever been a championship or a series of events where the very best riders in the world come to every single race. The World Cups were great but you have few riders go to one then they miss out the next round and then they come back, so the only time you see everyone together is the World Championships or the Olympic Games.

"I think it’s fantastic and it’s going to give these amazing athletes a platform to reach a much wider audience."

Hoy added that the prize money on offer could entice more riders to stay on the track, rather than leave to pursue a more lucrative career racing on the road. The series will have a total prize pool of €500,000 (£430,000/$610,000), with the end of season winners earning €25,000 (£21,500/$30,500).

The six-time Olympic champion said this would help to guarantee top level racing, as well as being an entertainment product.

The presentation of track cycling was another key topic.

Clearly the presence of GCN and Eurosport will ensure a strong level of coverage for the series, with the promise that "top tier broadcasters" will also be covering the series. Eurosport Events also pledged to utilise their experience in organising motor sport competitions and apply some of the aspects used in the sport for track cycling.

The Lee Valley VeloPark will host two rounds of the series ©Getty Images
The Lee Valley VeloPark will host two rounds of the series ©Getty Images

Francois Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, boldly claimed the organisation will set a new precedent when delivering track cycling competitions for both spectators in venues and at home.

"We are going to bring 50 tonnes of equipment to each velodrome," Ribeiro said.

"We are talking about 280 metres of LED screen, we are going to bring 3D mapping on the track, we are going to bring sound system, we are going to bring our own light system.

"I think the level of technology, the level of on-event in-venue experience will be - I mean nobody has done this at that scale before, not the Olympics, not the World Championships.

"We want really the experience to be something outstanding and we will do the first test event in July, just at the back of the Tour de France, and it will be also the first time that you will see live data.

"We will get sensors on the bikes and on the riders to get the data and bring that data live on the LED screens, on the 3D mapping, on the app, on your connected watch, whatever supports the television graphics, to show how extreme track cycling is, to show the intensity of the efforts that the riders are making."

While boosting the profile of track cycling and its riders is part of the aim of the series, the UCI will undoubtedly be hoping to boost its own revenues through a successful top tier series. The UCI’s 2019 annual report even made reference to a "commercial series."

As a result the first season will need to be a successful one to show off the potential of the series, which organisers appeared to acknowledge in their choice of venues with the series. London will be the only venue to host two rounds, with competition taking place on back-to-back days.

Lappartient expressed confidence the Lee Valley VeloPark would be full for the two days of competition, highlighting bumper crowds experienced back at London 2012 and more recently when major events have been held there.

Sponsorship duties have been entrusted to Eurosport, with the UCI serving as the regulator of the series.

Andrew Georgiou, President of Eurosport and Discovery, said Eurosport Events would aim to package sponsorship in the same way the promotion arm has done so for motorsport events. Georgiou said this could see brands have opportunities for hospitality and in-venue signage, as well as integrating combining their brand story into broadcast production of the events.

Georgiou said a framework was in place to determine sponsors in categories, while suggesting a naming rights partner would be considered should the right opportunity present itself.

Organisers outlined a condensed six-round schedule earlier this week ©UCI
Organisers outlined a condensed six-round schedule earlier this week ©UCI

The UCI Track Champions League’s kit partner Santini will, for instance, benefit from exposure by producing the leader’s jerseys for the series.

Ribeiro stressed that it was important that sponsors will be active in supporting the new series, as well as the clearly monetary benefit.

"The idea is to come to each venue as a clean venue and to have a full level of brand implementation on each venue to ensure really something top quality and consistent throughout the season," he said.

"We think we will have to start with three or four selected sponsors per category, Santini being the first one we announced but other announcements will follow. We have an ongoing discussion with at least three different sectors but we will take our time to announce this and to work with the right brands.

"I think it is not just a question of monetisation, of money, of budget but also a question of finding sponsors who will be active also at their end to promote such a new series, such a new format and make it also lively with us."

The virtual event and ambitions outlined are certainly promising for track cycling. The first season seems vital in establishing the brand and differentiating between series that have come before.