World Cup Points Race (Los Angeles)
Nail biter of a men's points race
Nineteen riders lined up for the men's points race. For those new to track racing, here is a very terse primer. Points are allotted 5-3-2-1 for the first through fourth finishers every 10 laps of the 120-lap race. Any rider taking a lap over the field earns 20 points for each lap taken. Any rider losing a lap to the field loses 20 points. The winner is the one with the most points at the end.
Only a few laps into the 120-lap race, Rafat Ratajcsyk (Poland) and Yauheni Sobal (Belarus) launched the first attack of the race. The field quickly went to single file under the pressure but eased at the catch. Marc Altmann (Germany) Darren Young (Australia), and Sobal attacked and remained off the front for the first of the twelve sprints, which was taken by Young.
Several accelerations prompted the dangerous duo of Sergi Escobar (Spain) and Mikhil Ignatiev (Russia) to attack in pursuit of the second sprint. Chris Newton (Great Britain) took note of the threat with Colby Pearce (USA) in tow. Newton won the sprint to move into first with six points.
The pack survived a flurry of accelerations before Kei Uchida (Japan) won the third sprint, which was quickly followed by a make-the-race seven-rider break. Present were rainmakers Pearce, Newton, Ignatiev, Escobar and World Scratch Race Champion Greg Henderson (New Zealand). Also making the move were Marco Arriagada (Chile) and Cancio Sebastian (Argentina). This group took a lap and most of the rainmakers went straight through and off the front again. The splintered field caused the leaders to become the field.
After the 80-to-go sprint, it was a very tight race with Newton leading at 29 points, Escobar at 27 and home turf favorite Pearce in third at 25 points. Newton, Pearce, Henderson and Ignatiev took yet another lap, putting them in first (49 points), second (45 points), and tied for third (41 points), respectively.
Pearce put in a big attack just before the midway point. Ignatiev set off in hot pursuit and made the catch as the bell rang for the 60-to-go sprint, but Pearce still took the sprint to move within one point of race leader Newton. Pearce and Ignatiev hammered on to take another lap. The 20-point bonus gave Colby the lead with 70 points and a six-point advantage over the second-placed Russian. Neither scored in the next sprint that was won by Newton, so the six-point gap remained.
However, at the 40-to-go sprint, Ignatiev scored one point to move within striking distance of the American. The race became two mini-races, with Pearce and Ignatiev battling for the Gold and Newton trying to secure third place ahead of Henderson.
The Russian chipped away again at the American by taking third (2 points) versus Pearce's fourth (1 point) in the 30-to-go sprint, while Newton won the sprint just ahead of Henderson to further his advantage in the duel for the Bronze.
Escobar scooped up the 20-to-sprint ahead of Pearce who edged out the Russian's to move back to a five-point advantage. That brought on even more cheering by the vocal crowd that was clearly enjoying the World Cup event.
Ignatiev put in a strong attack to take the 10-to-go sprint ahead of Jos Pronk (Netherlands) while the American was just clipped by Newton and Escobar and finished just out of the points. This set up a storybook ending for the home country hero as the score was now tied at 74 points with one just sprint remaining. Under current UCI rules, if the race is tied at the finish the winner is decided based on finishing order on the final lap among those tied for points.
The entire crowd was on its feet screaming and banging the boards as it tried to will Pearce extra speed to finish ahead of the hard fighting Russian. The two were side-by-side fighting through traffic as they surged for the finish line. Ignatiev just slipped past the American for fifth and so won the race based on finishing position of the last lap. It was an exciting end to a fantastic race.
Scratch race world champion Greg Henderson (New Zealand) who is trying to earn a berth in the points race for the world championships, was dearly tired after his first track race since the Olympics. "My coach and I thought Ignatiev, Pearce, and Newton would be the ones to watch. Having sort of a mixed field with some very fast guys and some struggling made it really hard. We'll keep an eye on the World Cup points as far as qualifying goes. You cannot be in top condition for each World Cup event if you want to win at Worlds."
After the awards ceremony, Pearce talked with several fans and signed a water bottle for an event volunteer. It was clear he enjoyed racing in a World Cup event on home country soil. And to put on a thrilling show and finish second was icing on the cake.
1 Mikhil Ignatiev (Russia) 74 pts 35.44.458 (50.362km/h)