How to win the Madison

Tim Decker and Chris White with Madison 1996 memorabiliaLocal heroes: 1996 Madison winners Tim Decker and Chris White reminisce about the big race. Photo: Eddie Barkla

If you’ve ever taken a peek at the Madison and thought it just looked like a bunch of people riding in circles for a couple of hours, you might wonder what all the fuss is about.

Once you get a handle on the rules, format and tactics it becomes a riveting game of chess on two wheels.

The Bendigo International Madison has been running since 1972 and it’s so-called because it does attract international cycling talent. Seventeen teams of two people battle it out and that’s where you get the most recognisable Madison image-the hand sling.

The two riders on each team alternate laps. The one “out” of the race sits on the boundary or rolls slowly around the outside of the track. When he rejoins the field, his team mate slings him back in so as to get him up to speed quickly.

That’s why it can sometimes look so confusing. There are people leaving and joining the race around the track the whole time.

The Bendigo Madison is now 200 laps (82km). When the only Bendigo team to have won claimed the prize in 1996, it was 250 laps (100km).

In racing, it pays to know well your opponents’ and your own strengths. You collect points along the way for winning or placing during designated sprints. That’s one way you can win a Madison-collect the most sprint points.

A 23-year-old Tim Decker and 27-year-old Chris White knew there were quite a few strong sprinters in the field in 1996. But sprinting wasn’t their strongest point. So they knew they could only win the race the other way-by lapping the field. And that’s what they set out to do.

Even though it might look like it, the riders don’t simply ride around at the same pace. There are points during the race for sprint sessions. So every 5 laps there’ll be a sprint and a session can have up to 15 sprints. This is where the sprinters go all out to try and accumulate points.

In between you’ll have a 10, 15 or 20 lap “chase” which gives those riders game enough to try a chance to try and outride the rest of the field in order to lap them.

Tim and Chris waited patiently until the end of a sprint session when the sprinters had all worn themselves out. One hundred and thirty laps into the race they launched an attack with another pair of Bendigo riders.

It took them 36 laps to overtake the main field. At this stage they had the win assured, unless someone else managed to do the same thing. So with 84 laps of hard riding still to go they had to make sure no one else got away. If anyone else “attacked”, the pair had to go with them.

Just think: the riders average over 40 kph for the two-hour event and somewhere before the middle of the race you’ve gone out hard enough to lap everyone else. Now you have to chase down anyone else who picks up the pace to break away from the main field.

Tim and Chris still remember how gruelling the last 50 laps were. At that stage in a race it doesn’t matter how fit your body is, it’s your mental grit and determination that wins you the coveted sash. Legs screaming, bodies aching that’s exactly what it took them to win it.

And they’re still the only pair of Bendigo riders who have. Maybe this year we’ll see another Bendigo team join them?

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