The Madi­son 1898

Cycling Weekly - - Last Laugh -

The Madi­son track race is the most spec­tac­u­lar, com­plex and in­ex­pli­ca­ble event in cy­cling. It not in­fre­quently reaches a level of con­fu­sion that means no one in the track, in­clud­ing the rid­ers, knows who is win­ning.

It was in­vented in New York in 1898, for an event in Madi­son Square Garden (and is known as the 'Amer­i­can' race in most of the rest of Europe). Six-day rac­ing was at its lu­cra­tive height in the city in the late 1890s, and at­tract­ing a great deal of un­wanted at­ten­tion be­cause of (pfft!) rider wel­fare.

There was a pub­lic out­cry over the in­hu­man­ity of rid­ers hav­ing to race non-stop for six days — hal­lu­ci­na­tions were not un­com­mon, in­clud­ing rid­ers who turned round to ride the other way, rid­ers who ran scream­ing from the track and rid­ers who just stopped and stood, star­ing into the dis­tance. The New York

Her­ald Times said, “It is not sport, it is bru­tal­ity,” and the au­di­ence col­lec­tively said, “Knock-out. Bring it on.”

But the city passed leg­is­la­tion re­quir­ing rid­ers to race for no more than 12 hours a day. A pro­moter at Madi­son Square Garden im­me­di­ately spot­ted the loop­hole. If he put two-rider teams on the track 24 hours a day, and let them swap in and out of the race ev­ery lap or two, they’d do 12 hours each, but his race would still run 24 hours a day. As a bonus the rac­ing was quite a lot more in­ter­est­ing than with sin­gle rid­ers.

So in essence the most in­ter­est­ing race in the cur­rent track pro­gramme was the work of the sort of pedant who reads rules re­ally, re­ally closely.

Cy­cling mad: Madis­ons were the ul­ti­mate en­durance event

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