This past weekend was the 14th edition of the King of Track criterium series in Ilsan, a suburb northwest of Seoul. This was not only my first time attending, but I also participated in the men’s road crit, successfully making it to the final and performing fairly well all things considered.
King of Track started several years ago as a multiday event that included a series of Saturday track events at the velodrome in Incheon and the criterium race on Sunday. However, due to financial and logistical issues, it is now a single day event that starts at 9am and ends after 9pm. The event has expanded in recent years due to increased popularity. Overall there are now five total races: rookie track for teenagers, Women’s track and road, and men’s track and road.
Starting at King of Track 12 European teams and riders were invited and are now fixtures of the event. This is both a good thing and bad thing. It’s good because it adds a bit of prestige to the event, which now is able to draw riders from Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and other Asian countries. As a result the level of competition has become much better, as has the racing. The men’s final is fast and furious.
The bad is that the races are no longer competitive for locals, as the invites and semi-pro teams outpace most individual riders so quickly that almost all locals get pulled from the race within 10 laps, and only 10-15 riders even make the finish line, most of them half a lap or more behind the few race leaders. And this year the same happened in the men’s road race, as this was the first year outside teams joined.
The women’s races have gotten better in recent years as well, but gets very little sign-up. In the women’s track race (no qualifying due to lack of riders), there were only 10-12 women at the start, and the same was the case for the women’s road race, both of which were dominated by European teams that were amazing skilled and fast. Although, a Korean woman did finish third in the road race!
As I mentioned before, KoT is an all day event, starting early with Rookie Track qualifying rounds. These are followed by men’s track and men’s road qualifying rounds (two of each). All qualifying rounds are five laps. After these are the Never Say Die ride-in races for track and road, 10 laps for thirty extra riders to make the final. This year the winner of both men’s races had to do the Never Say Die race, because of a mechanical issue during his qualifying round. After qualifying rounds are finished are the women’s races (10 laps each), followed by the men’s track and men’s road races. By the time the award presentation is over it’s well after 10pm, after which is an after party at a local bar.
As I said, this was the first year I attended or raced, but it won’t be my last. The races were exciting, full of ultra tight cornering, incredible bike handling skills, and, or course, lots of crashes. Next year I expect I will race the road crit again, and hopefully have a better performance, since I now know that 90% of riders jump the starting gun. But still, I made the final and was part of the penultimate group (top 25) that got pulled despite starting out in 40th position. And while the racing was fun, it was spending all day with friends and other bike lovers that was most memorable. There was fruit and beer and Red Bull and jokes and other shenanigans, and despite all the down time it was an awesome, albeit exhausting, day.