While track cycling has largely fallen out of the national spotlight, one incident at the historic Paarl Boxing Day event certainly sparked public debate and got the nation talking about this neglected discipline once more.
Sprint sensation Nolan Hoffman was on track, so to speak, for a record-breaking sixth consecutive victory in the 25-mile event when an infringement on Evan Carstens in the final 200m saw him relegated from the race.
While fans threatened to storm the track at the Paarl stadium and social media networks exploded with post-race commentary and analyses, officials offered only a “no result” decision.
The following day, Carstens was declared the winner and awarded the official time of the first rider (Hoffman) to cross the line – 53 minutes and 40 seconds.
To find out exactly what happened, Cyclingnews asked Cycling South Africa track commissioner Johan Smith to give the official explanation for the events as they occurred.
“What happened was that Nolan tried to move around the rider in front of him while Evan was passing him,” said Smith.
“This caused Evan to move up the bank and lose time. The move by Nolan was interpreted as illegal by the official and he was subsequently relegated.”
According to Smith, Hoffman broke four UCI-prescribed rules – not holding his line in the last 200m of the race, not holding his line in the final sprint, making an irregular movement to prevent his opponent from passing and moving outward with the intention of forcing the opponent to go up.
While the first two rules were clearly infringed, it was the question of Hoffman’s intention, the legitimacy of his move and the seeming indecision by race officials that raised public ire.
“I think there was a misinterpretation of what happened after the race,” said Smith.
“After the incident, the chief commissaire immediately discussed the incident with the corner judge and they agreed on the decision. The riders and managers were then called and the decision explained.”
Although there was no video footage immediately available for review by the officials, the ruling was discussed between them and the decision stood.
“Video evidence by a third party later revealed that the correct decision was made. This was also confirmed by a UCI commissaire,” said Smith.
“It was decided by the chief commissaire not to announce the result because people were invading the track and he felt that it would be better to defuse the situation by delaying the announcement of the result.”
Smith said the outcome was conveyed to the organisers the following day.
“The chief commissaire made the right decision under the given circumstances.”
Smith said the incident highlighted the very technical and specialised nature of track cycling, which worked both in its favour and against its popularity in comparison with other cycling disciplines.
“We must remember that track cycling is a highly specialised sport and must be managed as such.”
Unlike road racing and mountain biking, he said, track cycling was not a mass participation sport and had therefore fallen out of favour with sports administrators and fans alike.
Smith said a return to traditional league structures had started to yield positive results, with Western Province winning the first President’s Cup interprovincial series this year.
Despite the latest controversy, he believes track cycling has taken a turn for the better.
“The 2015 Boxing Day will be one not to be missed!
“One cannot ignore a meeting that is older than 100 years. The titles on offer here sometimes carry more weight than a national title.
Smith said the public response showed that the discipline in general was starting to build “huge” momentum under the new management.
“The best riders of all the top road teams have been competing on the track since last year. The roadies are starting to realise that their chance of winning a national classic is very slim if they don’t have the kind of speed they can only cultivate on the track.”