LONDON (Reuters) - The launch of a new Champions League format will elevate track cycling to another level and attract a wider fanbase when it launches in November, organisers believe.
Starting in Mallorca, the six-round UCI Track Champions League in conjunction with Discovery-owned broadcaster Eurosport will have the world's fastest track stars go head-to-head in a condensed, adrenaline-fuelled format optimised for television.
Thirty six of the top men and women riders will compete in either sprint or endurance categories, accumulating ranking points across the six rounds and battling for a gender-equal prize money pot totalling 500,000 euros ($610,450).
"The name Champions League says it all," Francois Ribeiro, Head of Eurosport Events, told Reuters ahead of Tuesday's launch. "It's an ambitious name for an ambitious project."
The sprint category will feature sprint and keirin while elimination and scratch races form the endurance events. Four riders will emerge as champions: the best male and female sprint riders and the best male and female endurance riders.
Riders will wear custom-made speedsuits complete with their national flag while a special 'leaders' jersey will be worn by the leaders of the male and female sprint and endurance tables.
Individual race winners will receive 1,000 euros with the overall winner of each category taking 25,000 euros.
Each round of the series will last around two hours with TV viewers treated to a range of innovative features such as live rider data designed to bring them closer to the action.
"It's not re-inventing the sport or the rules but it's re-inventing the way the it's presented to the fans in the velodrome and the viewers on TV," Ribeiro said.
"It will be a mind-blowing mix of entertainment and sport. Two hours and a half... bang, bang, bang!"
The new series is all part of a re-structuring of the track cycling calendar in which the world championships have been moved back to later in the year and doubling as a qualification process for the Champions League.
"We want to create a window every year for track cycling to create a stronger narrative for the sport, to showcase the rivalries," Ribeiro added.
"We know that Spring is for the Giro, July for the Tour de France and now we want November/December to be the window for track cycling."
Mallorca will host the first round in the Palma velodrome on Nov. 6 followed by a rounds in St Quentin en Yveli, France, Lithuania, a double-header in London's Olympic velodrome and culminating in Tel Aviv on Dec. 11.
Berlin's velodrome, which hosted the 2020 world championships, was unavailable as it is being used as a vaccination centre.
The continuation of COVID-19 travel restrictions means the first season of the Champions League will be Europe-based, but the plan is to take it around the world.
UCI President David Lappartient said the Track Champions League marked an "important milestone" in the sport's history.
"Thanks to our strategic partnership with Discovery, a dynamic, fast-paced, television-friendly circuit will reach a new audience of track cycling fans," he said.
Britain's Ed Clancy, Germany's Emma Hinze, Dutchman Harrie Lavreysen, France's Mathilde Gros, Spain's Sebastian Mora and Lithuania's Simona Krupeckaite will receive wildcards into the inaugural Champions League as "founding riders".
($1 = 0.8191 euros)
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)