Handling Handicaps

Posted: November 9, 2012 in Tips & Hints

It’s track season in Australia and handicaps, or Wheelraces, are a mainstay of the Australian track season. Each state has a junior handicapper and some work harder than others. In this time of online results, there really shouldn’t be an excuse for the handicapper not to get it pretty right.  I actually think that each state federation should in fact send all handicappers (senior and junior) ALL the results from their races.

In Victoria, the junior handicapper put out early season marks and called for comments.  Not sure how many he got, but the first handicaps for the season ran pretty well and were close to the mark (pardon the pun).  Junior handicappers, if they have a query regarding a visiting interstate rider, should be easily able to contact other state junior handicappers asking for advice.  In my experience, I’m not sure how often this happens.

At the end of the day, especially when you’re starting out, sometimes you’re going to get a good mark and sometimes you don’t.  In many respects you just have to cop it.  If the junior handicapper is present, then by all means introduce yourself and mention that perhaps your son or daughter’s mark is harsh.  But a warning here: don’t yell, scream or carry on with the handicapper.  They are a volunteer and are doing the best they can.  It’s not an exact science and that’s part of the beauty of the Wheelrace.

Often it’s best to have a word or send an email after the carnival or event with results demonstrating your child’s mark was wrong. But again, do it in a composed way, sympathising with the toughness of the handicappers job.

In my experience the other keys to handicaps:


  1. Give your kid a BIG push!  If you can’t, find someone who can.  You’re allowed to push, so use it to your advantage and make sure they get the biggest push they can.  A good push saves precious energy and moves them into the slipstream of the riders in front more efficiently and makes the riders behind have to chase harder.
  2. Know when to save your effort and know when to push past.  A handicap can be broken down simply: go hard for the first lap and make those behind you have to chase; try and get a sit for the middle laps; then go like the clappers for the last lap or so.  Simplistic, but at least it gives you a tactic to try.
  3. Further to the above, I’ve seen many back-markers relax just as they catch the mid-markers with the front-markers in sight, only for them to lose the momentum, and the race.  If you’re a back-marker, you can’t afford to relax and lose your momentum, you need to go around the mid-markers and keep going!
  4. Oh, and lastly, if your child is sharing a mark with someone, and you’re lined up next to each other, make sure you follow-through up the track, not down the track into the path of cyclists coming behind you!!!!! Very embarrassing!

So, get onto the track.  I know Brunswick is starting its junior clinic this weekend.  If your child hasn’t tried track, this the ideal way to start. Check out the Brunswick Cycling Club website for more details.

Also, check out your State Federation website for the Track Calendar.  Also check out your local club sites for weekly club racing.

  1. Steve says:

    I know that “giving your kid a big push” is a tradition that goes back a long way but it really is time to move on. Our club has been actively trying to eliminate this bad practice from junior (and senior) track racing. There are inherent OH&S issues (try spending a day pushing elite men and then back up for a carnival series). No-one gets pushed national or UCI events so we need to teach kids to start themselves. We don’t have a problem giving U13 a push off a single step but that’s all that they should need. We have combined cycling/athletics meets sometimes and it seems that the athletics component takes precedent… let’s ban it!

  2. cycdad says:

    Hi Steve, thanks for your comments. I do know what you mean re: backing up after some a day of heavy pushing; especially of the elite/senior riders! Very sore indeed. That said, handicaps are unique to Australia, with UCI and national events only featuring standing start pursuits and TT’s (where you can’t push athletes that aren’t in the gates). You are certainly allowed to give a standing push in the keirin at UCI/National level. Far from moving on, I think ‘the push’ is part of cycling’s history that should be embraced and carried forward. I disagree with the idea of banning it, perhaps we just need to educate the cycling community and the wider sports community to the history associated with the uniqueness of track cycling in Australia.

  3. Tman742 says:


    I think your right on the button, and your note is well thought out. This is my first season as a cycling dad, started late November. Your advice is well recieved from my perspective, and I need as quick an education As i can get in this field. My 10 yr old has just had his first carnival race in U13, handicap of 60 mt, never raced before. Other kids in the race are on their second season, off 110mt. We just took it in our stride and went with the flow, placed top 3 in 2 Out of the 3, so I’d suggest the system works, but don’ know how.
    At the end of the day the handicapper is a volunteer giving up time to try and balance out the odds, and I thank them all for their generosity to the sport.
    Imagine no handicapper and if the same people placed in every race, you’d end up with a lot of non interested people. My view so far is that the system seems reasonably healthy, and as I’m finding out generates discussion and that’s a positive in its self.
    As for OHS issues they are with us everyday in all that we do, I’d say if you plan the task and understand the environment, hazards and risks, formulate a plan that will work to remove those hazards and risks, as it goes have the correct tools for the task and apply by design. At our first carnival all sorts of people were doing the pushing, never witnessed any problems, and some of the gun riders are big strong boys.
    Advantage by pushing may be debatable, particularly on the sloping surface.

    Hard work that running.

    Keep,up the good posts, beginners like me need assistance.

    • cycdad says:

      Thanks for your comments and thoughts Tman. I’m getting some good posts coming from real ‘experts’ on things like nutrition, treating wounds, etc. so stand-by for that, but if you’ve got any other ideas for posts please let me know and I’ll see if I can help.

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