Australia won the team sprint title at the 2022 track worlds, becoming the only team to have posted three successive sub-42sec rides in the three-lap event. The starter for each of the rides was Leigh Hoffman… RIDE Media caught up with the 22-year-old* who did the first lap of the final in 16.949 seconds, the fastest time ever recorded.
– Interview by Rob Arnold
The interview begins with an introduction to explain that I’ve never met Leigh Hoffman, a 190cm tall rider from South Australia who is quickly making a name for himself as a world-class track rider.
“It’s time to talk cycling again,” I say, before my first #TalkingCycling interview in months. There has been a pause in the YouTube series that now includes a collection of 144 videos.
This is a playlist that I’m particularly proud of as the long format of most of the chats in the series allows me to take the time to get to know riders (or others associated with cycling) and discover a thing or two about them and the sport.
Although I’ve been interviewing people about cycling for many years, the interview with Hoffman is the first I’ve done with a track rider since around the time of the Tokyo Olympics.
Track cycling has long been a focus of the Australian Cycling Team and although the national federation invests heavily in maintaining its strong reputation, this aspect of competitive cycling no longer gets the level of media exposure it once enjoyed.
For the likes of Hoffman and his cohort who triumphed on the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome – the track that will be used for the upcoming Paris Olympics – the worlds provided a chance to test their form in competition.
Hoffman teamed up with Matthew Richardson and Tom Cornish for the qualifying ride on 12 October, and the trio posted an impressive time of 41.896.
A short time later, Australia swapped Cornish for Matthew Glaetzer, a rider who was part of the Aussie team that won the team sprint at the worlds in Melbourne back in 2012.
In the next ride, with Canada on the other side of the track, the Australians ripped around the velodrome in 41.630, edging ever closer to the world record set by the Dutch team in the final of last year’s worlds in Berlin (41.225).
In the final earlier this month, Hoffman posted a first lap time of 16.949 which – although not recognised as a world record (as it’s only one part of a three-lap effort) he believes is the fastest recorded in competition. Richardson and Glaetzer finished off the job with a 12.127 second lap, followed by 12.524 for the final lap.
Australia’s 41.600 was enough to beat the Dutch by just 0.043… and, for the first time in 10 years, Australia was on the top step of the world championship podium again.
Rnd one: 41.630
3 x sub-42 secs!
— RIDE Media (@ridemediaHQ) October 12, 2022
“I haven’t met Leigh,” I say, continuing my introduction. Before I hit ‘record’, the only discussion I’d had with the fastest team sprint starter in the world was a 48-second exchange to see if he’d mind having the chat via a video link.
By the end of our 20-minute discussion, I felt like I knew a lot more about Hoffman and the level of detail that’s required to win an event like the team sprint.
Click ‘Play’ on the YouTube link (at the top of the page) and you’ll get some insight about a very particular kind of race, a relay of sorts which starts with three riders on each team with the leader peeling off their lap in the lead until it’s a flat-out sprint for the line by the final rider. It’s 750 metres of racing and it requires precision timing, incredible strength and, ideally, no hiccups along the way.
??? Australia ???
— UCI Track Cycling (@UCI_Track) October 12, 2022
Not a headline act, but a stunning performance
The team sprint victory by the Australians at the 2022 worlds did get a bit of attention from the media a couple of weeks ago. Considering the quality of the performance, however, there have been very few detailed reports on the efforts of Hoffman, Cornish, Richardson and Glaetzer.
If track cycling is going to continue being a focus of the national program, it seems only fair that the riders also get a chance to explain what makes winning a world title something special.
Although I’ve followed track cycling closely for over 30 years and reported on many conquests by the Australian team, this is one of the first in depth discussions I’ve had about the intricacies of this particular race.
The team sprint happens so quickly that it’s difficult to dissect it but what was clear, even while watching the online streaming of the racing early in the morning from my office in Sydney, is that the starters have refined their technique and the huge effort required to get up to top speed in the shortest time possible is smooth as silk… certainly if you look at the way Hoffman does his work.
He may only be young and in the formative years of what is already a successful cycling career, Hoffman is at ease in front of the camera and happy to explain his job with a surprising level of detail. There is plenty to consider.
I hope you agree that this is an interview that explains some elements of the team sprint that aren’t often discussed, and that you enjoy hearing Hoffman’s explanations of what it’s like to go so fast from a standing start.
Some details of the ride
The interview is long, and my hope was to get some information that’s not readily available by looking at the time splits or videos of the racing. Hoffman happily explained the kind of wattage that’s required to get out of the starting gate and then go as fast as possible for one lap.
He didn’t have a power meter on his Argon 18 bike for world championships but Hoffman believes his max power for the opening lap would have been 2,600 watts (or slightly higher) based on his time and comparisons of other efforts in which power data has been collected.
He’s tall and powerful and he explains the level of detail that goes into all aspects of the event, including his diet. He races at ±89kg and that seems to be the ideal power-to-weight ratio for his role in the team sprint.
As the starter, Hoffman also has to consider how the others respond to the pace he’s setting. With this in mind, he explained, he doesn’t go as fast as he could for the one-lap turn.
His 16.949 from the final is super-fast, arguably the fastest ever set in competition, but Hoffman believes he could drop that to around 16.8 – but then it would be a challenge for the second and third riders to stay close to his wheel.
These are things that the new coach of the sprint group, Scott Gardner, and the riders need to consider.
Gardner joined the Australian Cycling Team earlier in 2022 and this week was promoted to the role of ‘Head Coach, Action and Acceleration’. He comes with a stellar reputation, fresh ideas and a passion for track cycling. Hoffman and his cohort are pleased to have him on board and already the results are starting to come.
The Paris Olympics will begin in 639 days. The team sprint is part of the track program. And the Australians are already proving that they are in medal contention. Until now, Olympic gold has been out of reach for the Aussies but Hoffman and co have signalled their intentions and winning in France in 2022 is a good sign of what could be possible in 2024.
– By Rob Arnold
*Note: in the video, I state that Leigh Hoffman is a 20-year-old. This is incorrect. Apologies for the error in the YouTube video. – Rob