With the road cycling events now complete at the 2016 Rio Olympics, it’s time to turn our attention to the velodrome. With so many different events in the track cycling program, it can often be a little hard for the casual viewer to follow along. This primer will have you watching and understanding the basics of Olympic track cycling in no time.
Track cycling events are split into two categories: sprint events and endurance events. Sprint events require short explosive efforts and are often very tactical, requiring a heavy focus on positioning. They also tend to be contested by bigger, more muscular riders.
Endurance events, on the other hand, are longer than sprint events and require sustained hard efforts. Riders that race on both the road and track — e.g. Mark Cavendish, Brad Wiggins, Jack Bobridge — are almost always more suited to endurance events.
Also known as the “match sprint”, the men’s and women’s sprint is a one-vs-one format with two riders starting at the same point on the track. The early laps are often raced at low speed, with riders sometimes coming to a complete stop as they battle one another for position, trying to force their opponent to the front. Only the final 200 metres are timed.
The rider who starts the final sprint from the back usually has an advantage, being able to sit in and sprint from the slipstream of the rider ahead.
The track features a line marked 80 cm from the pole line near the base of the track. This represents the ‘possession’ line and a rider who positions themselves below this line in the final 200 metres is not allowed to be pushed out from the inside (undertaken) by their competitor. This is one of the most commonly broken rules causing reversals in sprint results.
The early rounds of the competition are decided in a knock-out while later rounds are decided in a best-of-three format.
Men’s world record: 9.347 (Francois Pervis, Aguascalientes 2013)
Women’s world record: 10.384 (Kristina Vogel, Aguascalientes 2013)
Men’s/women’s team sprint
The team sprint is not a conventional sprint event — it’s closer in nature to a team time trial. The men’s race features three-rider teams and is contested over three laps, while the women’s event features two-rider teams and is raced over two laps.
Each race sees one team pitted against another, with one team on each side of the track. Each rider sits on the front for one lap before peeling off, leaving the team with one less rider after every lap. Therefore the team rider picked to finish last typically has the best endurance. The team to complete the required number of laps first is the winner.
Men’s world record: 41.871 (Germany, Aguascalientes 2013)
Women’s world record: 32.034 (China, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines 2015)
The men’s Keirin was first introduced to the Olympics in 2000 with London 2012 seeing the introduction of a women’s Keirin for the first time.
The Keirin is a mass-start race in which a small group of riders are paced behind a derny (motorcycle) in a pre-determined order. Over the course of several laps the derny increases in speed — from 30km/h to 50 km/h for men and from 25km/h to 45km/h for women — before pulling off with 2.5 laps to go. The first rider across the finish line wins.
Men’s/women’s team pursuit
In the team pursuit, two teams of four riders start on opposite sides of the track, racing against each other to be the first to complete 4km. Riders follow each other in close formation, each taking turns on the front. When the lead rider has completed their turn they peel off the front, swing up the track and then rejoin the team at the rear.
The team’s time is taken from the third rider to cross the line so it is common for one rider to take a longer “death pull” towards the end, burying themselves such that they cannot maintain the group pace afterwards. This allows the remaining three riders to recover briefly in their teammate’s slipstream before making a final acceleration towards the finish line.
At previous Olympics the women’s team pursuit was contested over 3km by three riders — this time around the women’s event is on par with the men’s at 4km and with teams of four.
Men’s world record: 3:51.659 (Great Britain, London 2012)
Women’s world record: 4:13.683 (Australia, Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines 2015)
Ahead of the 2012 Games in London, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) made significant changes to the Olympic track program, removing events such as the individual pursuit, points race and the Madison. They were replaced with the Omnium, a multi-sport event featuring six track cycling different disciplines over two days:
- Scratch race: 15km for men and 10km for women
- Individual pursuit: 4km for men, 3km for women
- Elimination race: every two laps the last rider across the line is eliminated
- Time trial: 1km for men, 500m for women
- Flying lap: fastest time over one lap wins
- Points race: 40km for men, 25km for women. Points awarded at intermediate sprints and by lapping the field.
The rider with the most points after completing all six disciplines is the winner. The winner of the Omnium tends not to be a specialist in any of these events, but rather a jack of all trades.