What is the individual pursuit? Well, it’s a deceptively short and simple 4km time trial around a velodrome. Two riders line up at opposite sides of the track and go for it. It favors riders who posses excellent aerobic fitness, very high anaerobic capacity and a good pacing strategy (the golden rule – don’t start too hard!). As you can see from Chris Boardman’s 3 second better time using the superman position, aerodynamics also play a massive part.
The individual pursuit is a predominantly aerobic event and is one of the best ways to measure a cyclist’s speed and endurance. I’ve never done a pursuit before but from what I hear it’s one of the most sharp and painful events out of all the cycling disciplines. It’s just short enough to be able to to at a maximal effort for the duration but long enough to keep it going. The longest 4 minutes of a cyclist’s life!
For you number nerds out there, the power required to pull off a very respectable 4:25min pursuit time is 540watts for the duration of the 4km (height=180cm, weight=75kg, and a bunch of other assumptions). That’s almost 57km/hr! Can you go 57km/hr for just over 4mins?
To give you an idea of how much 540watts is for over 4 mins, a good open A Grade (not club A grade) racer would be able to push about 450-480watts for 4 mins. That’s around 16% difference, which is absolutely massive at this high level.
So why are all these Australian roadies so good? I believe that it’s because so many developing riders have started on the track. Track is an embedded part of Australian cycling history and culture. If you look at the Aussie cycling greats, many of them had their start on the track. Look at the up and coming riders. Leigh Howard, Glen O’Shea, Rohan Dennis, Cameron and Travis Myer, etc…..they’re all endurance trackies and you see all of them switch back and forth between road and track disciplines while they’re still developing.
Developing the skills required for track events are extremely valuable and are more difficult to acquire later in life. Leg speed, pedaling efficiency, handling, tactics. Strength can come later in one’s career (the main reason you see gear restrictions in the juniors is to avoid injury while the muscles are still developing and so they learn to spin). If you watch a roadie who has come up through the track ranks you’ll immediately notice how smooth and efficient their pedaling technique is. It’s the most basic of skills but so important.
It’s absurd that the individual pursuit has been pulled as an Olympic event in favor of the Omnium. Who in the general public even knows what an Omnium is? It’s the decathlon of cycling. The sport where the winner isn’t particularly great at anything. The individual pursuit is akin to the 100m sprint in track and field and has a rich and prestigious place in the history books.
I could harp on and on about this issue but Matt Keenan has said it very eloquently here in his blog at Cycling Central.
Have a great weekend, ride safe and just for fun see how long it takes you to ride 4km with a strong tailwind!