Guide to Olympic Cycling: Track
11 February, 2020
Olympic track cycling is by far the biggest and probably the most popular cycling event at the Olympics. At the Rio 2016 Games, Track Cycling will run over 6 days, with two sessions on some days. There’s a lot of Track Cycling events to get through.
If Track Cycling at the Olympics has inspired you to get on your bike, before you hit the velodrome, you should check out our great range of road bikes.
This guide breaks down each of the five events that make up Olympic Track Cycling - from an event overview to how each event is scored and won. Read on to find out more.
What time is it on?
Times are in AEST. If you're viewing on mobile, you'll need to switch your phone to landscape mode to see the full guide.
If you just want to see the highlights, Channel 7 will be running a nightly recap show at 7pm (AEST) on its main channel.
|Date||Start Time||End Time||Discipline||Highlight|
|11th Aug||4:15am||7:48am||Track||Men's Team Sprint Final|
|12th Aug||5:00am||8:10am||Track||Women's Team Sprint Final|
|12th Aug||10.15pm||12:58am||Track||Men's Sprint Final|
|13th Aug||4:15am||7:43am||Track||Women's Team Pursuit Final|
|14th Aug||4.15am||9.18am||Track||Men's Omnium Scratch Race|
|14th Aug||10.15pm||12.38am||Track||Women's Omnium Scratch Race|
|15th Aug||5.00am||7.45am||Track||Men's Omnium Medal Ceremony|
|15th Aug||10.15pm||1.08am||Track||Women's Omnium Time Trial|
|16th Aug||4.15am||8.08am||Track||Women's Individual Sprint Final|
See the full Viewing Guide for more
Track Cycling has been around since 1870. It was a lucrative sport at the time - the indoor venue meant entrance fees could be charged and events could be held year round irrespective of the weather. This event made it’s debut in the first modern Olympics in 1896 and has been included in every Games since, except for Stockholm 1912.
Track Cycling at the Rio Games is broken into 5 events to take place in the Rio Olympic Velodrome consisting of a 250m wooden track with banked ends so the curves can be ridden safely at the incredible speeds track cyclists can reach.
The events include Individual Sprint, Team Sprint, Team Pursuit, Keirin and Omnium. Every event is unique in it’s requirements - it’s all about a combination of speed, endurance, tactics and teamwork.
Riders must first obtain a seeding through a qualifying 200 metre flying time trial, with 18 men and 12 women progressing to the quarter finals. From here they go head to head in a best of three format.
Essentially a game of cat and mouse, this event is a very tactical single kilometre of cycling between two opposing cyclists. The “sprint” part of the Individual Sprint doesn’t come into play until the final timed 200 metre section. This means the start is all about tactical play, with the lead rider often dictating the progression of events.
They’ve got 700 metres to decide who will break into the sprint first. They can stop and start but there can be no backward movement. Going first means working the hardest, and giving your opponent the advantage of your slipstream. Staying behind means you’ve got more ground to make up and must catch your opponent. The first person across the line, wins. It’s best of three races back to back to determine who will progress to the next round and ultimately the podium.
The Team Sprint may bear similarities to the Team Pursuit however it is much more explosive and fast-paced. Women compete in teams of two for two laps and men compete in teams of three for three laps.
Teams start at opposite ends of the track, racing in a line to give the final rider the chance to conserve the most energy while the leader sets the pace. Each rider needs to ride as hard as possible, while keeping in a tight and precise formation. At each lap the leading rider peels off, eventually leaving the final rider of each team to battle it out to the finish line.
This event is all about precision and timing. Teams may be disqualified if the leader peels off too early or too late. They have a window of 15 metres before and after the start line to make their move. Teams initially compete in qualifying rounds, before the fastest eight teams move to the first round. From here the top two fastest teams go head to head for gold and silver, and the next two have at it for bronze.
Arguably the most exciting event on the Olympic Track Cycling program, teams of three women complete 3 km and teams of four men complete 4 km. For the qualifying rounds teams race the clock alone on the track and only the fastest eight teams progress. In the next round, two teams take the track at a time. From this round the fastest two times compete for gold and silver, while the next two quickest compete for bronze.
Teams must race like a well oiled machine in this event - it’s essential all transitions are smooth to maintain speed and that the leader rides hard, but not hard enough that their teammates drop off. Teams ride one behind the other with only millimeters between each teammate’s wheels. They take it in turns to lead and exert the most energy, with the others drafting in behind, soaking up the aerodynamic benefits.
At each lap the leader rises up the bank, and drops into the back and the next person takes over as the lead rider. The winner is the fastest team across the line, but the time is taken from the third rider’s wheel over the line. This is why in the final few laps you will often see the leader perform a “death pull” whereby they use their remaining energy to ride as fast as the possibly can before pulling out and not rejoining the group. This gives the rest of the team a chance to recover without losing time. The remaining three are tasked with riding as hard as possible to the finish line.
Teams can also win this event by catching up with the opposing team, hence the name Pursuit.
Originating as a popular betting sport in Japan, in it’s infantile stage as a sport it was a no holds barred style of mass-start racing with very few rules and very frequent crashes. Cleaned up for the Olympics the Kerin is now non-contact and speeds are regulated right up until the final 3.5 laps.
Five to seven riders all start together behind a motorised bike called a Derny. Competitors must stay behind the Derny as they jostle for position in the first 4.5 laps. The Derny begins at 25km/hr and increases speed with each lap to a maximum of 50km/hr before leaving the track with 3.5 laps to go. With speed no longer regulated, riders battle it out to the finish line.
The first two riders across the line move on to the next round, with the losers battling it out in the repechage heats - basically they get a second chance. First and second place from each repechage heat also move forward to the first round. In the first round, the first three riders of each race qualify for the medal final, with the rest riding off for the remaining places.
The Omnium is basically the “heptathlon” of Olympic Track Cycling. Individual riders need to be well rounded cyclists as they compete in six events over two days. Three events favour the sprinters - the Flying Lap, Individual Time Trial and Scratch Race - and three favour endurance riders - Points Race, Individual Pursuit and Elimination Race.
In the Flying Lap riders are given 2.5 laps to work up speed and final 250 metres is timed. This is a pretty standard, straightforward time trial that’s all about speed.
The Elimination Race is a pretty straightforward mass-start race, with the last rider across the line eliminated on every other lap.
The Individual Pursuit consists of two riders starting at opposite ends of the track, racing each other much like the Team Pursuit, but without the team. It’s 4km for men and 3km for women.
The Scratch Race, as the name suggests is simply a mass-start race where first over the line wins.
The Time Trial is next - 1km for men and 500 metres for women. Fastest time wins, easy as that.
The Points Race is 30km for men and 20km for women. Every 10 laps a bell will sound to indicate a sprint lap. At the conclusion of this lap, the first five riders across the line receive points based on their position - 5 points to 1st, 4 points to 2nd and so on. If you breakaway from the pack and gain a lap on them you are awarded a bonus 20 points. This is a tactical race, favouring mainly endurance but also speed.
With each event riders are given points - 40 to first place, 38 to second, 36 to third and so on. The pattern continues on till the 21st placed rider, after which all riders get 1 point - for trying. At the end of the medley of events, the rider with the most points is the winner.
Did you know?
Cyclists use ‘fixed gear’ bikes with no brakes! The pedals will constantly rotate as the bike moves meaning it’s impossible to ‘free-wheel’ or gain speed without pedaling.
Aussies to look for
Men’s Sprint - Matt Glaetzer, Pat Constable and Nathan Hart
Men’s Endurance - Jack Bobridge, Michael Hepburn, Alex Edmondson, Glenn O’Shea, Callum Scotson and Sam Welsford
Women’s Sprint - Anna Meares, Stephanie Morton
Women’s Endurance - Annette Edmondson, Melissa Hoskins, Amy Cure, Ashlee Ankudinoff and Georgia Baker
Are we a medal chance?
Flag bearer for Rio 2016, Anna Meares is looking to do it all over again off the back of her gold medal win at London 2012 in the Individual Sprint. With 11 World Championship titles and no injuries in the lead up to this year’s Games she’s in good form to bring home gold.
With three out of four 2016 World Champs rounding out the Men’s Pursuit Team, Sam Welsford and Callum Scotson make their Olympic debut with excellent form. They’ll join London 2012 silver medalists Michael Hepburn and Jack Bobridge to hopefully bring home gold for Australia. These four in the Team Pursuit will make for an exhilarating event.
Cycling at the Olympics
Find out everything you've ever wanted to know about all the awesome Cycling events at the Olympics:
Photo credits: Stefano Rellandini - ABC, Sergey Ponomarev