Essential Olympic Track Cycling Guide

It’s that time again! The four year Olympic cycle is upon us. The time when we get to watch all those sports which we rarely see, like horse dancing (aka Dressage) for example. While the Road and MTB Cycling events are relatively straight forward, the velodrome racing can seem a bit baffling at times. Here is our essential guide to the Olympic Track Cycling Events.

Olympic Track Events are divided into two broad categories, Sprint and Endurance.

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Endurance Events

GB Men’s Team – Bradley Wiggins, Owain Doull, Steven Burke, Ed Clancy, Mark Cavendish

GB Women’s Team – Katie Archibald, Laura Trott, Joanna Rowsell Shand, Elinor Barker, Ciara Horne

Team Pursuit

Held over 4000m, teams of four start at opposite ends of the track. The teams work together as a cohesive unit, each rider sharing the pace setting at the front. Teams are allowed to lose one rider, the finish time is taken on the third rider. All eyes will be on Sir Bradley Wiggins to see whether he can lead the GB quartet to another Olympic Gold Medal. The main challengers are likely to be Australia and New Zealand. There will be interest too in the US Team who are riding bikes with chainsets on the opposite side of the bike, said to aid aerodynamics.

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Omnium – Six Events in One

10km Scratch – Bunch race which culminates in a sprint finish, unless a rider can gain a lap on their own. If several riders gain a lap, the final sprint is between those riders.

Individual Pursuit – An individual race, from a standing start, opponents start on opposite sides of the track (3k Women / 4k Men).

Elimination Race – Formerly known as the ‘Devil Takes the Hindmost’ riders stay in the race by not being the last rider in the group at the end of every second lap. The race finishes with a two rider sprint for the win.

Time Trial – 1Km for Men and 500m for Women Individual race from a standing start.

Flying lap – One lap, individual race, from a flying (moving) start.

Points Race – 30k Men / 20k Women Bunch race. Points are awarded at set laps within the race.

Riders accumulate points from each of the six rounds, the rider with the most points wins. Focus for GB fans will be on Laura Trott, who won in 2012 and Mark Cavendish who ended his stellar 2016 Tour De France early focus on winning Omnium Olympic Gold.

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Sprint Events

GB Men’s team – Jason Kenny, Callum Skinner, Phillip Hindes

GB Women’s team – Rebecca James, Katy Marchant

200m Sprint

Riders qualify in a 200 metre time trial, the fastest go through to the last 16. The 16 riders then have match sprints (best of three). The match sprints are over three laps and usually only ‘kick off’ in the last lap or so. The first two laps are usually a cat and mouse game of each rider trying to get their opponent where they want them. The match sprints end up with a runners up race for the Bronze medal and a final for Silver and Gold. Always exciting to watch, track sprinting is a rare mixture of tactics, agility and outright bulk power.

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The Keirin is the one with the funny looking motorbike (Called a Derny). The Derny leads the field around and gradually increases the speed to around 50kph in the men’s race and 40kph in the women’s race. The Derny then peels off the track with two and a half laps to go. The riders then have an all out sprint to the line. Nobody is allowed to get past the Derny bike before it peels off the track. Keirin Racing is a massive sport in Japan, where punters bet on the results, much like horse racing in the UK.

Team Sprint

The Team Sprint, involves teams getting around the track as fast as possible from a standing start. Two teams start on opposite sides of the track. The men complete three laps and the women complete two. The man one, (or woman one) position is critical as first lap acceleration is vital in the short race. After a lap, the first rider peels off, leaving the remaining rider(s) to complete the distance. At the end of each lap riders have a 15 metre zone which they have to change places with the next rider.

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Inside Track

2012 Gold Medallist, and local Lancashire lad, Steven Burke, is on the Endurance team and rides the Team Pursuit. Steven explains how the high pressure race usually evolves for him, “It’s not easy. Ed (Clancy) starts off so quick, we all go into the red. It’s about coping with Ed’s fast start then being able to sit at 66/67 KPH for the rest of the 4000 Metres.” Steven continued, “It’s great having Brad (Wiggins) back with us – its great for moral, it gives us all confidence heading towards Rio.”  The Team Pursuit quartet will complete their initial qualifying ride on Thursday the 11th of August.

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Fast Track Facts

  • The first velodromes were constructed in Europe for road cyclists to train on in the winter months
  • German sprinter Robert Forstemann’s thighs have a 27 inch circumference
  • Sir Chris Hoy is said to have produced 2200 watts of power on his second turn of the pedal in a test in 2012
  • Track bikes have a fixed gear, just like the ones bearded London hipsters ride
  • The UK has 5 Indoor Velodromes; Glasgow, Manchester, Derby, Newport and London
  • London 2012 saw Team GB win 7 out of the 10 Gold medals awarded
  • Track sprinters often use old fashioned toe-straps for extra security for their pedals and shoes
  • Sir Chris Hoy retired from the Olympics after 2012 with a haul of 6 Gold Medals and one silver
  • Track sprinters generate over 2000 Watts of power during their event
  • The last time Team GB came away without a gold medal from Olympic Cycling was in 1996
  • Track sprinters use wider chains, sprockets and chainrings than road cyclists, to cope with their extra power
  • Cycling is one of five sports which have featured in every Olympics since 1896
  • Velodromes are made of around 60 kilometres of 4cm x 4cm x 6 metre wooden boards and about 350000 nails

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So after watching the Olympic Track action, you feel the need for speed. Why not convert an old road bike into a fixed singlespeed machine? Once stripped down you will need some Track Wheels. Alternatively, if you like being able to freewheel, turn it into a singlespeed with a singlespeed conversion kit.


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