Olympic Cycling: A guide

Posted in sport on July 24, 2012

After all the excitement of  this weekend’s Tour de France which saw the first British winner in the tour’s 99 year history, the cycling world’s attention turns to the Olympics. The timetable for Olympic cycling can be a little intimidating, so hopefully we can shed a little light on the myriad of classifications (Keirin, Sprint, Team Sprint, Team Pursuit, Omnium and Road Races – and breathe!). The thought of all that great cycling has made us even more excited for our cycling instructors going live on the site very soon – watch this space (sign up here to stay updated)!

GB riders are coming off the back of a great tour. photo credit:PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty Images


Riders follow a motorised bicycle around the track for 3 laps with each lap increasing in speed, the motorbike then leaves the track and  the riders are left to sprint the final 2 laps to the finish. Great medal chances for GB as Victoria Pendleton and Sir Chris Hoy (Video of final below) go all out to defend their Gold medals won in Beijing.


Competitors race for 800 metres; often only flat-out sprinting in the final stages of the event. Riders spend the rest of the race jockeying for the best position, and can even come to a complete stop as they manoeuvre themselves into the best possible position to launch an attack in the final stages. Another strong couple of Gold medal chances with Team GB enjoying an embarrassment of riches. Victoria Pendleton and Jason Kenny (who was selected ahead of Sir Chris Hoy) will be both be hot favourites going into the event.

Victoria Pendleton in action on the track

Team Sprint 

Each team of 3 riders try to cover the 3 laps of track in the shortest possible time. Each cyclist takes one lap as the leader then drops out and takes up a position at the rear of the team. Another very strong medal opportunity for GB with the men’s team looking to defend the Gold they won 4 years ago, and the women’s team looking to win Gold in its inaugural appearance at the games.

Team Pursuit

A longer version of the Team sprint where riders are faced with 4000 metres of racing, taking it in turns to lead (which is more tiring due to air resistance). Each team consists of 4 riders and will stay like that until the final couple of laps where the slowest sprinter will drop out to leave the remaining riders to race for the line. Groundhog day: Another event where GB are strong favourites to win Gold in both the men’s and women’s event. Both teams go into the event as reigning Olympic champions (Beijing 2008 was a pretty good event for Great Britain!).


The heptathlon of the track cycling world, riders are faced with a total of 6 separate events including flying lap time trials, individual pursuit and a longer 15km scratch race. The Omnium event will have its first appearance at a Summer games so a slight unknown quantity; expect GB’s Laura Trott and Ed Clancy to be competing amongst the medals.

Road Race

One of the easier to explain disciplines, as riders face the challenge of riding 250km (Men) and 150km (women) through London and Surrey. There are two classifications, each with their own medals attached; the road race (first one to the finish line wins) and the time trial (riders set off at 90 second intervals and the fastest time set on course wins). High hopes again for GB with Beijing silver-medalist Emma Pooley looking to go one better in the time trial, and Mark Cavendish looking to take Gold after playing more of a supporting role during le Tour.

Get involved! Unlike the track cycling, the road race is only ticketed in certain areas so you can watch the riders anywhere along the track, Cycling Weekly have done a great guide to the best places to watch the race here.

Cav looking good in sprinters’ green..

If you’ve been inspired to get into cycling and are looking for some routes in and around London you might like to check out our previous blog post on Long London cycle routes here.