Track cycling melds the talents of sprint and endurance onto
a 250m wooden track with 10 medals up for grabs over six days of competition.
Despite the aerodynamic helmets and revolutionary race
suits, track cycling has actually been contested at every Olympics of the
modern Games, dating back to Athens 1896, with the single exception of Stockholm 1912. It took another 92 years however, for
women’s events to appear at Olympic level, with the first medals for female
athletes awarded at the Seoul Games in 1988.
The Rio Velodrome was made from 56km of Baltic pine strips,
and includes a 12 degree angle on the straights, with the banks doubling to 24
degrees. The sharp banks allow cyclists to safely round curves at high speed,
however in bunch races, accidents are a real and present danger.
In Rio, there will be five medals for men and five medals
for women. These events include:
The individual sprint, sees athletes post a flying lap,
whereby only the final 200m of their effort is timed. This ranks athletes, leading
into seeded head to head elimination rounds, in a best of three race format
that determines the last rider standing. Following the semi-final, the winners
race for gold, whilst the losers race off for bronze. This is contested for men
Team Sprint –
In the team sprint, a qualification seeding time sees the
eight fastest nations progress to the first round. The two fastest winners in
round one progress to race-off for gold, whilst the two slower winners race-off
for bronze. The men’s team sprint has three riders and is raced over three
laps, with the lead rider peeling off at the end of each lap. The format is the
same for the women, except it has two riders, competing over two laps.
The keirin, raced for both men and women, sees sprinters
engage in a bunch race to the line. An electronic bike, called the derny, paces
riders bringing the speed up from 30km to 50km, before leaving the track for
the final 700m whereby the riders make a calculated sprint to the line. The first two riders across the line in
the qualifying heats go through to the first round with the losers contesting
repechage heats. The two winners of each of three repechage heats go through to
the first round. In the first round the first three riders in each of the two
heats qualify for the medal final and the losers ride off for 7-12 place.
Team Pursuit –
qualifying, round one and medal rounds – the team pursuit sees teams of four
riders start on opposite sides of the track and engage in a race-off over 4km.
The time is all important, with the clock stopped after the rider in third
wheel, breaks the finish line with their front wheel. The emphasis is on
keeping a tight grouping with the pace setter doing the hardest work at the
front, before peeling off and handing over to the next rider, taking in turns. Up
until Rio, the women’s team pursuit had consisted of three riders, over 3km.
The omnium pits
riders over six grueling events across two days of competition. Riders are
awarded points in the; flying lap, time trial, individual pursuit, elimination
race, scratch race and points race, with the rider that accumulates the highest
aggregate of points winning gold. Riders are tested for both power and
endurance with the event likened to the heptathlon or decathlon in athletics.
Track bikes differ from road cycling bikes in that they are
fixed gear and don’t have breaks. The speed and power is generated solely by
the cyclist’s output. They are also lighter than road bikes, but must weigh a
minimum of 6.8kg to comply with regulations.
Australia has been highly successful in track cycling over
the years, with 12 gold, 15 silver and 16 bronze.
Great Britain has dominated the most recent editions, with
GB winning seven of a possible 10 gold medals at their home Olympics in 2012.
WA will be represented by a world champion and a former
world champion, with team pursuit title holder Sam Welsford and 2015 team
pursuit champion Melissa Hoskins both set to represent Australia in the 4km
endurance event. Australia is expected to compete well in both men’s and
women’s, with GB again likely to provide the stiffest challenge to Australia’s
Welsford will make his Olympic debut at 20 years of age,
whilst Hoskins will return after finishing fourth in the teams pursuit in
WA has enjoyed historical success on the track, with the
great Ryan Bayley chief amongst the memories. He won the individual sprint and
keirin double at the 2004 Athens Games, in one of the most impressive individual
displays by a Western Australian Olympian in any sport.
To follow WA’s track cyclists in Rio, view the bios below,
including information on when they are in action in Brazil.