Introduction to Olympic Track Cycling

Cycling | Published: Tue 2 August 2016

Who: 186 athletes from 35 countries over 10 events

What: Men’s and women’s individual and team events

Where: Rio Olympic Velodrome

When: Days 6 - 11



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:


Sprint –

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 and women.


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.


Keirin –

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 –

Raced over 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.

Omnium –

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 podium success.


Welsford will make his Olympic debut at 20 years of age, whilst Hoskins will return after finishing fourth in the teams pursuit in London.


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.


Sam Welsford


Melissa Hoskins