Cycling has been part of the Olympic Games since the first Modern Games in Athens 1896. There are several types of races: track, road, off-road (mountain bike) and BMX.

Track Races

Track races take place on a velodrome, which is in an oval shape. The corners of the track are steeply banked to facilitate high speed. Track events are divided into two categories, Sprint and Endurance races. Riders are only allowed to compete in one of these categories.

Main Sprint events are done over three to eight laps. They are:

  • Team Sprint– this is a team pursuit, which is held over three laps of the velodrome. Two teams race against each other, they start the race on opposite sides of the track. Men’s teams consist of three and women of two. Men compete over three laps of the track, and women over two laps.
  • Keirin was introduced as an Olympic sport at the Sydney Olympiad in 2000. It originates from Japan. This is an event in which six to nine riders compete at one time.
  • Track Time Trial– this is an individual competition, cyclist race against the clock to record the fastest time.

Main Endurance events are held over distances much longer than in Sprint. The number of laps varies from 12-16 for Pursuit events, to 200 for full length Madison race in Olympic Games or World Championship.

  • Individual Pursuit– two cyclists compete in this event starting at opposite sides of the velodrome. Men compete over 4 km and women- over 3 km. The race begins at the same time for both of the racers and the purpose is to catch with the other rider.
  • Team Pursuit– it is similar to the individual pursuit. Teams of up to four cyclists compete in this event. The British team specializes in the team pursuit and they are World and Olympic champions as well as World Record holders. Women do not compete in this event at the Olympic Games.
  • Points Race– this is a race over long distances. A large number of competitors race at the same time. This event is part of the Olympic Games programme.
    Madison- is a team event, named after Madison Square Garden in New York. It is usually a part of six-day races but can also be held as a separate sport, as in the Olympics.

Road Races

Rod race man

In its modern form road racing originates from the 19th century. There are two types of road races for men and women at the Olympic Games: Road racing and Time trial.

  • Road race– individual road race was held for the first time in 1896 at the first Modern Olympics and has been part of the Games non-stop since 1912. Women first participated in the 1984 Olympiad. Team events at the Olympics were held only between 1920 and 1956, women never competed at them.
  • Time trial– this is an event in which cyclists race alone against the clock. Both individual and team races for men took place at the 1912 Olympiad. Team time trial returned to the Games’ programme in 1960 but was excluded again in 1996. The individual event returned in 1996. Women have been competing in time trial since 1996.

Mountain Bike Races

Mountain bike races were part of the last four Olympiads for both men and women. The events take place over rough countryside. Men compete over distances of 40-50 km and women- over 30-40 km. The winner is the first to finish the race. There are different types of mountain bike races:

  • Cross-Country (XC)- most popular.
  • Dirt Jumping (DJ)
  • Downhill (DH)
  • Freeride
  • Trials – riding and jumping bicycles over obstacles.


BMX races were introduced at the Olympic Games for the first time at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Both men and women compete in this event. The race is held over a track made of various jumps, eight cyclists competing at a time.