The most beautiful event in track cycling is the Team Pursuit, which combines speed and endurance with complex manoeuvres as teams compete to outdo each other over a distance of four kilometres for the men and three kilometres in the women’s event.
For viewers it’s a particularly enjoyable spectacle, as the teams start on opposite sides of the track and pursue each other over 16 or 12 laps. A dominant performance will see one team visibly gaining ground on the other, while a more hard fought battle will see teams appearing to maintain almost identical track positions, with only hundredths of a second between them. If the teams appear to be flashing across the top and bottom of your TV screen at the same time, then you’re witnessing a really tight battle, but if you’re watching one catching up with the other then you’re seeing one team perform astonishingly well.
The riders start from positions spread up the banking and quickly fall into a line, with the rider closest to the inside of the track having the delicate task of attaining top speed as quickly as possible without burning his or her teammates off their back wheel.
Once the team is riding at full speed, each member will take it in turn to do a lap or a lap-and-a-half at the front before attempting an inch-perfect manoeuvre: swinging up the banking to allow the following riders through, before dropping back down into the rearmost position. If the returning rider drops back into line too late it will be almost impossible to close the gap in time for their next turn on the front.
The need to attain maximum speed and perfect synchronisation makes the Team Pursuit one of the most difficult disciplines in track cycling. In the men’s event, defending Olympic champions Great Britain are likely to do battle with the current World Champions, Australia. The women’s Team Pursuit is new to the Olympics, but has been a World Championship event since 2008. Team GB’s women are not only the reigning World Champions, but have won the event four out of the five times it has been held. Their main rivals will be Canada and, as ever, Australia.
The first round of the men’s pursuit starts at 4:18pm, with the finals from 5:59pm, on BBC2 and BBC Olympics 8