The London 2012 Olympic Games team pursuit events will for the first time be run with a new format that is designed to make the first round more of a knock-out competition.
The top eight teams from Thursday’s qualifying round go through to the first round, as before, but it is no longer the fastest team racing against the eighth fastest, the second fastest team racing against the seventh, third versus sixth and fourth versus fifth.
Instead the fastest team (Great Britain) will ride against the fourth fastest team (Denmark), the winner of which goes in to the gold final irrespective of time. Second (Australia) rides against third (New Zealand), and again the winner goes in to the gold final.
Time in this race is irrelevant as the winners go through, essentially making it a race rather than a four-up time trial. You have to beat the other team, not set the fastest time – subtly changing the emphasis.
This new format splits the eight qualifiers down the middle into two groups of four (the fastest four and the slowest four), and does away with a rather pointless first versus eight first round ride.
Great Britain (first) were eleven seconds faster than the Netherlands (in eighth) and the previous system would have seen them race against each other making for a pointless race.
Britain would have caught the Netherlands fairly comfortably, which can drastically affect the team’s times. The new system pits the fastest teams against each other, which is the way it should be.
So, the two winning teams from the first versus fourth and second versus third races go to the gold final, what about the other six qualifying teams?
Lower down the ranking the fifth fastest team from qualifying (Russia) races against eighth (Netherlands) and sixth (Spain) races against seventh (Colombia). In the final rounds those four teams are joined by the two losing teams from the first versus fourth and second versus third races, and all six are ranked by their first round times, whether they won or lost.
For arguments sake, let’s go with form and say Denmark and New Zealand lose their first round races. They are ranked by their first round times along with Russia, Spain, Colombia and the Netherlands. From those times the two fastest race for bronze, the next two fastest race for fifth and sixth and the slowest two race for seventh and eight.
It means that all eight teams will ride three times in the competition, extending the format by two races.
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Will it change team tactics? It’s hard to tell. The best teams ride to such strict time schedules that the team-versus-team race element is all but done away with. Great Britain and Australia ride to a schedule based on time and cadence (dictated by the size of the gears they use) and rarely stray from it. At the World Championships in Melbourne this April the gold final did become a race as there was nothing between the Brits and Aussies throughout the race.
It was a thrilling race, but they rarely happen. To have that you need two teams who are evenly matched, and that wasn’t the case in qualifying here in London. Ten seconds separated the top six teams, big time gaps for the event.
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