The Olympic team pursuit sees four riders cover a distance of four kilometres (16 laps) riding as a cohesive unit to give each other shelter when they are not the rider on the front.
A team will pursue another team that starts on the opposite side of the track, except for qualifying rounds when a team rides alone to set a time. The race is between the two teams on the track, with the winning team being the one that posts the fastest time.
A team’s time is taken from the third rider across the finish line. It is common to see a team lose one rider before the end, typically the weakest rider who cannot maintain the speed, or the rider in ‘man one’ position who puts in extra effort at the start before fading at the finish.
Each team lines up side-by-side on the pursuit line in the home and back straights with ‘man one’ in the lowest position, just above the black pursuit line. It is their job to quickly get the team up to top speed, but steadily, allowing the three other riders to fall in line behind them. This generally takes around one-and-a-half laps of a 250m track.
England, Team Pursuit, Commonwealth Games 2014, day one
Once a team is up to speed each rider will spend one or one-and-a-half laps on the front of the chain before swinging up the track in the banking, allowing their team mates to pass underneath them before dropping down the track and on to the wheel of the last rider. The best teams will maintain a consistent top speed as they make these changes and not allow for gaps to open up between the riders to ensure they gain maximum shelter. Riders can do shorter or longer turns – from half a lap to two laps – depending on whether or not they are starting to struggle or the strongest of the quartet.
If a team is caught by their opponents, they must not affect a change to allow the faster team to safely overtake them. In a medal race the race is over once one team passes their opponents, often referred to as ‘making the catch’. If both teams need to post a time for classification in a following round they both continue to cover the full four kilometres.
A pursuit bike is a standard frame typically ridden with front and rear discs (on an indoor velodrome) and tri bars. Gearing is typically between 104 -120 inches.
The Olympics begins with qualification races against the clock to decide the eight teams who will compete in the first round, and whether they have the opportunity to race for gold.
The fastest qualifier races the fourth fastest, and the second fastest takes on the third fastest. The winner of each of those two races will compete in the gold medal final.
The fifth fastest qualifier races the eighth and the sixth fastest takes on the seventh.
The bronze medal final comprises the two fastest teams who didn’t make it to the gold final.