FOX Sports Exclusive
Olympics 101: Cycling
There are four categories of Olympic Cycling: BMX, mountain bike, road and track.
BMX is the acronym for bicycle motorcross, a relatively new Olympic sport that is making its second appearance in the Summer Games. The cyclists ride a bike that has one gear and one brake and navigate through a course that has jumps, tightly-banked turns and uneven terrain. Through a series of heats, quarterfinals and semifinals, the fastest cyclists advance on to the finals.
The mountain bike is unusual in that there are no heats to whittle down the competition — all cyclists start at the same time and race over terrain that can be quite steep and full of obstacles. They are allowed to carry a toolkit with them to make repairs but cannot receive any help from outside unless they are in specified assistance zones.
The road race requires the cyclist to navigate through the city streets and countryside. There are two courses for the women and two courses for the men. The road race's men's course is around 250 kilometers (155 miles) and the women's course is 140 kilometers (87 miles). All cyclists start at the same time and the first to cross the finish line wins the race. The Time Trial is a shorter race and the cyclists are staggered 90 seconds apart. The men's race is 44 kilometers (27 miles) long and the women's is 29 kilometers (18 miles). The winner of this race is the cyclist with the fastest time.
The track discipline features ten races (five for women, five for men) in an indoor venue (velodrome) that has a steeply-banked oval track. The sprint is wildly popular because it is a three-lap race between two cyclists in a head-to-head competition. The keirin is similar to the sprint but instead of two cyclists there are seven cyclists in the race. The final individual competition is the omnium which is making its debut in the Summer Games. This race has six different disciplines that challenge both endurance and speed.
Team sprint and team pursuit are also part of Olympic cycling. Team pursuit is a series of timed races of four-member teams. Through a series of rounds, teams advance based on their times and the two fastest teams race in the gold medal round. Team sprint is a three-team race (men's) or a two-team race (women's) similar to a track relay race. As the first team member completes a lap, he cedes his lead to the second team member who then races one lap and then (men's only) then cedes the lead to the third team member. In men's sprint, three laps are timed while in the women's, there are two laps.
Why should I care?
Cycling is a great sport to watch — it's fast-paced and easy to follow. BMX is wildly popular due to the probability of one cyclist wiping out his opponents if he can't keep his bike under control. The cycling in the velodrome is also fascinating because of how steep the banked turns are and how close together these cyclists race. More than anything else, most Americans — at some point in their lives — have ridden a bicycle and thus, can appreciate the speed of the sport.
Cycling has had many scandals surrounding the sport, but most have been limited to professional cyclists and the Tour de France race. In the 1972 Summer Games, Jaime Huelamo (Spain) and a Time Trial team from the Netherlands were stripped of bronze medals. No cyclist has been stripped of an Olympic medal since then.
OK, so who should I watch?
The teams haven't been completely finalized but watch out for Sarah Hammer (Omnium) — she placed second at the 2011 UCI Track World Championships in Netherlands. Kristin Armstrong, the gold medalist (Road) in the 2008 Summer Games, is an Olympic veteran — if she makes the 2012 team, this will be her third Olympiad. One of the men's 2012 BMX Olympic hopefuls is Mike Day, who won a silver medal in the 2008 Summer Games.
What chance do the Americans have to win?
Australia and Great Britain have really improved and look to be in heavy contention for every medal. The French still own this sport — they have won more Olympic medals (86) than any other country — but the United States and Italy should walk away with some medals as well.
More Stories From Lisa Horne