Olympic Preview: Cycling

Cycling is a classic sport that goes back centuries with events like the Tour de France a part of sport lore. It all started with the road cycling that was a simple test of endurance and speed on smooth roads while going up and down massive hills. Eventually people would push the envelope as they moved from the roads into a stadium, now known as the Velodrome. The steep banks and speed at which these new athletes would go stepped up the difficulty in the cycling world. Now there was a clear division between two sports that reflected two very different styles. There was the marathon of the road race that dealt with long distance and grueling courses and there was the speed and quick races of the track cycling. The evolution did not end there though as the cycling world continued to move into new and exciting worlds. After years of just two cycling events the Olympics once again added a cycling event that had been growing in popularity for decades. The new cycling challenge would be Mountain Biking where athletes would travel through always unpredictable wilderness in a race that moved away from the road and the track. It was a new challenge for cyclists who wanted to leave the old school and go into the wilderness. As with any sport or group of sports the game continued to evolve and continued to push the envelope. Once again a new sport was added as 2008 saw the introduction of BMX. It was yet another level of competition as time trails ended and races began with athletes going over uneven road the entire time. It was fast and dangerous with obstacles in the way and was yet another evolution in the sport. All four of these sports will be back in the ever evolving group of cycling with something for everyone.

 

BMX:

 

 

 

 

First Year: 2008

Most Medals: USA, 3 (0 Gold)

 

The most recent addition to the Olympic program BMX made its debut at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and will enter its second Olympic competition in London. It is a change from many of the other cycling events as it is a mix of all of them. It has the endurance of the road race, although is not nearly as long, with so many obstacles taking away so much energy throughout the race. It has the speed of the track race with athletes going at top speed through these obstacles and bank turns. It has the concentration of the Mountain bike as the cyclists navigate through obstacles to get to the end. With all of these aspects added together make for one of the more exciting sports in the Olympics. It is one of the few Olympic sports that has made their way from the X-Games to the Olympics in a trend of the Olympic Games. After ski and snow cross made it in to the Winter Olympic Program the Olympics began looking at summer sports. The BMX athletes made the cut as they represent a new era of sports in the Olympics and sports fans are not complaining. In London the BMX racers will take on their short course at blazing speeds and with high-flying jumps. The BMX events at the Olympics are straight up races with no judging and only speed winning. Eight racers face off at one time through a short but fast track where the top two in each race move on to the next round. New for London there will be a preliminary round where each cyclist goes through the course and are timed on their run. The timed run determines the seeding of each cyclist and determines the make-up of the races going further to ensure that top racers do not face off in the first races. The tournament continues until the final 8 racers are determined who face off in the Gold Medal race. BMX is the young kid on the block in the cycling group but it is one of the most exciting. Only in its second year entering London BMX is still looking to figure themselves out as a number of athletes look to become the next Gold medalist when they go to London this year.

 

Who to Watch:

Maris Strombergs (Latvia)

– In a surprise last year Strombergs was able to overcome a crash happy finals in Beijing and win the Gold medal becoming the first Latvian cycling champion and will look to become the first two-time champion in BMX

 

Shanaze Reade (Great Britain)

– She is one of the biggest Olympic medal hopefuls for the British team she is the three-time world champion in BMX and will try to improve on her performance in Beijing where she was disqualified in the finals

 

Canadian Content:

Tory Nyhaug (Coquitlam, BC)

– Nyhaug has been close many times in his career as he finished 9th in the 2011 World Championships but will enter his first Olympics as a medal hopeful hoping he can bring home a medal for Canada

 

Road:

 

 

 

 

First Year: 1896

Most Medals: Italy, 44 (20 Gold)

 

It is the crown jewel of the cycling events at the Olympics with some of the richest history in the Olympics and in sports. Only a week removed from the biggest cycling race in the world the top cyclists will travel across the channel to London. It is yet another sport where the top athletes in the world compete and instead of being amateurs are the top professionals in the world. There is much debate about this with many of the sports that feature professional athletes but the fact is that these athletes are the best of the best. It will be a great time as well after many of the athletes complete the Tour de France and move on to try to earn an Olympic Gold. It gives a look into the professional sports world and will be a look into the European sports culture. Cycling has been one of the most popular sports for centuries as it is a true test of stamina and will. The road courses are made to test the racers with climbs and sprints that are meant to showcase the true athletes. In the Olympics there will be two different races as athletes will participate in the road race and the time trial. In the Road Race the riders will not see the challenge that the Tour de France offers but the course will not be an easy one. There are no steep climbs like in the Tour de France but they will encounter a long steady climb up box hill that should be the true test for most cyclists. The Road race is a simple one as all racers will start at the same time and race through the 250 km track, 140 km for the women’s race, until they reach the end where the first racer back wins Gold. In the time trial every racer leaves the start line 90 seconds apart and move through a 44 km track, 29 km for the women. The Gold medal goes to the cyclist who traverses the track in the least amount of time. All eyes will be on the road cycling in the Olympics especially when it is one of the first medal events in the Olympics and when the British team has a great shot at gold. It will be one of the first Gold’s to be handed out as the road race takes some major focus when the Olympics kick off.

 

Who to Watch:

Tom Boonen (Belgium)

– He has had plenty of success in cycling winning the Paris-Roubaix four times and the Tour de Flandres three times while adding a Green jersey in the 2007 Tour de France and as a specialist in the one day race he will have a shot at a medal in London

 

Mark Cavendish (Great Britain)

– Part of the Sky team in the Tour de France the man known as the Manx Missile could be the man to win Britain’s first gold in the men’s road race and add to his resume as the most successful cyclist from Britain

 

Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)

– The defending champion in the Olympic Time Trials Cancellara is consistently one of the favorites in the major tournaments and will be a favorite to defend his Gold medal at the Time Trials in London

 

Bradley Wiggins (Great Britain)

– He is coming off of a great Tour de France performance where he held the yellow shirt for multiple stages and will be looking to transfer that success across the channel at home when he takes on the London 2012 road race

 

Canadian Content:

Ryder Hesjedal (Victoria, BC)

– He is the first Canadian to ever win a major race after winning the 2012 Giro d’Italia Hesjedal is the brightest medal hope in the men’s road race even after he dropped out of the Tour de France due to injury

 

Clara Hughes (Glen Sutton, QC)

– She is the face of Olympics in Canada as she has won 6 medals in both summer and winter Olympics tying her for the most decorated Canadian athlete and she will attempt to hold that spot alone by winning a medal in London

 

Track:

 

 

 

 

First Year: 1896

Most Medals: Great Britain, 127 (30 Gold)

 

Another one of the staples of the cycling program in the summer Olympics the track represents the speed of cycling. Moving around the Velodrome at blazing speeds these cyclists participate in a very exciting sport. In the 2012 Olympics there will be ten events, five for women and five for men, showcasing the multiple aspects of the event. First is the Team Pursuit for both men and women where countries compete together. In the Team pursuit two teams made up of four riders square off in a head to head match-up. Starting on two ends of the track two teams begin racing, 4 km for men and 3 km for women, with the team with the best time wins the race. The next team race is the Team Sprint where a team of three cyclists race in a time trial style event. As the team of three cyclists goes through the track one cyclist leaves the track after each lap leaving one cyclist without any drafting help in the last lap of the race where the best time wins. There are also two individual events starting with the Individual Sprint that pits two cyclists against each other in a head-to-head race. Two cyclists face off on opposite sides of the track with the first rider crossing the line winning the race. The next individual race is the Keirin where six cyclists follow the pace of a motorcycle. Six racers line up behind a motorcycle that picks up speed every lap until it leaves the track with two laps remaining forcing riders to pick up speed until it turns into a free for all with two laps to go. Finally there is the Omnium which will be making its first ever appearance in the Olympics at London. The Omnium involves six events including a 250 metre lap against the clock, a points race that awards points for winning sprints and lapping the field, an elimination race where the last racer across the line every two laps is eliminated, an individual pursuit, a scratch race that awards points like a points race except without sprints, and finally a 1 km, 500m for women, time trial. It is considered the equivalent of a decathlon for cyclists and is all held over two days. Track cycling will be featured again in London as these cyclists continue to impress every year in the Velodrome.

 

Who to Watch:

Sir Chris Hoy (Great Britain)

– Another big medal hope for the home country Chris Hoy is an 11-time world champion and a four time Olympic Gold medalist making him the most successful Olympic cycling athletes of all time

 

Anna Meares (Australia)

– She has been a part of almost every different discipline in track cycling and has been successful in every one winning world championships in the keirin, individual sprint, 500m time trial and the team pursuit as she looks to add to an impressive resume

 

Gregory Bauge (France)

– There is a lot of controversy surrounding him after being stripped of two Gold medals in the 2011 World Championship thanks to failed drug tests but he is still one of the most successful sprint cyclists in the world

 

Victoria Pendleton (Great Britain)

– Yet another medal hopeful for Great Britain Pendleton is a 5-time world championship in the individual sprint, a 2-time world champion in the team sprint, and a world champion in the keirin as she looks to earn three medals at home

 

Canadian Content:

Zach Bell (Watson Lake, YT)

– he will have plenty to strive for in London as he will look to become the first to win an Olympic gold medal in the new omnium event, the first athlete from the territories to win a medal in the Olympics, and the first Canadian male to win a medal in track cycling since 1996

 

Tara Whitten (Edmonton, AB)

– Another threat in the newest track event in the Olympics Whitten will be hoping to become the first gold medalist in the omnium and may even be a threat for a medal in the road time trial as she makes her Olympic debut

 

Mountain Bike:

 

 

 

 

First Year: 1996

Most Medals: France, 5 (3 Gold)

 

The mountain biking event in the Olympics is the exact opposite of many of the events in the cycling group. The road and track cycling are very much old school and upper class while the mountain bike is quite the opposite. This event represents the dirty side of cycling with no clean lines to ride on or help anywhere close by. Instead of the smooth roads and smooth tracks of the road and track cycling, mountain bikes go through the bumpy paths of the mountains and the forest. There will also be nobody backing them up if something goes wrong as they are alone while on the trail. It is a thrilling event that requires not only strength and speed but the ability to problem solve on the fly. This comes into focus when athletes have to overcome obstacles on the trail like a tree root or a rock in the way. There is no pruning or manicuring of these trails as anything that happens on the course is something else that riders must deal with. While watching many of these athletes compete it seems as though many are just on the edge of catastrophe which is where many of these athletes love to be. Races in the Olympics are 40-50 km for men and 30-40 km for women with all riders beginning at the same time in one race to take it all. This causes its own problems in the race as well with all racers sprinting out to get into the rough patches first where only one rider can fit. It is a great event to watch as riders need to navigate through multiple obstacles while trying to pass their opponents. It is also yet another sport that rose out of a leisure activity that was taking by the elite and moved to a new level. Mountain Biking became extremely popular in the 1990s as people began looking for new ways to keep busy. Of course as is with every leisure sport a small group of people began focusing more and more on the activity and continued to push the envelope. As the sport evolved more people were left behind and the elite athletes rose to the top. Now it is an Olympic sport where the top athletes compete for gold as they will do in London.

 

Who to Watch:

Irena Kalentieva (Russia)

– She is a two time world champion and won the bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as she looks to improve on her performance from the her last Olympic performance in London

 

Nino Schurter (Switzerland)

– He is one of the top mountain bikers in the world as he has won 12 world championship medals but his success in the world championships has not translated to the Olympics only winning bronze in Beijing as he looks to improve on that this year

 

Sabine Spitz (Germany)

– She is the defending champion after winning the gold medal in Beijing but she goes into the 2012 Olympics as an outside threat to defend her title as she will be taking on much younger athletes although she will try to prove that age is just a number

 

Canadian Content:

Catharine Pendrel (Harvey Station, NB)

– She just finished outside of the medals in 2008 as she will return to the mountain bike race in London as one of the favorites to win gold after winning the 2011 world championships last September

 

Emily Batty (Oshawa, ON)

– Pendrel is the veteran on the team while Batty is the rookie as she looks to be the new power in the mountain bike category when she makes her Olympic debut in London and tries to win a medal for Canada in London

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