There are many variations to the competition that takes place in Olympic track cycling. At the Beijing Olympic games, you'll see the following individual track bike events:
- Individual pursuit
- Points race
In sprints, sometimes you'll get to see racers doing track stands, a strategic move where they come to a complete stop, balancing in place in order to force their opponent to take the lead spot. The tactic here is that the second rider then tucks in neatly behind his or her opponent, allowing them to set the pace and do the hard work pedaling in front. Then when it comes to the final, explosive sprint, the second place rider uses fresher legs to power past and take the victory.
Individual pursuit: In the individual pursuit, two riders compete head-to-head over a set distance. For men, it's 4000 meters/2.5 miles, while women race over 3000 meters/1.8 miles. The riders start from opposite points of the track, and the winner is the one who either catches his rival or records the best time overall. If one rider catches the other, the race ends at once, though the winner may still need to finish to record his overall time.
Points race: In this fascinating event, endurance and sprinting strength will determine who comes out on to in this 160-lap (40km) race. All competitors, one from each country, start at the same time. Riders score points during the event, and the top scorers at the end are the winners. The winner is the rider who primarily gains the most laps on the field and second, scores the most points by placing in one of the 20 sprints held in the course of the race, where the top four placers cash in.
In the sprints -- which are every eighth lap -- the top finisher earns five points, and it goes to three points for second, two points for third and one point for fourth. Gaining a lap is weighed more heavily; usually points scored in the sprints factor in as a tiebreaker between several riders.
Keirin:: Originating in Japan and popular in Europe (where that version is known as Motorpace), Keirin is an eight-lap, 2000 m race in which a small motorbike paces the riders around the track for five-and-a-half laps. Because the motorbike provides a slipstream, the cyclists can go at much higher speeds in Keirin than in other track races.
The riders follow the motorbike at faster and faster speeds (going from 25 kmph to 45 kmph) with only inches between them until the final lap when the motorbike peels away and the racers give it all they've got for the last two-and-a-half-laps, busting it in a mad sprint for the finish.
Much of the action in Keirin comes as riders jockey for the best position immediately behind the motorbike. It's not a full contact sport by any means, but riders aren't exactly hands-off either as they attempt to manuever themselves into the prime spot for the sprint.