What’s the deal?
Cyclists take to the streets to see who’s fastest. These bikes have drop handlebars (think ten-speed bike) and really narrow tires. You might think that narrow tires on your average debris-adorned road might be a recipe for flat-tire disaster. You’re not far off there, but these tires are lighter and less resistant, and when those help you ride faster, you’ll take your chances.
At the Olympics, there are two types of events–the road race and the time trial–with the same goal: Be the fastest. For the road race, everyone starts at the same time, and the first one across the line wins. For the time trial, cyclists start at 90 second intervals, and the one with the fastest time claims the gold.
A major feature in any road race is the peloton, a huge pack of cyclists that’s like big organism that ebbs and flows down the road. You might think that it’s dangerous for bikers to be riding that close together when they’re going a good 30-50 km/hour, and you’d be right–one wrong move, and a massive part of the peloton can come crashing down–but the pack helps people conserve their energy for the long races. Cyclists take turns leading, which uses up a lot more energy. When a cyclist thinks they’ve got a shot, they’ll break off. Smaller groups may form, but eventually there’s just one who has the endurance to lead at the end.
Men and women–but they go different distances. The men’s road race is 241.5 km long, and the time trial is 54.5 km long.
The women’s road race is 141 km long, and their time trial is 29.8 km long.
Why should I watch?
Because it’s pretty mind-boggling that people can go that fast on a bicycle for that far. A couple hundred kilometers is no joke. You also don’t know when anything will happen. Will the peloton fall apart? Will someone break away? Will the peloton suck them back in? And what happens if they have to go to the bathroom? You won’t find out unless you watch.
Potential drinking game:
If the peloton goes down, take a drink.
The perfect snack:
Steroids — JUST KIDDING. Cycling’s got a bad reputation for doping, but supposedly, the athletes will keep it clean for the Games.
For your snack table, grab some Go-gurt or squeezable applesauce.
Feel like taking your commuter cycling to the next level? The International Cycling Union is the international governing body for the sport. Want to be a part of the action in a different way? Race officials are called Commissaires, and you can’t have a race without them. The British Cycling Federation is just one of the national governing bodies that have more info about how to experience the sport through officiating.