Updated: Monday, 19 March 2012 16:43 | By pa.press.net

CYCLING - ROAD

Classic endurance events such as the Tour de France have helped to increase the popularity of road cycling, which is one of the fastest growing recreational sports in the world.


A group of riders compete in the cycling road race. (© Press Association)

A group of riders compete in the cycling road race.

Cycling - Road

Classic endurance events such as the Tour de France have helped to increase the popularity of road cycling, which is one of the fastest growing recreational sports in the world.

The first chain-driven bicycles were developed in the 19th century and over time, cycling has evolved from solely being a means of transport into a highly-competitive professional sport that always draws huge crowds and large TV audiences at the big events.

At the heart of the discipline, riders aim to complete a course in the fastest time possible, something that has not changed since a road cycling race was first staged at the Olympics at the inaugural Games of the modern era in 1896.

On that occasion, only six riders competed over a distance of 87 kilometres, completing two laps of the marathon route in Greece, from Athens to Marathon and back.

Although road racing was then dropped from the schedule for the next three Olympics, it returned in 1912 and has been part of the Games ever since.

Nowadays, the men's road race takes place over approximately 250km, while the women's event - which was first staged in 1984 - covers a distance of around 140km.

In both events, riders line up for a mass start and the first to cross the finish line is declared the winner.

Stamina and expert bike-handling skills are a must, along with a good strategy and tactical awareness to make the right move at the right time and to be well placed for a sprint at the end.

Riders are also helped by having a strong team to share the workload in what is one of the most gruelling events at the Olympics.

The other road cycling event on the Olympic schedule is the individual time trial, which was only introduced at Atlanta 1996, with a team trial having been staged before that between 1912 and 1992.

The time trial is a shorter event where riders race against the clock, over 44km for men and 29km for women. It requires a more sustained sprint from the start, with competitors setting off at 90-second intervals and the winner being the rider with the fastest overall time.

Italy and France have enjoyed the greatest medal success in road cycling at the Games, while in the women's events Australia and the Netherlands are the two standout nations.

Ahead of London 2012, the Dutch boast the only rider, male or female, to have ever doubled up successfully to win both the road race and time trial after Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel's two golds at Sydney 2000.

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