Your Road to Olympic Track Bike Racing

How to Earn a Spot in the Track Bike Racing Competition

Olympic Velodrome in Barra Olympic Park tested the track

Roberto Castro/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

So you want to compete in the Olympics in track bike racing? Well, despite the large number of events in this cycling discipline — ten total events — each country is allowed to bring just a relatively few athletes to complete. But your chances are as good as anyone else, so if you want to make the team, it's important to know how the process works to select these elite athletes.

First of all, the International Olympic Committee has authorized only 500 total athletes for all countries for the four cycling disciplines — road, track, BMX and mountain biking. Then the IOC breaks down the number of cyclists from each country who may enter a specific event in track cycling. Ten total events planned, for both individual and teams, and of these seven are for men, and three are for women. The maximum numbers of riders in each event from a given country are:

  • Sprint/Keirin/individual pursuit: maximum 2 men and 2 women from each country per event
  • Points race: maximum 1 man and 1 woman from each country per event
    Team pursuit/team sprint/Madison: maximum 1 team from each country per event

Here is an explanation of what these events are:

That breakdown totals 11 men and 3 women for each country competing specifically for track events. One wildcard is that the IOC allows countries to use athletes from other cycling disciplines to compete in events provided that the max number of participants from each country and event are not exceeded. So, it's not likely that you'll see a BMX racer out riding in the Team Pursuit, but in theory, it could happen.

How Athletes Are Selected to Compete

The International Cycling Union (UCI) is the primary body that sanctions and certifies bike racing around the world, and it is through these events that the IOC has centered its selection process, which is fairly straight-forward. Heavy emphasis is placed on competing and winning at World Championship and World Cup events, and 14 total individual or team competitors are taken from each, plus 4 more from the "B" World Championships. That means 32 total entrants (individuals or teams, depending on the event) are drawn from this group to compete in the men's events: team sprint, sprint, Keirin, team pursuit, individual pursuit, points race and Madison.

The second criterion for selecting entrants is the UCI final individual rankings, and this is a much bigger pool, totaling 121 cyclists. For instance, in the team sprint (3 riders per team) the top ten teams are selected, which alone produces 30 riders. Here's how the rest of the list goes.

For the women's events - Sprint, individual pursuit, and points race — the same qualifying criterion is used. Nine total slots are allocated to the winners of the World Championships, World Cup, and B World Championships, and an additional 26 slots are allocated to the individuals ranked in places 1-9 in the UCI standings for the women's sprint and individual pursuit, and the top eight ranked female cyclists who compete in the points race.

In the instance that an entry spot go unfilled after the two main criteria outlined above are applied, at-large bids may be issued as well. Historically this has been a relatively infrequent occurrence.

As a global event, the Olympic Games offer every country the chance to compete in every sport, so the process is a balancing act of finding the best racers in the world while allowing a breadth of competition for many countries. That means there is a tight limit to the number of riders any one country can have in order to feature racers from around the globe.

So, to become a competitor in Olympic track bike racing, the key is to race, and place, in UCI-certified events. The only lock on spots is for the winners of the World Championships or World Cup. Beyond that, the best chances to earn a spot in the Olympics is to be in the topmost group in the UCI rankings in your particular event for track bike racing.

  • Team sprint (3 riders) - top ten teams
  • Sprint - top 5 ranked
  • Keirin - top 9 ranked
  • Team pursuit (5 riders) - top eight teams
  • Individual pursuit - top 5 ranked
  • Madison (2 riders) top 13 teams
  • Points race - top 6 ranked