There will be two types of road cycling events at the 2012 London Olympics: the road race and the time trial. Men and women compete separately in each race, so there will be four road cycling competitions in all beginning on July 28.
Here is a quick look at the format and basic rules for each type of event:
The Road Race
Both the men's and women's road races are mass start events, though there will be 145 men competing in London this summer and only 67 women. The men's course is also longer at 250 km (156 mi.), as compared to the women's 140-km (87-mi.) course.
For each race, all riders will begin together, and medals will be awarded to the first three athletes to cross the finish line. Various technologies (e.g. cameras, electronic timing tape) will be used to help determine finishing order. If, after exhausting all available means, it is still impossible to separate riders for these top three places, the riders will each be awarded the placing in question. In this case, no award will be given for the following place, or two places in the event of a three-way tie.
During the race, riders may aid one another in material and immaterial ways. They may lend each other food, drink and accessories, for example, and may also help one another through such tactics as lead-outs. Drafting is allowed and expected.
Athletes may receive refreshments only at permanent locations established for that purpose along the course. Repairs and wheel or bicycle changes may only be made by the personnel in the following technical vehicle or within specially designated locations on the course.
The Time Trial
A time trial is, by definition, "a race in which riders start individually and race against the clock." At the 2012 London Olympics, athletes will begin at 90-second intervals, and medals will be awarded to the three athletes with the fastest finish times.
While each country may choose five men and four women to represent it in road cycling events at the Olympics, only two men and two women from each country may compete in the time trial. The men's course is 44 km (27 mi.) and the women's is 29 km (18 mi.).
Unlike the road race, riders in the time trial may not assist one another in any way. Drafting, therefore, is strictly forbidden. If one rider catches up with another, he/she must leave a lateral gap of at least two meters, and after one kilometer, the caught rider must ride at least 25 meters away from the other.
Both the road races and time trials at this year's Olympics promise to be exhilarating for spectators around the world. Be sure to tune in between July 28 and August 1 to catch all of the action!
Jennifer Ciapala has been an avid cyclist and triathlete for the last six years. She enjoys watching the Summer Olympics every four years and is particularly looking forward to catching these events in the London Games this summer. You can follow her on Twitter @JennCiapala.