The 2012 London Olympics will feature four road cycling events: a men's and a women's road race and a men's and a women's time trial. These competitions will take place between July 28 and August 1. Before this summer's Games, you may want to study up on or review a few key cycling terms in order to fully understand and appreciate the events.
When a rider or group of riders suddenly accelerates in an attempt to move ahead of others, it is called an attack. The rider or group of riders who succeeds in leaving the main pack behind is called the breakaway (or simply break for short).
Riders who try to catch a breakaway group are called chasers. Sometimes, riders in the chase group will intentionally slow down the pace, which is a block. This may serve as an advantage for a teammate in the breakaway group.
The peloton is the main group of cyclists in a road race. It can also be called the pack, bunch, or field. The peloton may be the lead group or may be behind one or more breakaway riders or groups.
Riding closely behind another cyclist is called drafting. Behind another rider, there is less wind resistance, so the drafting athlete doesn't have to use as much energy to keep up the pace. The area of least wind resistance behind another rider is the slipstream. In a crosswind, riders may form a diagonal line to maximize drafting; this is called an echelon.
When a group of cyclists forms a line in order to draft off one another, it is called a paceline. The riders take turns pulling, or setting the pace and leading the group, then move back to rest in the draft of the others.
In some races, including this year's Olympic road races, a portion of the course will include several circuits of a particular loop. These are called laps. If a rider falls behind other riders by one lap, he/she has been lapped. At the Olympic Games, anyone who has been dropped and lapped by the lead riders before they begin their final lap will be eliminated from the competition.
Designated locations along the race course where repairs can be made are called pits. Mechanical problems that riders encounter with their bikes are often referred to simply as mechanicals.
At the end of a road race, riders generally use maximum effort to sprint as quickly as possible for the finish line. The sprint finish is the most important point of the race since the rider who crosses the finish line first is the winner.
Just before the sprint point at the end of a race, one rider will often accelerate to give a head start to the teammate on his/her wheel. This is called a lead out, and the cyclist employing the strategy is a leadout man.
A time trial is a race in which each athlete begins individually at a set interval of time and races against the clock. The competitor with the fastest time once everyone has ridden is the winner. This type of event is in contrast to a mass start race in which all athletes begin at once.
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.