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Olympics

Olympic track cycling explainer: Team Pursuit

Here's what to watch for in the Team Pursuit event at the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo.

FINALS: August 3 (women) August 4 (men)

HOW IT WORKS: Two teams of four riders start on opposite sides of the track and complete 4,000 meters (16 laps) while riding in tight formation, with the goal of riding as quickly as possible.

Every few laps the front rider swings up the track and then back down into the team’s slipstream — a maneuver that requires intense focus and coordination. Riders spend hundreds of hours studying each other’s effort and body position on the bike, because coordination and anticipation is key. If a rider is pulling too strong, for example, the team may fail because the extra speed throws off the team’s usual rhythm.

Stronger riders often take longer pulls, while weaker riders hold on and try not to get dropped. The team’s finishing time is taken when the third rider crosses the finish line.

Teams complete a qualifying time trial to seed them in the competition and only the top-four squads in qualifying earn a chance to compete for a medal. In the next round, the teams face off in a qualifying round with the top four teams battling 1st vs. 4th, and 2nd vs. 3rd. Winners and losers advance to the respective medal rounds.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: This is by far the track event that requires the most technical skill and coordination. Teams come into each round with a specific plan for the order of riders, and how long each rider will pull. The best teams are able to communicate and execute adjustments to the plan if and when something changes — if one rider has particularly bad or good legs, for example. Teams spend hundreds of hours in training to withstand the punishing all-out effort, and also to read each others’ body language in order to adjust during the race. Look for the team with the tightest formation and the cleanest transitions as the one to beat.

FAVORITES MEN: Denmark, New Zealand, Great Britain, Italy

FAVORITES WOMEN: USA, Great Britain, Germany, New Zealand

NORTH AMERICANS: Chloé Dygert, Jennifer Valente, Emma White, Lily Williams (USA); Alison Beveridge, Jasmin Duehring, Georgia Simmerling, Annie Foreman-Mackey, Ariane Bonhomme (Canada); Derek Gee, Jay Lamoureaux, Michael Foley, Vincent de Haitre (Canada)