Cycling at the Tokyo Olympics: What to Know for 2021

From mountain biking to freestyle BMX, here is the schedule and favorites for cycling events

The Tokyo Olympics arrived earlier this morning, with athletes gathering from around the world to participate in the Opening Ceremony's Parade of Nations.

A staple in the Olympics for years, cycling will once again be featured in Tokyo. From trekking through the mountains to zipping around wooden tracks to taking it to the skate park, cyclists in all sorts of forms will be ready to compete for a gold medal. 

Here’s everything you need to know about cycling for the Tokyo Olympics:

What are the types of cycling?

There are five types of cycling that will be played at the Olympics: road cycling, track cycling, BMX racing, BMX freestyle and mountain biking. Road and track cycling have been a part of the Summer Olympics for almost every Olympics since the Games began in 1896. BMX became an Olympic event in 2008, with BMX freestyle set to premiere at this year’s Olympics. Mountain biking has been included in the Games since 1996. 

Seeing BMX riders bust out their biggest tricks on the world's largest stage for the first time at the Olympics will be thrilling. Watching BMX rider Hannah Roberts show us how the sport works with Legos is hillarious.

What is BMX freestyle?

Most cycling is simple -- you race and try to beat those racing with you or get the best time at the time trials. But BMX freestyle is completely different. It’s all about the entertainment when it comes to this sport. 

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Competitors have 60 seconds to execute tricks through a course with numerous obstacles such as rails, walls and box jumps. These tricks are done mostly while flying up in the air. Their tricks and skills are judged based on the degree of difficulty, creativity, originality, height and execution. 

Which country is the best at cycling?

When it comes to cycling in general, it’s the European countries that tend to find themselves on the podium most often.

For the men, France has the most total medals in Olympic history for cycling with 73 total. Behind France, Great Britain has the second-highest medal count with 69 total for men’s cycling. It has the most silver (23) and is tied for the most bronze medals (22) in Olympic men’s cycling history. Italy is tied with France for the most gold medals with 30 and has the third-highest medal total at 53. 

For the women, the Netherlands have the most gold medals with nine and are tied with the United States for the most total medals in Olympic history with 17. The U.S. has four golds but has the most silver with eight. Great Britain has the third-most medals with 16 and has the second-highest gold medals with eight. 

The IOC has released guidance on how they will handle awarding medals at the Tokyo Olympics.

When will the Olympics cycling competitions take place?

For road cycling, the men’s road race starts Friday, July 23, while the women’s road race will be Sunday, July 25. The men’s and women’s road race time trials will be July 28. 

Men’s mountain biking will take place July 26 and women’s will be July 27.

BMX racing will compete on July 29 and 30, while BMX freestyle will run July 31 and Aug. 1.

Track cycling will go from Aug. 2 to Aug. 8. 

Where will the Olympics cycling competitions take place?

Mountain biking will compete on the Izu MTB Course, a 4,100m-long outdoor, off-road course in Izu City. BMX freestyle and racing will be at the Ariake Urban Sports Park, a newly constructed course in the Ariake district of Tokyo. Road cycling will be at the Fuji International Speedway, an historic raceway located in Oyama that has held multiple national and international races. Track cycling will take place in the Izu Velodrome, a 250m wooden track located in Izu City. 

NBC Sports’ Mike Tirico said Thursday he laments athletes won’t have parents with them at the Tokyo Olympics. “While I feel bad for the fans [who could not attend the Tokyo Olympics], the ones I feel the worst for are the parents,” he said. “Their parents have put in a lot of hours. It’s just so disappointing that they can’t be here to share in their [children’s] moments.”

Who are the favorites in Olympic cycling?

In road cycling, Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium looks to repeat after winning gold in 2016, as does Anna van der Breggen of the Netherlands, who will retire after this season. Swiss rider Nino Schurter goes for his second straight gold and fifth medal overall in men’s mountain biking, while Loana Lecomte is favored on the women’s side. British cyclists -- led by Laura Kenny for the women and her husband, Jason Kenny, for the men -- will look to continue their dominance in track cycling.

In freestyle BMX, Americans Nick Bruce, Justin Dowell, Perris Benegas and Hannah Roberts will contend for medals, plus Connor Fields and Alise Willoughby of the U.S. return after medaling in BMX racing in Rio. For a list of all the U.S. cycling Olympians, click here.

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