How Fast Do Olympic Cyclists Go? Men vs Women vs Triathletes vs Average Cyclist

Cycling is one of the oldest Olympic sports and has seen many changes throughout the history of the Olympic games. Olympic cycling features the best athletes in their sport. There are five cycling categories that happen during the summer Olympics with a total of 22 different events:

  • Road Cycling
  • Track Cycling
  • Mountain Bike
  • BMX Race
  • BMX Freestyle


Each discipline requires a very different approach and they all have different rules and regulations.

BMX is the newest addition to the Olympic games, and freestyle is very different from the other race formats. Freestyle comes from a history of biking at skate parks, with a focus on tricks and technique.

Mountain biking is the second newest addition and features some cross-country style racing and generally involves multiple laps around a specific area.

Road cycling is the oldest cycling discipline in the Olympics, debuting at the first international Olympic Games in 1896. The women’s division wasn’t introduced until the 1984 Olympic games.

There are two events in road cycling which we will cover over here : the individual road race and the individual time trial

Individual Road Race

The individual road race event begins with a mass start and the goal is to cross the finish line first. Men and women race of different lengths. The men’s race is around 250-280 km and the women’s race is around 130-160 km, depending upon the location. On average, it takes men around six hours to finish their race while the women take around 4 hours to complete theirs (Source).

Cyclists can draft off of their team members or utilize them to chase down breakaways.

Individual Time Trial

The individual time trial has an interval start as players are racing the clock, and the rider with the fastest time wins. This event also has varying lengths for men and women: men will race 40-50 km and women will race 20-30 km. It typically takes men one hour to complete the course and women will generally finish around 45 minutes.

The women’s time trial was introduced later than the men’s, so it is considered a relatively new sport in the world of Olympics (though they competed at various world championships for longer).

There are also track disciplines, which will get into later.

How Fast Is the Slowest Olympic Cyclist?

“Slow” is a relative term when it comes to cyclists who compete in the Olympics. The road cycling race is one of the oldest cycling events in the Olympics (though it used to be called a time trial, which makes data sourcing a bit confusing). The slowest cyclist and the fastest cyclist are often closer than they may seem.

Let’s take a look at the last five Olympic Games for the individual time trial.

Slowest Times in Individual Time Trial (Road Cycling)

Gender20202016201220082004AVERAGE SPEED (km/h)
Time/Distance/ Speed 
22.1km 30.1km/h
39.6 km/h
Time/Distance/ Speed
38.5 km/h
Slowest Olympic Road Cycling Yearly Record

Based on official Olympics results

Now that we’ve looked at the slowest cyclists’ times, let’s take a look at the winners within those same years to see the range of times.

Fastest Times in Individual Time Trial (Road Cycling)

Gender20202016201220082004AVERAGE Speed (km/h)
Time/Distance/ Speed 
Time/Distance/ Speed 
48 km/h
44km 52.1km/h
Fastest Olympic Road Cycling Yearly Record

Based on official Olympics results

It is important to keep in mind that these courses vary depending on the Olympic games, which can explain some of the fluctuations in average speed. They may have different types of terrain and elevation profiles to contend with, not to mention racing conditions (wind, rain, etc.).

That means the overall average speed of the last five years is simply a math calculation – it doesn’t necessarily say much about how fast these riders are going because it ultimately depends on the race profile itself.

However, based on the above and on average, one could expect the slowest olympic cyclist to be around 15% slower than the fastest cyclict

How Fast Do Olympic Cyclists Sprint?

Now let’s switch the focus to the track cycling events. There are six events per gender: sprint, team sprint, keirin, team pursuit, omnium, and madison. The latter three are considered to be more on the endurance side, while the first three are sprint efforts (Source).

These races all happen within a Velodrome, which is a highly controlled environment. Athletes are used to competing in the same kind of space, which makes it very different from the road events which vary depending on where the Olympics are being hosted.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the difference between the cycling events disciplines:

  • Individual Sprint – Two racers on the track race three laps. We’ll dive into this one in greater detail below.
  • Team Sprint – Two teams with two riders (women) or three riders (men) start at opposite ends of the track. Once one lap is complete, the lead rider drops out and the next rider jumps in. Only one rider remains for the final lap – whoever crosses the finish line first wins.
  • Keirin – An 8-lap race with 6-7 riders following a controlled pacer. The pace increases over time until there’s only 2 laps left and they sprint to the finish. The first one to cross the finish lines wins.
  • Team Pursuit – Two teams of four riders start on opposite ends of the track and race 4000m. Drafting is legal and whichever team finishes first wins.
  • Omnium – In 2020, this race had four events over one day. Riders accumulate points in different races and the person with the most points wins.
  • Madison – A two-person race with a points structure for sprints that happen every 10 laps (points can also be earned or lost when teams are lapped). Women do 80 laps and men do 120 laps (30km)

Individual Sprint Race

The sprint race consists of two riders that aren’t assigned to specific lanes, making it a very strategic and tactical race. They’ll race for a total of three laps, waiting for the perfect moment to hit their full speed and sprint to the finish. The race is held inside of a Velodrome, which has a 250m banked track (Source).

These cyclists can get up to incredibly fast speeds, sometimes up to 70 km/h (43.5mph), though they likely won’t be able to hold that speed for long. They ride on highly aerodynamic bikes and wear ultra-aerodynamic clothes and helmets. They are also required to have a certain amount of skin showing, which explains the tall socks (rather than full-length pants).

The racers begin by qualifying for the event with a 200m “flying race.” Racers have one lap to get into gear; once they hit the 200m mark, it’s an all-out sprint to the finish line. The 18 fastest racers move forward in the competition. The cyclist who crosses the finish line first wins the race, and the rider who wins the best of three races against their opponent wins the match. The event continues until there are only a few racers left competing for bronze (semi-finals), silver, and gold (finals).

Because of the format, the final race for the gold medal may not necessarily be the fastest time of the entire race event, so scoring isn’t as easy to track. However, there are Olympic records for the qualifying race.

GenderTimeRecord Holder
Women10.721 secondsRebecca James Great Britain
Men9.713 seconds (200m qualifier)Jason Kenny Great Britain
Olympic Records: Individual Track Sprint

(Source )

Why Do Sprint Cyclists Start Slow?

The sprint race is highly strategic, which can be very confusing to spectators who may be expecting a super fast sprint right out the gate. Instead, these riders will tactically position themselves to gain an edge over their opponent. This can look like going into the upper portion of the banked track to force the other rider to take the lead.

Riders might also come to a complete standstill, holding a track stand, leaving the other rider to stall. Race officials will issue warnings if a stand is held for too long, but it can be a strategic maneuver to gain an edge. The first two laps or so are generally when this kind of strategy is happening (which also allows racers to conserve some energy), then they’ll make their move during the third and final lap.

How Much Faster Have Olympic Cyclists Become Over Time?

It’s very difficult to determine how much faster Olympic cyclists have become over time. The sport has had many additions and changes through the years, which makes it challenging to show any true change in time. Generally speaking, cyclists have gotten faster (particularly in the track events), but it’s not as straight-forward to measure as a 100km running race. As mentioned above, this is due to a variety of factors including:

  • Different distances
  • Different terrain
  • Different environmental factors (rain, wind, etc.)
  • Changing race structure

Road races in particular are very different depending on the outdoor venue, while track races are done in the same controlled environment (it will always be a 250 km banked track).

For example, the men’s cycling time trial debuted in 1912. However, it was 320 km long (compared to the average of 40-50km today. Now that time trial distance would be considered a road race.

YearDistanceWinning TimeAverage Speed (km/h)
1912 (debut)320 km10:42:3929.9
2020234 km6:05:2638.42
Men’s Olympic Road Race Times: Oldest vs. Newest

Based on official Olympics results

Women’s cycling is particularly difficult to pin down because it is relatively new as an Olympic sport. The women’s road race debuted in 1984 and the time trial debuted in 1996. At first glance, it can look like women have gotten slower over the years, but that isn’t necessarily the case. There have been major changes in both the distances women race, the amount of women racing, and the events they’ve raced in.

Women’s Olympic Road Race Times: Oldest vs. Newest

YearDistanceWinning TimeAverage Speed (km/h)
1984 (debut)79.2 km2:11:1436.2
2020137 km3:52:4535.3
Women’s Olympic Road Race Times: Oldest vs. Newest

Based on official Olympics results and an additional Source

Track racers are also getting faster, especially due to their rapidly changing gear and technology (Source).

Keep in mind that these are just the times of the oldest and the most recent races: there have been faster and slower races in the meantime. However, the general trend has been getting faster over time.

Why Are Olympic Cyclists Becoming Faster Over Time?

Based on the above discussion, it is still safe to conclude that olympic cyclists now are much faster than they were 100 years ago by around 20% .

There are a variety of factors for why Olympic cyclists have generally become faster over time.

Aerodynamics: Bikes and bike apparel have gone through major changes over the years, all in the pursuit of better aerodynamics. There are now disc wheels, ultra-light carbon fiber bikes, aero bars, updated frame geometry, and even more sleek helmets. All of this creates less drag on the rider, which can increase their speed (Source). In fact, a lot of the high-tech apparel is faster than skin, so cyclists must have a certain amount of skin exposed to create a more even playing field.

Training: As we learn more about racing and training techniques, we can better improve the ways we approach a sport. The same goes for cycling. They weren’t measuring wattage back in 1912, but now riders can do that in a variety of ways and get instant feedback. This helps them tailor their training and have a better recovery.

Technology: Timing technology has improved immensely throughout the span of the Olympic games. It is far more accurate and can capture even a fraction of a second. This allows officials to capture the seemingly-endless record-breaking scores of the track events (Source).

How Fast Does An Average Cyclist go?

Unfortunately, the average cyclist is unlikely to make it to the Olympics, let alone onto a podium. Even being a bit faster than your average peers doesn’t quite cut it for the elites.

We’ll use some examples from to show just how much of a difference there is between the (experienced) average rider and a professional.

Average Vs Pro Cyclists30k Time TrialFlat TerrainMax SprintCobblestone
Average Rider Speed19-20mph17-18 mph600-800 watts14-16 mph
Professional Rider Speed29-31mph25-28mph1,200-1,400 watts22-24 mph
Average Vs Pro Olympic Cyclists performance

How Fast Do Olympic Triathletes Bike?

Olympic triathletes are incredibly fast at all three of their disciplines, from swimming to biking to running (that’s why they make it to the Olympics, after all). But how do they stack up against the cyclists who focus solely on one discipline? Let’s find out.

The Olympic triathlon bike portion is 40km. The average time to complete it for men is 57 minutes and 32 seconds (based on the 2020 results). This gives them an average speed of 41.7km/h.

Triathlete Vs CyslistsDistance (Cycling)Average Speed
Triathlon (40km Bike)40km41.7 km/h
Time Trial (44.1km Bike)44.1km43.25 km/h
Men’s Triathlon vs. Time Trial Average Speed (2020 Olympics)

Based on official Olympics results

Generally, cyclists are faster at their discipline than triathletes by roughly 4% – but it’s very close. Triathletes often use the same training techniques as cyclists when they’re preparing for the bike portion of the race, so it’s no surprise they can nearly keep up, at least at the mid-range distances.

Of course, they also are coming off of a 1.5km swim and need to head directly into a 10km run. They also race on a different routes, so it’s not a perfect comparison between the two.

Things to keep in mind

Because cycling has changed so much through the years, it’s not as easy to see a clear picture of the exact improvements in speed (especially when compared to something a bit more straightforward like running). Find out more in our post ” How Fast Do Olympic Runners Run? Men vs Women vs Average

That being said, the advances in aerodynamic technology continue to allow riders to break records and push the sport to its absolute limits. Every Olympic game seems to feature a new broken record in at least one category, which makes it an incredibly thrilling sport to watch.

It’s also great to see all of the new disciplines being introduced and they all bring in their own culture (mountain biking is considered to be a bit more laid back than track cycling, for example). Even if you start to watch the sport for one specific event, you’re likely to find yourself enjoying something totally unexpected (looking at you, freestyle BMX).

Aprill Emig

Based out of Duluth, MN Aprill loves to write about the outdoors, education, and all forms of adventure. You can find her mountain biking, running, or playing roller derby.

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