The opening day of Olympic track cycling provided the thrilling sight of riders powering around the London velodrome in convoy.
But Friday’s action saw the introduction of something altogether less slick, streamlined and speedy – an older gentleman on a moped leading the cyclists round at low speed.
Welcome to the wonderful world of keirin – a form of racing that originated in Japan and has been an Olympic event for men since 2000. It is making its debut in London as a women’s event.
The keirin is an eight lap (2000m) race, but the first 1400m are spent behind a pacemaker on a ‘derny’ – a French-made 98cc motorised bicycle traditionally used to pace long races on the continent. But to you and me, it’s a moped.
The derny slowly increases its speed before peeling off and letting the cyclists race to the line. It starts at 30km/h and accelerates to 50km/h in the men’s keirin, and from 25km/h to 45km/h in the women’s. The rider sits upright to allow the following riders the maximum slipstream.
So, what is the point of all this?
The derny is there to stop the riders going out too fast or too slow – in sprint races it is common for riders almost to grind to a halt as they jockey for position before the timed part of the race.
Keirin is extremely popular in Japan, where betting on races is huge business.
However, at Olympic level it has been dominated by traditional cycling powers. Chris Hoy won it for Britain in Beijing, and previous editions were won by French and Australian riders.
London Spy just wishes the pacemaker would get into character a little more. He could dress up as Olympic mascot Wenlock, or take to the track as a British gent, complete with bowler hat, briefcase and umbrella.