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There can be few events at these Games in which no Olympic or even world records are kept. But then there is nothing quite like track cycling's points race.

It resembles what many feared the Athens Games would be a chaotic scramble where it is difficult to tell either what is going on or why. But as with the Games itself, everything turned out fine in the end on Tuesday with 19-year-old Russian Mikhail Ignatyev claiming gold.

That he crossed the line eighth after 160 laps of the Athens Velodrome should not confuse anybody. Just for the record, Australia's Mark Renshaw crossed first in a time of 48min 32secs but uniquely in a sport obsessed by times, his time meant nothing. The points race is a combination of endurance and sprint racing. The 23 riders race for 40km with a sprint finish every 10 laps 16 in all. At each sprint the first four to cross the line win points five, three, two or one point. The accumulated points dictate your final position.

However, just to confuse the situation, Ignatyev won just 13 of his winning total of 93 points via the sprints. Instead he won by lapping the main bunch of riders four times worth 20 points a time and lapping is the real aim of the race despite a name that would suggest otherwise.

For many of the 160 laps, it is difficult to tell who is leading and even when you can it does not always seem to correspond to their points tally. No matter, this was a wonderful spectacle, with 23 riders wearing the lurid colours of cycling's nations, stretching from Argentina all around the world and back to South American neighbour Uruguay.

Setting off together, the 23 weaved up and down the track, testing their rivals as they tried to gain an advantage. There was an early break by the Sydney silver medallist Milton Wynants of Uruguay, but only occasionally would all the main protagonists be involved. An exception was when Ignatyev, the defending champion Juan Llaneras Rosello who this time took silver, and Germany's Guido Furst, the eventual bronze medallist, all passed the bunch after the fifth sprint, boosting their totals and establishing themselves as the leading pack.

The tactical jousting between the three was superb, particularly after 140 laps when Ignatyev and Furst again lapped the bunch, and Llaneras immediately responded to reclaim second place.

Having missed out on the original modern Games in 1896, the points race made its Olympic debut in 1900. It then took a break from 1904 to 1980 presumably while they sorted the rules out before re-emerging at Los Angeles in 1984.

Even a journalist from cycling-mad France, when asked about some of the subtleties of the race, said: “I am not sure, I am here to cover the sprints.” No matter, Olympic cycling will on Tuesday offer the Madison race, which involves team cyclists occasionally holding hands in order to pull a team-mate along.

* Russia also collected silver in the women's sprint with Tamila Abassova losing out to Canada's Lori-Ann Muenzer in the three-race ride-off for the gold. Australia's Anna Meares took bronze.

In the corresponding men's final, Australia's Ryan Bayley won gold by the width of tyre in a thrilling final race against Theo Bos of the Netherlands.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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