Disabled cycling events include both individual and team events, with teams consisting of three cyclists from one nation. Athletes compete on the track (velodrome) and on the road. The competition programme includes sprints, individual pursuits, 1,000m time trial, road races, and road time trials. Events are for both men and women and cyclists are grouped together according to functional ability.
Track events range from sprints as short as 200 metres to time trials and pursuits of up to 4km. Road events include time trials and road races. In time trials, athletes start individually in staggered intervals, racing against themselves and the clock, while road races have mass starts. Distances vary based on the host country's discretion and range from 5km to 65km. Events include:
Kilometer Time Trial: The 1,000m individual time trial is for bicycles and tandems. Athletes compete alone and from a standing start. Bicycles are held by a mechanical starting gate; tandems are handheld by a start judge commissaire. The event winner is either the rider with the best time or, in events with mixed disability groups, the rider with the best time for his/her class.
Individual Pursuit: There are two distances, 3,000m or 4,000m, for bicycles and tandems open to different classes. Two bicycles or two tandems start on diametrically opposite sides of the track, each one positioned in the middle of one of the track's straights. Bicycles are held by a starting gate while tandems are handheld prior to the beginning of the race. The event consists of three rounds with the fastest cyclists winning. The two fastest winning times of the second round ride for gold and silver medals, while the other two ride for the bronze medal and fourth place.
Sprint: The Sprint consists of three competition rounds for blind and visually impaired athletes on tandems with a sighted pilot. In the qualifying round, tandems are individually timed over the last 200m of the track from a flying start. The qualifying round identifies the eight fastest tandems and creates a ranking. In the second and final rounds the riders compete as opponents and start together in two-up matches, over a best-of-three series of races. In each race, the winner is the first tandem to reach the finish line.
Team Sprint: This is a men's bicycle event in which two teams of three athletes each compete over three laps of the track from a standing start. Each team rider must lead for one complete lap. Teams start in opposite straights of the track. The leading rider of each team is held at the start in a starting gate. The other two riders are handheld. The event consists of three rounds. The first round is a qualifying round to select the eight fastest teams on the basis of their times. These eight qualifying teams are paired for the second round with fastest racing against the slowest. The four winning teams from the second round compete in the final round. The two fastest winning teams from the second round ride for gold and silver medals while the other two teams ride for the bronze medal and fourth place.
Road Race: Road races are open to men and women on bicycles, tricycles, tandems and handcycles. They are held on public and private roads over various distances depending on athlete classification. Races have a bunched start and the first athlete to complete the course distance is declared the winner. All races begin with a neutralized rolling start of at least 200m to enable all the athletes to be safely and fairly underway. Circuits are usually 7 to 10km per lap and often include challenging climbs and descents.
Time Trial: Time trials are raced against the clock for bicycles, tricycles, tandems and handcycles and are open to both men and women. They often use the Road race circuits in the same programme. Competitors start at 60-second intervals; the fastest rider for the distance is declared the winner. Race distances vary according to athlete classification and the fastest riders start last.
Cycling is governed by the rules and regulations of the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) together with the following rule modifications:
Amateur riders may race as pilots, provided they have not been selected by their national federation for any of the UCI-listed events in the previous three calendar years.
No professional riders may compete as pilots.
An ex-professional rider must not have held a professional license for three calendar years and must not be earning all or part of his/her living from cycle racing for a period of three calendar years.
Paralympic cycling is open to male and female athletes with physical disabilities such as amputation/limb loss, blindness/visual impairment, spinal cord injury/wheelchair-users and cerebral palsy/brain injury/stroke.
A Functional Classification system is used, where an athlete's functional ability for handcycling is assessed, based on the level of spinal cord lesion, or corresponding disability. Athletes are classified in race dress with race equipment, using medical documentation of the athlete's disability, functional tests based on the requirements of the sport and observation in training and competition.
Visually Impaired (B): Cyclists with a visual impairment compete on the rear of tandem bicycles, with a sighted pilot, in one of two classes: Men and Women. Athletes who are blind (B1) and partially sighted (B2 & B3) compete in road and track events.
Locomotor Disabilities (LC): Cyclists with a physical disability compete on bicycles in four functional classes: LC 1, LC 2, LC 3 and LC 4, with separate events for men and women.
- LC 1: For athletes having minor or no lower limb disability.
- LC 2: For athletes with a disability in one leg, but who are able to pedal normally using two legs, with or without prostheses.
- LC 3: For athletes with a disability on one lower limb, with or without upper limb disability. Most athletes pedal with one leg.
- LC 4: For athletes with a more severe disability usually affecting both lower limbs, with or without upper limb disability.
Cerebral Palsy (CP): Cyclists with cerebral palsy compete in four functional divisions, with separate events for men and women. During any IPC competition, the athlete is only allowed to start in one division and the changing of divisions is not permitted.
- CP Division 1: For athletes with a more severe disability (Classes CP 4 to 1), who race on tricycles.
- CP Divisions 2 & 3: These two divisions provide athletes with a choice of racing on bicycles in Division 3 (Classes CP 6 & 5), or tricycles in Division 2 (Classes CP 6 & 5).
- CP Division 4: For athletes with the least severe disability (Classes CP 8 & 7), who race on bicycles.
Handcycling (HC): Handcycling athletes compete in three functional divisions in IPC Cycling competitions, with separate events for men and women. Handcycling is for athletes who normally require a wheelchair for general mobility, or athletes not able to use a conventional bicycle or tricycle because of severe lower limb disability.
- HC Division A: For athletes with a more severe disability (classes HC 1 & 2) with complete loss of trunk and lower limb function, together with other severe and complex disabilities.
- HC Division B: For athletes with complete loss of lower limb function and limited trunk stability (classes HC 3, 4 & 5).
- HC Division C: For athletes with complete lower limb function loss, but minimal other functional disabilities, or partial lower limb function loss combined with other disabilities to make conventional cycling not viable (classes HC 6, 7 & 8)
- Depending on their classification, athletes use a bicycle, tricycle, tandem or hand cycle.
- Athletes with cerebral palsy compete using standard racing bikes and, in some classes, tricycles.
- Blind or visually impaired athletes compete in the road race and time trial events on tandem bicycles with a sighted teammate.
- Amputees and cyclists with permanent locomotor deficiencies compete in individual handcycling road race events in cycles specifically constructed for their needs.
Disabled cycling competitions were first developed in the early 1980s by visually impaired cyclists using tandem bicycles. Cycling was introduced into the Paralympic programme at the 1984 New York/Mandeville Games for athletes with cerebral palsy. The expanded Paralympic programme, which includes the modern-day classifications, didn't appear until the Barcelona Games in 1992. Handcycling (for wheelchair users) made its debut as a medal event at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens.
Prior to the 1992 Paralympic Games, the competitions for each of the disability groups competing (visually impaired, cerebral palsy and wheelchair users) were held separately. Today, both track and road races include athletes in all three disability groups.