Cycling: The Rio volunteer setting the pace for champions

Sun Aug 14, 2016 8:20am EDT
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By Stephen Eisenhammer

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - He rides with champions but his name is not on any team list or competition schedule.

Ivo Siebert, 35, a semi-professional who owns a bike shop in southern Brazil, is setting the pace for the track cycling keirin event, calmly riding an electric bike while the world's fastest racers prowl behind him, preparing to sprint.

"You feel that energy behind you... but you have to keep very focused, on the speed, on the curves," said Siebert, who in flapping beige trousers and black backpack looks more like a man commuting to work than an important part of an Olympic event.

The keirin is a race in which track cyclists sprint for victory after a speed-controlled start behind a motorized pacer.

Tracing its roots to the gambling circles of post-war Japan, where it gained popularity for its drama and unpredictability, it first became an Olympic event at the Sydney Games in 2000.

In Rio's Olympic velodrome, Siebert peels aside with two-and-a-half laps to go. Unleashed, the racers pump to a full sprint, weaving dangerously up and down the inclined track with curves so steep a ladder is required to clean them.

Crashes are not uncommon.

On Saturday, three riders hit the boards, tearing great holes in their lycra, during women's qualification.   Continued...

2016 Rio Olympics - Cycling Track - Preliminary - Women's Keirin First Round - Rio Olympic Velodrome - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 13/08/2016. Rio volunteer Ivo Siebert on the electric bike. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard