Bicycles were first developed in the late 18th century and have since been used as a form of transportation. Originally, the front wheel was much larger than the rear wheel and the rider was elevated a great deal, making them difficult to control and very dangerous. In 1885, J. K. Starley, of England, devised the more modern bike with a chain and gearing, to allow the wheels to be of equal size. Although bike races had been held on the old “penny farthings”, the new bikes stimulated the growth of bicycle racing as a sport.
From 1880-1900, road cycling became immensely popular both in Europe and the United States. The sport was primarily a professional one at that time. The sport continues its grip on the European continent to this day, but bike racing ceased to be a popular sport in the United States at about the time of the Great Depression. Only the American Olympic victories at Los Angeles in 1984 and the later exploits of Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong revived interest in bicycle racing in the United States.
Cycling consists of several disciplines on the Olympic Program: road cycling, track cycling, mountain biking, BMX racing, and BMX freestyle. Road cycling events were held at the 1896 and 1906 Olympics, and then have been on the Olympic Program continuously since 1912. In early years, the road events were usually an individual road race, contested as a time trial through the 1932 Olympics, with a team road race event based on individual placements, or in some years, based on total times. In 1960, a 4-man team time trial was added over approximately 100 km, and was on the Program through 1992. Since 1996, men have contested an individual road race and an individual time trial.
Women first competed in Olympic cycling in 1984, when an individual road race was the only cycling event on the Olympic Program. In 1996, an individual time trial was added for women, similar to the men.
The Europeans have dominated Olympic road cycling, notably the Dutch, the Italians, and the French. On the men’s competition, seven cyclists have won two gold medals, and four cyclists have won a total of three medals, but only two of them fit in both lists: Henry Hansen (DEN) and Fabian Cancellara (SUI), both with two golds and one silver. They are both surpassed by female cyclists Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel (NED) and Kristin Armstrong (USA), both with three medals, all gold. Also, Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli (FRA) is the road cyclist with more medals at the Olympics – male or female – with four medals.
Road cycling is governed by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), which was founded on 14 April 1900, in Paris, with five founding members: Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, and the United States. The UCI was established as an alternative to the International Cycling Association (ICA), which had been set up in 1892. In 1965, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) required the UCI to split into an amateur and a professional organization, the Fédération Internationale Amateur de Cyclisme (FIAC) and Fédération Internationale de Cyclisme Professionnel (FICP), respectively. In 1992, the FIAC and FICP rejoined to form the UCI. As of 2022, the UCI has 201 member nations.