The eighteen cyclists were matched into nine two-man heats. The riders start on opposite sides of the track from one another, held in place by a starting gate until the race begins. While the objective is ostensibly to catch the other rider on the track, victory is most commonly determined by the faster time to cover 4,000 meters. The winners of each individual heat did not matter in the preliminaries - it was instead the overall eight fastest times which would advance to the match round.
In the match round, the top eight riders from the preliminaries were matched together, 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6, and 4 vs. 5, for the semifinals. In the semifinals, the winner of each match advanced to race for a medal; the two fastest raced for gold and silver, while the two slower winners faced each other for the bronze.