Tokyo Olympics: NZ cyclists overpowered by Australia for men's pursuit bronze

Kiwi pursuiters have capped a dramatic 24 hours by crashing out in a disastrous Olympic bronze-medal ride-off against Australia at Tokyo's Izu Velodrome.

After narrowly losing their semi-final to Italy on Tuesday, with both teams shattering the world record, the NZ men were warm favourites for third place against an Australian team that were two seconds slower.

But leading midway through the 4000m journey, tragedy struck the Kiwi foursome, when Aaron Gate crashed, leaving his team a man short for the rest of the race.

After taking a big turn at the front of the team, Regan Gough had just pulled off and was forced to continue as New Zealand's third rider, but already spent, he was eventually reeled in by the Aussies, who claimed the bronze medal.

"It couldn't have happened at a worse time," Gough told Sky Sport. 

"Aaron's walking, as far as we know. He's got a pretty full-on race schedule over the next few days, so hopefully he's good."

Meanwhile, the gold-medal ride between Italy and Denmark went to the wire, with the Italians snatching victory on the line in a new world record.

They had pipped the Kiwis the night before, but had to wait for officials to decide the outcome of a crash between the world champion Danes and defending Olympic champions Great Britain in their semi-final.

Eventually, Denmark - the previous world recordholders - were ruled winners, after colliding with a slowing British rider, but they could not hold off Italy, guided home by time trial star Filippo Ganna.

"Sport at this level can be pretty brutal," track endurance coach Craig Palmer told Sky Sport. "It's about finest margins.

"We had it set up pretty well - we were under control and looking forward to finishing strong like yesterday.

"The boys are devastated. They knew they were in good shape coming in and they executed their first two races brilliantly well. 

"I think they know what they were capable of and what could have happened.

"The rule is we're all together and no individual blame - they're really strong as a unit."

Meanwhile, NZ sprinter Sam Webster has won through to Thursday's quarter-finals, with victories over Pole Rudyk Mateusz and Frenchman Sebastien Vigier.