Olympic Road Race 2016 Preview

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Just a matter of hours after the opening ceremonies, the men’s Olympic peloton will be up bright and early Saturday for the main event. It may not carry quite the prestige of a grand tour victory, but the list of top riders with Olympic ambitions this year is pretty impressive, probably thanks to a course that favors the climbers. It should be a fun ride.

The Route

The Rio road parcours is tailored toward the climbers, with a profile to rival any one-day race on the top-level calendar.

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The 241.5 kilometers of racing will take place mostly on two circuits, with four laps on the Grumari circuit and three on the Vista Chinesa circuit. The former involves a 1.2km climb at 7% and then a 2.1km climb at 4.5% (again, done four times). The latter is more challenging, with a one-two punch of the 3.7km, 9% Canoas climb and the 3.8km, 5.7% Vista Chinesa climb. After cresting the Vista Chinesa for the third and final time, the peloton will descend onto a flat finale of about 15km.

The Contenders

No matter how the race plays out, it will take strong climbing legs to bring home a gold medal. That said, there are a variety of potential race scenarios here. The climbs (and descents) are hard enough to spring a solo attacker, but the flat run-in is long enough to maybe see a reduced sprint. There’s no way a big group arrives at the line together, but it’s entirely possible that one of the stronger teams is able to reel in any long-range attempts to set up a high-speed battle at the line.

In either scenario, Alejandro Valverde is a dangerous rider. With his form and this course (tailored perfectly to his skillset), he’s a five-star favorite. Teammate Joaquím Rodríguez will have a shot as well. If the Spanish squad is smart, they’ll send Purito on the move on one of the final climbs and allow Valverde to follow any counter-moves. With the likes of Ion Izagirre also on the team, it seems like a great recipe for success—then again, Spain has a history of struggling to get behind a single objective in races like this.

The Italians may be more inclined to go all-in for their team leader Vincenzo Nibali. He’ll need to solo clear to win this one, but that’s entirely possible on the lumpy parcours. If he’d shown stronger form at the Tour he might be might top favorite; as it stands, he’s still one of them.

France has quite a one-two punch with Romain Bardet and Julian Alaphilippe, a pairing I see as capable of playing a similar strategy to the one Spain ought to be planning. Bardet can try for an attack from further out, while Alaphilippe can look to outsprint a small group. They’re a dangerous duo for sure.

Chris Froome is drawing most of the attention on the British squad but I’d be pretty surprised to see the stage racing specialist holding his own in a one-day event. It’s just not his forte, though he’s obviously got the climbing talent to survive on the parcours. Geraint Thomas might be a sneaky better choice.

The Dutch team is loaded with talents. Bauke Mollema, Tom Dumoulin, Wout Poels, and Steven Kruijswijk are all viable options, with Mollema and Poels in particular standing out as strong options. If they ride an aggressive race, they should be able to land a rider in the battle for the win.

Dan Martin will only have one teammate around to help him along, but this is a terrific parcours for the punchy Irishman. It remains to be seen, however, just how well he’s recovered from the Tour.

If Michal Kwiatkowski had shown any form whatsoever since the early spring he’d be among the very top favorites for Rio. As it stands he’s still a worthwhile mention on the list of contenders, but it’s hard to know what to expect from him. Rui Costa, who preceded Kwiatkowski as world champion, should like the profile as well, given his appreciation for the long-range attack.

A strong Colombian quartet of Esteban Chaves, Rigoberto Urán, Sergio Henao, and Jarlinson Pantano, the Belgian trio of Tim Wellens, Philippe Gilbert, and Greg Van Avermaet, and Michael Albasini, Roman Kreuizger, and Michael Woods are others to watch.

VeloHuman Top 10 Race Favorites

Winner: Alejandro Valverde
Podium: Vincenzo Nibali, Romain Bardet
Other Top Contenders: Joaquím Rodríguez, Bauke Mollema, Wout Poels, Dan Martin, Julian Alaphilippe, Michal Kwiatkowski, Rui Costa

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