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Olympic road race: the contenders part four – Italy, Spain, and ‘significant others’

In the final installment of our contenders series for the Olympic road race, we consider the teams of Italy, Spain, and ‘significant others’ – nations fielding less than the full complement of five riders, but whose representatives are strong on enough to win by their own efforts.

Selection for the Italian team was weakened in the final weeks before the Games by a recommendation from CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, that Filippo Pozzato, be banned for one year after interviewing the rider following allegations published in La Republica that he had been a client of Dr Michele Ferrari.

Vincenzo Nibali will lead the Italian team after finishing third in the Tour de France

The team will now be led by Vincenzo Nibali, who finished third in the Tour de France and conducted a strong spring Classics campaign, descending the Poggio with Fabian Cancellara and eventual winner, Simon Gerrans, at Milan-San Remo, and coming within a whisker of winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege before being overhauled by Maxim Iglinsky in the final kilometre.

Nibali’s efforts will be supported by a mixture of youth and experience, and by skills from the road and the track.

Sacha Modolo earns his living with the Colngao-CSF Inox Pro Continental team, for whom he won stage six of this year’s Tour of Turkey at the expense of Matt Goss and Mark Renshaw. He is also a rider familiar with the course for today’s race: he was second to Cavendish on The Mall in the Olympic test event, the London-Surrey Classic, last August. He could be the team’s Plan B should Nibali fail to go clear.

Luca Paolini will bring strength and experience to the Italian line-up. The 35-year-old Team Katusha rider has previously enjoyed success on British roads, winning two stages of the Tour of Britain way back in 2005. More recently, Paolini finished just outside the top 10 in a series of spring Classics, and was seventh at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen; results that proved his strength in one-day races.

Five-time Italian time trial champion, Marco Pinotti, winner of the final stage of this year’s Giro d’Italia, where he powered around the streets of Milan to finish 39 seconds ahead of Geraint Thomas. Pinotti’s ‘engine’ may be called upon to drag Modolo to the finish, much as the time trialing talents of David Millar and Bradley Wiggins will be placed at the service of Mark Cavendish.

Sprint sensation, Elia Viviani, has been promoted at the last minute from reserve at the expense of Matteo Trentin. Viviani, who will represent Italy on the track in the Omnium where he will be a rival to Ed Clancy. The 21 year old has enjoyed a phenomenal rise to prominence with Liquigas-Cannondale, winning a stage of last year’s Tour of Beijing, a stage of this year’s early season Tour de San Luis and, perhaps hardest of all, winning the backing of Mario Cipollini.

Spain’s line-up has been weakened by the loss of defending champion, Samuel Sanchez, who crashed out of the Tour de France on stage eight, breaking a finger and damaging his left shoulder. He has been replaced in the five-man line-up by Jonathan Castroviejo, a WorldTour rider with Movistar, and something of a time trial specialist.

Alejandro Valverde will lead a Spanish line-up filled with talent, despite the loss of defending Olympic champion, Samuel Sanchez, and three-time world champion, Oscar Freire

The team will be led by Alejandro Valverde, who has enjoyed a strong return to action this season since a returning from a two-year suspension after being implicated in the Operacion Puerto affair. ‘Valve’ finished second at the Tour Down Under after winning the Queen stage by outsprinting Simon Gerrans at the top of Old Willunga Hill, won a stage and finished third overall behind Bradley Wiggins and Lieuwe Westra at Paris-Nice, and won stage 17 of the Tour de France by finishing ahead of Wiggins and Chris Froome. Valverde has the strengths required for victory today if the sprinters teams fail to control the race.

Similar abilities lie with Luis Leon Sanchez, who looked set to add a second stage victory at this year’s Tour de France to his palmares when he was passed within metres of the finish line of stage eighteen by a still accelerating Mark Cavendish. A strong all-rounder, his victory on stage 14 came as the result of a breakaway, his method for victory on stage six of Paris-Nice, where he finished ahead of Jens Voight. Two stage wins in the mountains at the Tour of Romandie came as the result of awareness and good climbing legs. Sanchez is also a formidable time trialist, a three-time (and reigning) champion of Spain, who would certainly have the legs for a solo run into London. If Sanchez escapes the bunch, he is a realistic contender for victory

Should the Spanish decide to ride for a sprinter, they have two to choose from. One is JJ Rojas, a former Tour de France stage winner and wearer, briefly, of the green jersey (in 2011). His Tour ended this year on stage three in the same crash that ended removed Kanstantsin Siutsou from Sky’s line-up. Rojas has won a stage at the Tour of the Basque Country this year, and rode a strong Paris-Nice, but will only be of use to the Spanish if the race is decided by a sprint.

The same might be said of recently-crowned Spanish road race champion, Francisco Ventoso, who received a last-minute call-up falling injuries suffered by three-time world road race champion, Oscar Freire, in a nasty crash on stage six of the Tour de France.

Who among teams without a full complement of five riders can win the Olympic road race?

Peter Sagan will ride as Slovakia’s sole representative, but if he makes it to The Mall with the leaders, he is a serious contender for gold

Peter Sagan is the obvious choice. The Slovak sprint sensation lived up to the hype surrounding his hugely successful Tours of California and Switzerland in France earlier this month, winning three stages and the green jersey. His victory on stage three, where he overhauled Fabian Cancellara on the hilly run into Seraing, showed he can survive a climb and still sprint.

Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen has all the requirements for victory today: a strong all-rounder with an excellent sprint, he played final lead out man to Cavendish with all the aplomb of Mark Renshaw on the Champs Elysees. He’s not as fast as the Manxman (who is?) but if Cavendish is balked, EBH could be a contender.

Not a contender, but what role might Bernard Eisel play today? One of just two Austrian riders in the race, and a close friend and long term teammate of Mark Cavendish, should Eisel forget where he is, and find himself riding in support of the Manx Missile, with Sky teammates Froome, Stannard, and Wiggins, few among the thousands expected to line the route will complain.

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