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Rio 2016 Olympic Games: men’s road race – preview

Who will win cycling's first gold medal of the 2016 Olympic Games?

Riders from 63 countries will compete in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games men’s road race on Saturday (August 6), with Tour de France champion Chris Froome spearheading Great Britain’s bid for a first gold medal in the event.

Froome is one of four Grand Tour champions on the start list for the race, which is set to favour the climbers thanks to a route with two testing, undulating circuits.

– Cycling at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games: essential guide and TV schedule – 

Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali and Astana team-mate and Italian compatriot Fabio Aru, the reigning Vuelta a Espana champion, are also due on the start line, alongside Spain’s former Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde.

Alexandr Vinokourov, Rigoberto Uran and Alexander Kristoff stood on the podium at London 2012 – but who will triumph in Rio?

The all-star cast for the race also includes former world champions Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) and Rui Costa (Portugal), and Monument winners like Nibali, Wout Poels (Netherlands) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain) in what is sure to be an open, exciting race.

So who should we be expecting to star in Rio, and who will be returning with a gold medal? Let’s take a closer look at the route and the favourites for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games men’s cycling road race.

The route

Cobbles and climbs – this is a Classic route in all senses of the word and should produce an exciting race.

The route is one of two parts, rolling out from Copacabana beach before heading to the first of the two circuits on the route at the Grumari National Park.

The Rio 2016 route features two hilly circuits (pic: UCI)

Featuring a 2km stretch of cobbles and two climbs – the Grumari (1.2km at seven per cent) and Grota Funda (2.1km at 4.5 per cent) – the first circuit is tackled four times in all.

Alongside the cobbles on the run-in to the Grumari climb, the tree-lined ascent itself is narrow and comes with a maximum gradient of 13 per cent at its steepest.

After those four circuits, the race then heads back towards the city for another hilly circuit, this time centred on the Vista Chinesa climb.

It’s a thigh-numbing climb of two distinct parts – up to Canoas, where the gradient hovers towards the double-figure mark and then, after a short descent, up to the Vista Chinesa.

The average gradient for the whole 8.5km climb is 5.7 per cent, but that is masked by the short descent. It’s tackled three times in all, before a technical descent down the other side, and is likely to be where the race is won or list.

The final climb peaks at 224.2km into the 241.5km race, meaning the descent and flat ride back to the Copacabana beach will be as important as the climb in deciding who stands atop the final podium.

The favourites

The nature of the course means the race could suit a number of different riders, from pure climbers to all-rounders.

Smaller teams – only the top five nations (Belgium, Colombia, Great Britain, Italy and Spain) have five riders – will also make it a difficult race to control, as Great Britain found to their cost at London 2012.

So which riders could be on the podium come Saturday evening? We’ve picked out ten men to watch.

Vincenzo Nibali (Italy)

Tough climbs and technical descents are the terrain on which Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali is at his best – just see his Giro di Lombardia win last autumn for proof.

That victory was Nibali’s first Monument, but the Shark of Messinah is not just a flash in the pan – podium places at Milan-San Remo and Liege-Bastogne-Liege are proof of further one-day success.

Vincenzo Nibali’s Giro di Lombardia victory last autumn is an indication of what he could do in Rio (pic: Sirotti)

Victory at the Giro d’Italia earlier this year further showed the Astana rider’s resilience – his fourth Grand Tour win coming courtesy of two great rides on the final two mountain stages to come from behind and claim the pink jersey.

At the Tour de France Nibali was domestique to Fabio Aru – who also forms part of a strong Italian team for Rio – but was no stranger to the breakaway and was aggressive in his riding throughout, perhaps with an eye on honing his form for Rio.

If he carries that form to Brazil, Nibali will be a man to keep a very close eye on when the peloton crests the final climb – his descending skills are second-to-none.

Italy team for Rio 2016 men’s road race: Vincenzo Nibali, Fabio Aru, Diego Rosa (all Astana), Damiano Caruso, Alessandro de Marchi (both BMC Racing)

Alejandro Valverde (Spain)

World number one for the last two years, Alejandro Valverde is a man for all seasons and has proved as much again this year with successes across the board.

Victory at La Fleche Wallonne was his third in a row and seventh Ardennes Classics win in all, while a stage win and third-place finish at the Giro d’Italia completed Valverde’s Grand Tour collection of stage victories and podium finishes at the Giro, Tour and Vuelta.

Alejandro Valverde is Spain’s man for all seasons (pic: Sirotti)

Any suggestion that Valverde’s efforts in finishing sixth at the Tour de France, and helping Nairo Quintana to the podium, would hamper his Olympics bid was shot down with third place at the Clasica San Sebastian last weekend, too.

Valverde can climb with the best, he can descend well and he has a fast finish too. He also comes as part of a very strong Spanish team but looks the best shot at a gold medal of the quintet.

Movistar team-mate Ion Izagirre rides on the back of his Tour de France stage 20 victory, and Joaquim Rodriguez can never be discounted in his final season but Purito would be better served riding for Valverde given the fast, flat 20km finish.

Spain team for Rio 2016 men’s road race: Alejandro Valverde, Imanol Erviti, Ion Izagirre, Jonathan Castroviejo (all Movistar), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)

Rui Costa (Portugal)

One of three former world champions on the start line, Rui Costa has found victories hard to come by since he won the rainbow jersey in Florence in 2013, but that win alone is proof of what he can do a course like this. Costa caught Joaquim Rodriguez on the run-in to the finish, having crested the final climb with the race favourites, to claim victory.

Rui Costa has been quiet since his World Championship win in 2013, but could produce a repeat performance in Rio (pic: Sirotti)

Costa’s Classics results since prove he is a contender in other one-day races too, but with no victories to his name so far in 2016 it will take a big step up in Rio.

Nevertheless, having been active towards the end of the Tour de France, getting himself up the road and in several breaks, Costa has clearly been building his legs for this race.

Portugal have four options for the men’s road race, but Costa has been there done that with his worlds win and is more than capable of repeating it.

Portugal team for Rio 2016 men’s road race: Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Jose Mendes (Bora-Argon 18), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Andre Cardoso (Cannondale-Drapac)

Bauke Mollema/Wout Poels (Netherlands)

Bauke Mollema’s Tour de France ended in huge disappointment, as he crashed out of contention for a podium place in the Alps and tumbled out of the top ten on the final mountain stage.

But the 29-year-old Dutchman bounced back in style last weekend, winning the Clasica San Sebastian to fire a warning shot to his rivals for a medal in Rio.

Bauke Mollema bounced back from his Tour de France disappointment to win the Clasica San Sebastian (pic: Sirotti)

The Netherlands are sending a strong, four-man team to Brazil, with Steven Kruijswijk and Tom Dumoulin also also capable of mixing it with the best on their day.

The fourth member of the team is another great shot at a medal in Rio – Team Sky’s Wout Poels having proved his form as Chris Froome’s lieutenant in the mountains at the Tour de France.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Wout Poels was in top climbing form at the Tour de France (pic: Sirotti)

Poels broke Team Sky’s Monument duck at Liege-Bastogne-Liege earlier this season to show he has what it takes to compete in one-day races and if he carries his Tour form to Brazil he too could be a contender.

Netherlands team for Rio 2016 men’s road race: Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Wout Poels (Team Sky), Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo)

Daniel Martin (Ireland)

Ireland have just two riders going to Rio, but in cousins Daniel Martin and national champion Nicolas Roche it’s not a bad two options to have.

Martin earned his first Tour de France top-ten finish last month, eventually claiming ninth place overall, and has already proved his one-day racing calibre.

Ireland will only have two riders in the Rio 2016 road race – but it’s not a bad two to have (pic: Sirotti)

Victory at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2013 and Il Lombardia in 2014 have given him two Monument wins for his palmares already.

Controlling a race like the Olympic road race is going to be difficult, even for the teams with five riders, so the key to success for Martin will be sticking at the front of the race and following the right moves.

He did just that through most of the Tour de France, when he was often without any Etixx-QuickStep team-mates in the mountains, so if he has kept that form he is definitely one to watch.

Ireland team for Rio 2016 men’s road race: Daniel Martin (Etixx-QuickStep), Nicolas Roche (Team Sky)

Chris Froome/Geraint Thomas (Great Britain)

Tour de France champion Chris Froome may not have won a one-day race before, but the aggressive intent he showed on his way to a third yellow jersey gave an indication of what could be in Rio.

Both he and Geraint Thomas are expected to share the Great Britain leadership in Rio, with Froome also bidding for a medal in the individual time trial.

Chris Froome is the big name of the Great Britain team, but his best hope of a medal could be in the time trial (pic: Sirotti)

The Kenyan-born Brit is clearly a man in form after his exploits at the Tour de France, should he end up being the chosen leader as part of what is a strong GB team across the board.

Commonwealth Games champion and perennial Classic contender Thomas’ one-day calibre is much more obvious, however, and the Welshman tested his legs with a gutsy solo breakaway at RideLondon which came up just a few kilometres short.

Geraint Thomas won Commonwealth Games gold in Glasgow and will now bid for Olympic gold (pic: Sirotti)

And team-mate Steve Cummings is another who should not be written off. We’d have listed him as a contender were we confident Great Britain wouldn’t try and control the race but ride it aggressively instead.

Give Cummings free reign, and his Tour de France stage victory is just the latest evidence of what can be achieved. Shackle him, and Froome or more likely Thomas will be the men to watch instead.

And what of Adam Yates? The 23-year-old showed the world just what he is capable of by finishing fourth and taking the white jersey at the Tour, while he already has one-day success to his name haven won the Clasica de San Sebastian in 2015.

It’s an exciting Great Britain team with a number of cards to play.

Great Britain team for Rio 2016 men’s road race: Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard (all Team Sky), Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange), Steve Cummings (Dimension Data)

Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland)

Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski may have only just turned 26, but already he has been crowned world champion in 2014, won the Amstel Gold Race in the rainbow jersey in 2015 and bagged his first – and to date – only Team Sky win at this year’s E3 Harelbeke.

In short, this is a man who knows how to win a one-day race but his Rio 2016 hopes are hampered by just one problem – he is quite out of form.

Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski was world champion in 2014 but has been out of form since this summer (pic: Sirotti)

Illness cut short his Criterium du Dauphine, where he was riding for Chris Froome, and since then he has finished a lowly 25th at the Polish national road race, fallen out of contention for a podium spot on the rain-battered, climb-heavy Wieliczka to Zakopane stage at the Tour of Poland and finished 107th at the Clasica San Sebastian.

If he is to compete for a medal at Rio 2016, Kwiatkowski is going to have to dig deep to rediscover the sort of form everyone knows he is capable of producing.

If not, Tour de France King of the Mountains Rafal Majka looks the more likely man to lead Poland’s charge for a medal.

Poland team for Rio 2016 men’s road race: Michal Kwiatkowski, Michal Golas (both Team Sky), Rafal Majka, Maciej Bodnar (both Tinkoff)

Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia)

Colombia’s team is packed with climbing talent, and even with Tour de France third-place finisher Nairo Quintana withdrawing after struggling for form at the Tour, has plenty of options.

Rigoberto Uran won silver in London four years ago, but it is Quintana’s replacement, Tour de France stage winner Jarlinson Pantano, who has been in the most impressive form.

Colombian ace Jarlinson Pantano was a late call-up to the Games after an impressive Tour de France (pic: Sirotti)

Pantano could not keep away from the breakaways at the Tour, as he ensured IAM Cycling, set to fold at the end of the season, were given a suitable send-off from the race with victory on stage 15 and the combativity award on two days.

Of course, the need to impress other teams enough to earn a contract for 2017 would also have been on his mind, but he did that and much more and arrives in Rio as one of the form men.

Pantano’s descending is a great asset too – his victory into Culoz at the Tour proved that – so he is not a man his rivals will want to give a gap to on the final climb.

Colombia team for Rio 2016 men’s road race: Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling), Johan Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange), Sergio Henao (Team Sky), Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale), Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana)

Greg van Avermaet (Belgium)

Greg van Avermaet may not have the Classics pedigree of Belgian team-mate Philippe Gilbert, or the climbing ability of Serge Pauwels – who was second at the Rio test event – but the BMC Racing man should not be written off.

Victories at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Tirreno-Adriatico showed his form at the start of the year, before he recovered from crashing out of the Tour de Flanders with a Tour de France stage win.

Greg van Avermaet has enjoyed some impressive results in 2016 (pic: Sirotti)

That victory, followed by a day in the break in the mountains two days later, earned him three days in the yellow jersey in all.

Belgium have several options for the race, but Van Avermaet has proved he is capable of being one of them with his canny riding and ability to follow the right moves, as long as he can survive in the hills

And if not, one thing you can guarantee from the Belgians is an attack from Tim Wellens – the Lotto-Soudal man knows no other way of racing and it’s only a matter of time before one sticks in one of the biggest races.

Belgium team for Rio 2016 men’s road race: Greg van Avermaet, Philippe Gilbert (both BMC Racing), Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Laurens de Plus (Etixx-QuickStep)

Romain Bardet (France)

Perhaps surprisingly, only two French riders have won gold medals in the men’s Olympic road race – and none since the London Games in 1948.

But they take a strong four-man line-up to Rio 2016, with some of the brightest talents in French cycling set to pull on the national jersey.

The course looks well suited to Romain Bardet, who was third at the Rio test event (pic: Sirotti)

Alexis Vuillermoz won the Rio test event in 2015, with Ag2r-La Mondiale team-mate Romain Bardet third – and the latter races at Rio on the back of his Tour de France stage win and second place overall.

Bardet’s climbing and descending ability should see him among the contenders, especially if he can continue where he left off at the Tour.

Big things are expected of Julian Alaphilippe and Warren Barguil in future too, and both will do their burgeoning reputations no harm with a big result in Rio.

France team for Rio 2016 men’s road race: Romain Bardet, Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep), Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin)

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