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

Can Lizzie Armitstead bounce back and better her silver medal from four years ago?

World champion Lizzie Armitstead leads Great Britain’s three-strong team for the women’s road race at the Rio 2016 Olympics, looking to put a turbulent month behind her and better her silver medal from London four years ago.

But the Yorkshirewoman faces stiff competition for the road race, which will be played out over a punchy course starting and finishing at Copacabana beach on Sunday (August 7).

Great Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead won the first medal for Great Britain at London 2012 with silver in the women’s road race(pic: Sirotti)

So dominant on the road, Armitstead’s Boels-Dolmans trade team accounts for three of the big favourites in Rio – with American duo Megan Guarnier and Evelyn Stevens riding against Armitstead.

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

Defending champion Marianne Vos also returns, with several of her Rabo Liv trade team-mates in contention alongside the Dutch wonder woman.

So who will top the podium come Sunday? Let’s take a closer look at the route and our pick of the leading contenders.

The route

As with the men’s route, the women’s race takes in two circuits with cobbles, steep climbs and a flat finale.

The women’s race is 141km in length, and includes two circuits of the Grumari Natural Park, which features a 2km cobbled sector and two climbs.

Cobbles, steep climbs and a flat, fast finale await the women’s road race peloton in Rio (pic: UCI)

Grumari comes first – a steep 1.2km ascent with a seven per cent average gradient and pitches a steep as 13 per cent.

The tree-lined climb is very narrow, meaning the fight for position on the flatter opening section of the race should be intense.

The second climb is 2.1km long with an average gradient of 4.5 per cent, and both – alongside the cobbles – are to be tackled twice.

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

The women then take on one ascent of the Vista Chinesa climb – a two-stage climb which pitches up sharply at the start, before a small descent and then another slightly less steep climb to the summit.

The total length is 8.9km and the average gradient between five and six per cent, but that is skewed by the descent part way up the climb.

Finally, a technical 6km descent and a long, flat run-in back to Copacabana Beach completes the Rio 2016 women’s road race.

The favourites

Evelyn Stevens/Megan Guarnier (USA)

Connie Carpenter, mother to current BMC Racing pro Taylor Phinney, led home an American one-two when the women’s road race debuted at the 1984 Los Angeles Games but no American rider has stood on the podium since.

That could all be about to change this year, however, with world number one Megan Guarnier and compatriot and team-mate Evelyn Stevens both in sublime form.

Megan Guarnier currently tops the UCI Women’s WorldTour rankings (pic: Sirotti)

American champion Guarnier has won the Amgen Women’s Tour of California and the Giro d’Italia Femminile this season to prove her climbing legs and form.

Evelyn Stevens proved her all-round ability with three stage wins at the Giro Rosa (pic: Sirotti)

Stevens, meanwhile, was a three-time stage winner as she finished second behind Guarnier at the Giro – stage wins in the hills, the mountains and the individual time trial proving her all-round ability and marking her as a serious contender for Olympic gold.

USA team for Rio 2016 women’s road race: Evelyn Stevens, Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans), Mara Abbott (Wiggle-High5), Kristin Armstrong (TWENTY16-Ridebiker)

Lizzie Armitstead (Great Britain)

After winning the Women’s Tour of Flanders and Aviva Women’s Tour this season – two of seven victories in all since becoming world champion – Armitstead was a big favourite for the Rio 2016 Olympic road race, an occasion she called the “biggest goal of my season and career” in an interview with RCUK.

The wheels have come off in the last month, however, after a third ‘whereabouts’ failure in 12 months saw Armitstead provisionally suspended by UKAD, before a successful appeal to CAS cleared her to race.

Women’s world champion Lizzie Armitstead leads the three-strong British women’s road team (pic: Sirotti)

The third of those whereabouts failures was as a result of a family emergency, on which Armitstead has been unwilling to elaborate further, but those personal circumstances, combined with a lack of racing from a provisional suspension and the furore surrounding her CAS case have come at the worst possible time for the world champion.

Nevertheless, Armitstead has proved her resilience before – bouncing back from her high-speed crash at the Aviva Women’s Tour last year to first win the national championships, then the Women’s World Cup and then ultimately the rainbow jersey. Never count her out.

Great Britain team for Rio 2016 women’s road race: Lizzie Armitstead, Nikki Harris (Boels-Dolmans), Emma Pooley (Lotto-Soudal Ladies)

Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy)

Queen of the Mountains at this year’s Giro d’Italia Femminile, Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini certainly has the climbing talent needed for the Rio 2016 road race.

The 24-year-old won La Route de France last year too, including stage wins at Avallon and on La Planches des Belles Filles, again underlining her ability when the road rises.

Elisa Longo Borghini, winner of the 2015 Route de France, was crowned Queen of the Mountains at last month’s Giro Rosa (pic: Sirotti)

The Italian time trial champion – who was also on the podium of this year’s Women’s Tour after finishing third overall – is not a rider you want to give an advantage to over an ascent.

Former world champion Georgia Bronzini is also in the Italian line-up, and is not a rider the rest of the peloton will want to be sprinting against if she is still in the mix after the Vista Chinesa climb.

Italy team for Rio 2016 women’s road race: Elisa Longo Borghini, Georgia Bronzini (Wiggle-High 5), Tatiana Guderzo (Hitec Products), Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM)

Marianne Vos/Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands)

Defending champion Marianne Vos has returned to the peloton and returned to form in perfect time for a shot at a second gold medal having triumphed at London 2012.

After racing just twice in an injury-ravaged 2015 season, the Dutch wonder woman returned in March and won the Pajot Hills Classic – just her second race back.

Marianne Vos has returned to fitness and form in 2016 (pic: Sirotti)

Six more victories have followed, including three stage wins in last month’s Internationale Thuringen Rundfahrt der Frauen.

But she is far from the only Dutch medal hopeful at Rio – with Rabo-Liv team-mate Anna van der Breggen having stepped up in Vos’ absence.

Runner-up to Armitstead at the 2015 worlds, Anna van der Breggen is another strong Dutch medal hope (pic: Sirotti)

Van der Breggen was second to Lizzie Armitstead at the World Championships, having been one of the in-form riders, and has geared up for Rio with third place at the Giro Rosa.

Netherlands team for Rio 2016 women’s road race: Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv Women), Ellen van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans), Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-AIS)

Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (France)

French all-rounder Pauline Ferrand-Prevot is bidding to make history at Rio 2016, with her attempt to win gold medals in both the women’s road race and the cross-country MTB.

At one point last year, the French superstar was world champion in both disciplines, as well as in cyclo-cross, but her 2015 campaign ended in injury.

Pauline Ferrand-Prevot is bidding to win gold on the road and in the cross-country mountain biking (pic: Sirotti)

Ferrand-Prevot’s racing has been limited this season, with just a handful of top-ten finishes, but the 24-year-old should not be counted out of the reckoning for Rio.

France have just two riders in the road race, with Wiggle-High5’s Audrey Cordon, the national time trial champion, their second option.

France team for Rio 2016 women’s road race: Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Rabo Liv), Audrey Cordon (Wiggle-High5)

Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland)

Still aged just 21, Poland’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma looks set for a bright future in women’s cycling after being crowned best young rider at the Giro Rosa for the second consecutive year.

Finishing seventh overall, Niewiadoma was in the top ten on six of the ten stages, as she continued with the form which has seen rack up wins aplenty in 2016.

Poland’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma has a bright future ahead of her (pic: Sirotti)

A Polish national road race and time trial double, alongside a stage win and the overall title at both the Giro del Trentino Alto Adige and Festival Elsy Jacobs have all grown her burgeoning reputation.

But while the future’s bright, what about the present? Niewiadoma has proved she can mix it with the best and could be a dark horse in Rio.

Poland team for Rio 2016 women’s road race: Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Rabo Liv), Malgorzata Jasinska (Ale-Cipollini), Anna Plichta (BTC City Ljubljana)


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