August 8/08 11:13 am - Olympic Road Race Preview
Posted by Editoress on 08/8/08
The Olympics are about to get underway with the Opening Ceremonies currently taking place in the Birds Nest stadium. Cycling will begin tomorrow morning with the men's road race, traditionally one of the first medal events at the Games. The riders (and media) had a chance to check out the circuit yesterday during a three hour session of road closures.
The course itself starts in the southern end of Beijing, at the ancient Beijing gate of Yondingmen. The riders make their way through the center of Beijing, passing the Temple of Heaven, Tian'anmen square, the Forbidden City, Yonghegong Lama Temple, the Olympic Tower and the Summer Palace. From Beijing the race heads north along the Badaling Expressway until it reaches the Great Wall at Juyongguan, where the riders enter a circuit.
The first 78.8 kilometres to the circuit is mostly flat and on wide roads. The circuit itself is an entirely different matter - 23.8 kilometres that climbs for the first half and then descends back to the start of the circuit for a final 500 metres uphill to the finish line. The men will do seven circuits after the ride out from the city, while the women will do two.
The time trial (next Wednesday) will be on the circuit - one lap for women and two for men.
The climb, while long (338 metres of vertical in 12.4 kilmetres), is not as bad as it was built up to be, according to Canada's Michael Barry. "I don't think it is as bad as we had heard," he commented. "I thought the climb was going to be steeper. It is definitely hard, but there are sections on the uphill where you can recover."
He feels that it will be "an attrition race. This is not a course where it is advantageous to be in a break, because the descent coming back [on the second half of the circuit] gives such a big advantage to the peloton. For anyone to stay away will require a group, not a single rider."
Ryder Hesjedal agrees, commenting "to the circuit is very straightforward, and then it will be all attrition. This is a fitness course."
Both Barry and Hesjedal agree that the real moves likely won't come until late in the race, but Hesjedal cautions "if the whip cracks early, and a good group rolls off, then they won't come back. But, the race is so long (245 kilometres), and there are so many strong guys, that I think it will happen slowly, and be hardest right at the end."
Erinne Willock, from the Canadian women's squad, points out that the women's race is likely to follow a completely different scenario, since there are only two laps of the circuit in the 126 kilometre race.
"It's a good course, and hard, which is good for Canada; not too steep, but hard all the way up. I imagine that the real race will start from when we enter the loops. With only two laps, it will get aggressive right away, I think."
The men's race starts at 11:00 am Saturday local time, 11:00 pm EDT (Friday), and is expected to finish at approximately 5:30 pm local (5:30 am EDT Saturday). We will have live coverage starting at approximately 2:00 pm local, 2:00 am EDT Saturday).
The women's race, on Sunday, begins at 2:00 pm local (2:00 am EDT) and finishes at 5:30 pm local (5:30 am EDT). We will have live coverage for the final circuits, starting at approximately 3:45 pm local (3:45 am EDT).
On the men's side, the list is impressive: Cadel Evans (Australia), Alberto Contador, Carlos Sastre and Alejandro Valverde (Spain), Stefan Schumacher and Jens Voigt (Germany), defending champion Paolo Bettini (Italy), Andy and Frank Schleck (Luxembourg), Denis Menchov (Russia), Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine) and George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer and Christian Vandevelde (USA). Canada's team is Barry, Hesjedal and Svein Tuft.
The strong teams are Spain and the U.S., who both have impressive depth to support whomever is the team leader. The climb is neither long enough nor steep enough for riders like Sastre and Contador, so expect Spain to be riding for Valverde, while either Leipheimer or Vandevelde could do well for the U.S. Individually, Bettini cannot be counted out after his ride at San Sebastian, and he will have strong support from Davide Rebellin (who will celebrate his birthday on race day).
However, by limiting the largest squads to five riders, it stops any one team from dominating and controlling the race, so there are lots of chances for an upset.
Michael Barry came close to a bronze medal in Athens, and there is certainly an opportunity to medal here. "For us it is simple: follow, ride off the other teams. I feel good, I did the Tour of Austria, and there was lots of climbing, then did a good training block in the the Pyrennes. San Sebastian was a good test for me; I was there in the final, and I think I could have placed even better without one little mistake."
Hesjedal, coming off a very strong Tour debut, agrees. "I think we have three really good guys, and we will look to the strong nations and follow. We are sitting in a good position."
Tuft sees his role as support: "I think the guys are going well, and I'll be able to give them all the help I can. All we can do is give 'er go."
On the women's side, the ageless Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli (France) can never be counted out, and this course could suit her. Nicole Cooke (Great Britain), the Lithuanians Jolanta Polikeviciute and Edita Pucinskaite, Mirjam Melchers van-Poppel, Nicole Brandli (Switzerland) and American Amber Neben are all strong possibles, but the favourite has to be Germany's Judith Arndt, who is supported by Hanka Kupfernagel and Trixie Worrack.
The Canadians were not mentioned above, but Canada has an extremely strong medal opportunity, with Willock, Alex Wrubleski and Leigh Hobson. All three have been on the podium at World Cups this year, and they form an extremely cohesive team, one of the strongest Canada has ever had.
"We have no designated leader," says Willock. "All of us will work together, communicate, and take the race as it develops. Everyone has shown good form and is super fit. I think that we are a bit of an underdog, which isn't a bad thing."
- Riders we spoke with said that the pollution is noticeable, but so far has not been a serious issue. The heat and humidity are more of a concern. It is supposed to rain both days, and there are concerns that this could make the descent extremely slippery. In a statement that is provoking widespread disbelief, IOC President Jacques Rogges said that "What you see is the result of humidity and heat" and that it is not the same as pollution....
- Four men are gone from the start list: Damiano Cunego (Italy) is recovering from injuries suffered in a crash at the tour, Sergio Paulinho (Portugal) won the silver medal in Athens but has been left of the Portuguese squad due to poor form, Vladimir Gusev (Russia) was removed by the Russia team after he was fired from Astana for reported irregularities in blood tests, and Michael Albasini (Switzerland) crashed earlier in the week in training and fractured his collarbone badly.
- It has been announced that blood samples from the Games will be kept for six years, to be tested as new procedures become available. this has led to speculation that a number of 'sub-par' performances may occur...
- Some stats on the Olympic Road Race:
Johan van Summeren (Belgium) is the tallest rider at 1.97 metres, while Miho Oki (Japan) is the shortest at 1.55 metres
France has won the most medals in Olympic road competition, 18
Great Britain has won 10, the most of any nation that has NOT won a Gold medal
Italy has won 5 gold medals, the most of any nations
Leontien Ziljaard-van Moorsel (Netherlands) has won 3 gold medals, the most by an individual rider
Longo-Ciprelli and Monique Knol (Netherlands) are the only riders to have won multiple medals in the road race, no man has ever done it
Longo-Ciprelli is attending her seventh Games, at the age of 49