With the road races now complete at the Rio Olympics it’s time to turn our attention to the individual time trials. Held this Wednesday, the men’s time trial features a challenging (and by now familiar) course that will suit only the most well-rounded riders on the startlist. Here’s what you should know before tuning in.
The course uses the ‘Grumari Circuit’ as featured in the road race
Starting in Pontal, roughly 30km west of Fort Copacabana (where the road race started), the men’s individual time trial features two laps of the ‘Grumari Circuit’. This 25km loop was tackled four times in Saturday’s road race, before the peloton headed east toward the Vista Chinesa circuit closer to Rio.
There are a couple of small lumps at the start of the Grumari Circuit but the course is really defined by two main climbs: a 1.2km ascent at 7% (which reaches 16% at its steepest) and then an easier and steadier 2.1km ascent which averages 4.5%.
The descents off both climbs are quite technical, the first in particular featuring a couple of sharp corners — not to be sneezed at on a time trial bike. Between the climbs and their descents though, the roads are quite flat.
The time trial does traverse the same cobblestone road that the road race used but eagle-eyed road race viewers would have noticed a strip of smooth tarmac beside the cobbles. This smooth section of road will be used for the time trials rather than the cobblestones.
In all, the course is 54km long — one of the longest individual time trials we’ve seen at this level of the sport for some time.
Only the most complete riders will have a shot at victory
Not only is Wednesday’s time trial longer than most comparable events — the longest Grand Tour time trial this year was the 40.5km stage 9 Giro ITT — it’s also considerably hillier and more technical. To succeed on this course, riders will need to have a mix of pure time-trialling strength, climbing ability and descending skill.
While perhaps not quite as technical as the descent on the Vista Chinesa circuit, the descents in the time trial will still pose a considerable challenge. Riders will need to find a balance between descending as quickly as possible, and descending within the limits of what their time-trial bikes will be capable of, given their reduced maneuverability (when compared to road bikes).
The length of the course and the amount of flat-road riding mean that full time-trial setups are the most likely option but don’t be surprised to see some slight variations from rider to rider.
The winner will likely come from one of five main favourites
After winning the stage 13 time trial at the Tour de France, Tom Dumoulin admitted he was probably the favourite for the Rio time trial. But when the Dutchman broke his wrist a week later, that favourite status was thrown into doubt.
If Dumoulin was uninjured and fully rested after the Tour, this time trial would suit him more than just about anyone in the field. But his wrist is a big unknown and the fact he withdrew from Saturday’s road race after barely 10km means we have no real idea what his form is like.
Dumoulin was reportedly back on his bike four days after breaking his wrist but only he will know how much the injury is likely to hamper his effort come Saturday.
The other five-star favourite is Chris Froome. The Briton beat Dumoulin in the stage 18 time trial at the Tour a few weeks ago, en route to winning his third overall title. The stage win reiterated Froome’s impressive TT ability, but that was a mostly uphill effort and while Wednesday’s Olympic TT features plenty of climbing, it’s not the 17km uphill test that stage 18 of the Tour was.
It’s also unclear what Froome’s post-Tour form is like. He put in a couple of digs in the closing stages of the Olympic road race on Saturday but seemed to lack the punch he’s had in the past. Or perhaps he was saving himself for Wednesday. Who knows.
Regardless, Froome is certainly one of the riders to beat, probably the rider to beat if Dumoulin is hampered in any significant way by his wrist injury. All things being equal, Froome should add another medal to the bronze he took in the London ITT four years ago.
Beyond Dumoulin and Froome, there are three riders that would perhaps prefer a flatter course but who, all going well, should still challenge for the medals.
Australian time trial champion Rohan Dennis is no slouch when the road tilts up and he’s made it clear Wednesday’s race is one of his biggest goals of the season.
Like Dumoulin, Dennis pulled out early in Saturday’s road race, but not before getting a good look at the Grumari circuit. Dennis has made it clear he wants to focus on developing into a GC rider after Rio and perhaps this will give the South Australian extra motivation for a good result.
Speaking of extra motivation, few riders on the startline should be more motivated than Fabian Cancellara. The Swiss powerhouse won this event at the 2008 Beijing Games and this will be his last ever appearance in an Olympic bike race. What better way than to go out with another gold medal?
‘Spartacus’ is a few years past his best but the four-time ITT world champion showed great fight in Saturday’s road race on a course that, on paper, didn’t suit him particularly well. Don’t be surprised to see Cancellara right in the thick of it on Wednesday. A medal certainly isn’t beyond him if he’s on a good day.
If Tony Martin is on a good day he too might threaten the podium. The German would much prefer a dead-flat course, but he’s far from a terrible climber (case in point: his win on stage 9 of the 2014 Tour de France). Martin won the silver medal back at the 2012 Games — behind Bradley Wiggins — and should be in the reckoning to feature among the medals again on Wednesday.
Behind the main contenders lie a host of other medal threats
Primoz Roglic was one of the surprise packets of this year’s Giro d’Italia. The Slovenian finished second in the stage 1 ITT (less than a second behind Dumoulin) and then went on to win the stage 9 time trial a little over a week later. The former ski-jumper is a strong climber and definitely shouldn’t be overlooked.
Vasil Kiryienka caused an upset at the Road World Championships in Richmond late last year when he upstaged the likes of Tony Martin to take an unlikely victory. While the Belarusian hasn’t performed particularly well in time trials so far this season, he proved last year that he’s more than capable of pulling out a big time trial when it matters.
Nelson Oliveira is a four-time Portuguese time trial champion and, if he’s on a good day, should feature prominently. Unfortunately for the 27-year-old he crashed in the road race on Saturday and while he wasn’t seriously injured, it’s unclear what sort of impact the crash will have on his time trial. If all is well, expect a top-10 performance from the Movistar rider, if not a top-five.
Jonathan Castroviejo is a two-time Spanish champion and, like Oliveira, has a number of other impressive ITT performances to his name. Perhaps the biggest unknown for the 29-year-old is how he’s pulled up from the road race. He spent quite a bit of time on the front of the peloton on Saturday, doing the pacemaking for his team leaders Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez.
Meanwhile, US hopes rest on the shoulders of Taylor Phinney, the fourth-place finisher at the London Olympics four years ago. Phinney will likely find it hard to dislodge his more-fancied rivals from the podium but, all going well, he should be well inside the top 10.
For other top-10 contenders look to former Polish champion Michal Kwiatkowski, 2015 Danish champ Chris Juul-Jensen and last year’s Austrian time trial champion Georg Preidler.
Rain could well affect the race
Current weather forecasts for Wednesday suggest pleasant temperatures in the low 20s but, crucially, the chance of rain.
Showers are expected to pass through the area late morning and into the afternoon, and with the first rider setting off at 10am local time (11pm AEST; 6am PDT; 2pm GMT), the course could well be quite damp for much of the field. This will, of course, make the descents even more challenging than they would already be.
In the interest of a fair contest, we can only hope that the conditions are the same for all riders throughout the day.
You’ll need to consult your local TV guides for coverage info
Watching any Olympic sport on TV for an extended period of time is a challenge (unless that sport is swimming or athletics). This is even more likely to be the case with the individual time trials than the road races, given TTs are perfectly suited to the sort of dip-in dip-out coverage that Olympic broadcasters seem to enjoy.
If you’re looking to watch the entire time trial, your best bet is likely to be through a livestream provided by your local Olympics broadcaster. In Australia, that’s the Seven Network, in the US it’s NBC Sports, and in the UK it’s the BBC.
For other nations, be sure to check out this list to see who will have coverage in your corner of the world.
So, who’s your pick for the men’s time trial at the 2016 Rio Olympics?