The Road to Rio: An introduction

by Anne-Marije Rook


In January, the UCI and Rio 2016 organizing committee confirmed the 2016 Olympic road race and time trial courses, which means the road to the Olympic glory has started.

Yes, we know it’s still a year-and-a-half out, but many riders will be racing this season with one ultimate goal in mind: to be selected for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Riders will start earning Olympic points this summer, and national and regional championships will surely be hotly contested. The 2015 season will be the chance for riders to prove themselves and start vying for those limited team spots.

We’ll be following these Olympic hopefuls right here —in the Road to Rio series— as we lead up to August 7, 2016, when the women will tackle the 130.3km course in Fort Copacabana.

About the courses:

Olympic Road Race:
Starting and finishing at Fort Copacabana, the Olympic road course will be 130.3km long and pass through the famous Ipanema, Barra, and Reserva Beaches and loop around two circuits.

The first circuit, the Grumari Circuit, features two climbs: thee narrow Grumari climb and Grota Funda.  The 1.2 km-long Grumari climb averages seven percent and has a maximum gradient of 13 percent. At an average of 4.5 percent gradient, the Grota Funda is less steep but also longer at 2.1km.  The circuit also features a 2km cobblestone section.

The second circuit is hillier with the Canoas climb at the start, then the 8.9-km Vista Chinesa climb and a technical, six-kilometer descent on the way out.

Potential medalists will have to be able climb well, but with the long stretches of flat road in between, the course may favor an all-rounder and good teamwork.

Time Trial:
The 29.8km Grumari Time Trial course uses the same Grumari Circuit of the road race, including the 1.2km climb up Grumari Road. The women will complete one lap (the men will do two), three days after the road race, on Wednesday, Aug. 10.

Recap of what happened in 2012:

Road race:
The women’s Olympic road race in 2012 was an exciting one to watch, arguably even more exciting than the men’s race that year.

The course’s start/finish was on London’s iconic Mall and the circuit took riders up Box Hill twice. The host country’s very own Nicole Cooke was the defending champion while Holland’s Marianne Vos was favoured for the win. Despite it taking place in the midst of summer, the British weather was dreadful and it poured down rain on the riders.

The race was active from the gun with the Dutch attacking numerous times followed by the Americans and Britain’s Emma Pooley. Various attacks weaned out the pack and with 50 kilometers to go, the lead pack had thinned to about 35 riders.

Marianne Vos attacked on the second time up Box Hill and was joined by Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead and Alena Amialiusik from Belarus, who was unable to make it stick. But after the descent, there was a clear escape of Vos, Armistead,  Russia’s Olga Zabelinskya and American Shelley Olds. The latter flatted but the trio of Vos, Armistead and Zabelinskya continued, increasing their lead.

Seemingly happy with any podium spot, Zabelinskya drove the pace, pulling the trio toward the finish. The cat-and-mouse game began, and it was Vos who sprinted for the line first. Armistread tried to go after her but just couldn’t get there. And so, in the heavy rain, Vos who claimed the Olympic gold. Armistead got the silver and Zabelinskya went home with the bronze.

Time Trial
Leading up to this race, there was plenty of drama to follow with defending champion Kristin Armstrong of the USA coming out of retirement specifically for this event and then breaking her collarbone mere months before the Olympics. Meanwhile on the brink of her retirement, Germany’s Judith Arndt —the reigning world champion— would be going to the Olympics a fifth and last time, chasing the coveted gold medal still missing from her impressive trophy chest.And then, of course, the host country was cheering for their own favourite,  former World Champion time trialist Emma Pooley.

On the day of the event, the weather was much improved from the day of the road race, and the 29km course was dry, flat and fast.

The race wasn’t decided until the very last rider, Armstrong, got on the course. At the first time check, she clocked in one second ahead of Arndt’s leading time. At the second time check, she was up five seconds. Armstrong ultimately crossed the finish line 15 seconds faster than Arndt, who had to settle for the silver while Russia’s Olga Zabelinskaya collected a second Bronze medal.

The 2016 Olympic hopefuls:
The selection for each national Olympic squad kicks off this summer and is extremely competitive. Even the biggest countries are only allowed to take four riders (for the road race/two max for the TT). So the competition will be fierce, the selection process heartbreaking. Throughout the coming year, we will introduce you to the Olympic hopefuls here.

 

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