Road to Rio: Europeans head to Baku to test their legs and earn Olympics points | Van Dijk takes the ITT Gold
Update: Travelling at over 47.8 km/hr on the 25.8km course, Dutch rider Ellen van Dijk takes the gold medal in the individual time trial. She stopped the clock at 32:26 with a winning margin of 37 seconds over second place. Despite her recent controversial firing from the Astana team, Hanna Solovey of the Ukraine took the silver, and Annemiek van Vleuten, also representing The Netherlands, took bronze.
The inaugural European Games kicked off in Baku, Azerbaijan, on June 12th with over 6,000 athletes present.
Devised by the European Olympic Committee, the European Games intends to offer the same level of competition, prestige and Olympic qualification opportunities as similar continental events such as the Commonwealth, Asia and Pan-American Games.
There are 20 sports contested at the European Games, 17 of which are Olympic sports and four non-Olympic sports. For some athletes, the European Games are an important run-up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio in terms of international competition, a test of fitness as well as qualification points. Some sports even offer direct qualification.
Cycling at the European Games
Mountain bike, BMX and road cycling are the only three cycling disciplines offered at the European Games, and ranking points are available for those countries that have yet to secure qualification for the Rio Olympics. The best ranked cyclists as of May 2016 will be eligible for a place at the Olympic Games.
In road cycling, there’s an individual time trial and a road race yet many of the countries that have already secured their presence in Rio decided to not invest in the European Games.
While you will not see any riders from Great Britain, Germany and Sweden lining up at the start, Holland, Italy and Belgium seem to be taking these races quite seriously. The latter three each bring talented squads to the Games.
In Dutch media, the Dutch cycling coach, Johan Lammerts, stated that he wants his athletes to approach this as a “dress rehearsal” for Rio.
Women’s Individual Time Trial
June 18th at 10 a.m. local time (AZST) / 3 p.m. AEST
The first of the road cycling competitions at the European Games, the women’s individual time trial will be held on a 25.8km-long course along Bilgah Beach.
Who to watch:
There are 29 confirmed starters, with Dutch TT-specialist Ellen van Dijk on top of the ranking and starting last. She is without a doubt the favourite to win this race although her compatriot Annemiek van Vleuten is expected to perform well also. Aside from the Dutch, Italy’s Tatiana Guderzo is considered a pre-race medal contender and the Belarusian rider Alena Amialiusik has been showing good form as part of the Velocio-SRAM squad.
Women’s Road Race
June 20th at noon local time (AZST) / 5 p.m. AEST
The road race, for both the women and men, is held around the city centre circuit of Baku, with the start and finish area taking place in Freedom Square.
The circuit race is the same course as used for the last stage of the Tour d’Azerbaidjan, and the women will complete a total of 120.7km.
Who to watch:
While many of cycling’s top riders are in Great Britain for the Aviva Women’s Tour, the road race at the European Games should be a good battle between the two biggest teams: the Dutch and Italians.
Although the rider list has not yet been published, it was previously announced that the Dutch will be taking an Olympic-quality squad consisting of: Chantal Blaak, Lucinda Brand, Anna van der Breggen, Ellen van Dijk, Annemiek van Vleuten and Amy Pieters. Notably missing is Olympic gold medalist and 12-time world champion Marianne Vos. Vos is currently sidelined with an injury and Pieters will take her place.
The Italians, too, are taking the European Games seriously bringing riders Elena Cecchini, Tatiana Guderzo, Rosella Ratto and Valentina Scandolara.
Other strong individuals to watch are: Polish rider Kasia Niewiadoma (Rabo Liv), who just won Bira last week, and Belarusian rider Alena Amialiusik (Velocio-SRAM).