RIO DE JANEIRO (VN) — It’s an honest course for the race of truth, and there will be no hiding in the Olympics time trial. The difficult Rio routes utilize a hilly Grumari circuit from the road race and will produce worthy, well-rounded, highly-skilled winners.
“It’s a wild time trial course,” said U.S. hopeful Evelyn Stevens. “It’s got everything.”
“Everything” includes two tough climbs per lap, technical descents, and few flat or straight sections. The Grumari climb is 1.3km long at 9.3% and the Grota Funda climb is 2.1km at 6.8%. There is a series of smaller bumps before Grumari that will sap the legs. Women race around the circuit once, totaling 28.8km, and men will lap it twice, racing for 54.5km.
Grumari’s cobbles, at least, have been removed for the time trial. Riders will skirt the section on a 10-foot-wide paved path.
In keeping with the difficulty of Rio’s road races, the TT is a physical and technical test far more difficult than anything in recent Olympic history. Pacing and handling skills will be crucial, just as much as outright power.
And if the course itself is not enough, the weather forecast is calling for showers on Wednesday, which would turn the tricky descents even more treacherous.
So, who will win?
Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen’s gold in the road race puts her at the top of the favorites list. She was second at the world championships last year and is clearly on flying form. She would become the second woman in Olympic history to win gold in both the TT and road race in the same Games. Leontien van Moorsel pulled off this feat at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Kristin Armstrong showed phenomenal form in the women’s road race, riding “like an entire team in one,” teammate Mara Abbott said. The defending gold medalist has been focused on this race all year, and the course suits her well. She also pulled out of the road race after dropping her teammates off at the base of the final climb to help conserve for her TT effort.
“I want a third gold medal,” Armstrong said on Tuesday. “I left the sport on top, twice now, and something keeps driving me back.
“I really like this course. I like the undulations, I like the challenges, I like the variability.”
Armstrong’s American teammate Evelyn Stevens won a tough Giro Rosa time trial to seal second overall in the premier grand tour and is the current hour record holder. Her form was good on Sunday, and she crested the top of Chinesa Vista with a group of favorites.
Stevens got the post-hour record fitness bump she was hoping for, her coach Neal Henderson said. He also cautioned not to base Stevens’s chances off a poor U.S. nationals time trial. “She did her Euro spring season with no time trial bike, and then California had a TTT on road bikes, so she had hardly been on the time trial bike at all. That makes a huge difference. You can’t do everything,” he said.
Henderson pointed to Linda Villumsen (New Zealand) as a rider with rising form. But the reigning world champion is an unknown, with few results since her victory in Richmond.
Ellen van Dijk, van der Breggen’s Dutch teammate and a world champion in the TT in 2013, also showed incredible form early in the road race, jumping into an early move that Armstrong eventually bridged across to. The climbs shouldn’t be too long for her; she recently won a hilly time trial at Thuringen Rundfahrt.
Other podium contenders include Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini, bronze in the road race, and Germany’s Lisa Brennauer.
The men’s race is long. The climbs slow things down a bit, so the fastest times are expected to approach 80 minutes. That’s at least 20-30 minutes longer than any recent WorldTour time trial. And with two laps of the Grumari circuit, climbing and descending skill will be paramount.
A thoroughly unscientific poll of riders and directors at the start of the men’s road race suggests Dutchman Tom Dumoulin is the hot favorite. The course’s mix of climbing and rolling power sections suit his style, and he’s prepared specifically for this event. He pulled out of the road race in its first half hour, so he’s fresh.
On paper, Chris Froome is Dumoulin’s toughest challenger. He took bronze in London and, of course, he can climb. He proved he’s not scared of descending on the Peyresourde in July. But he seemed to be missing an edge to his fitness in Saturday’s road race. Perhaps the Tour took more out of him than he expected.
Fabian Cancellara hasn’t seen his old time trial form in some time, but he was climbing well in the road race and surely gains extra motivation from his final season and final Olympics.
Froome pointed to Dumoulin as the favorite, but warned of Cancellara’s form as well. “The other guy who I thought showed well on Saturday was Fabian Cancellara. We could see him back to his TTing best,” Froome said.
Question marks remain over Tony Martin, who also hasn’t seen his old TT form in some time. Belorussian Vasil Kiryienka, the reigning world time trial champion, can never be discounted. He showed at the Tour that he’s climbing well. Australian’s Rohan Dennis is well-suited to this particular course also.
Then there’s Taylor Phinney. The American was fourth in London (twice, actually) and has had a laser focus on this time trial for months. He pulled out of the road race before the final climb with the time trial in mind.
Our darkhorse pick? Primoz Roglic of Slovenia, who shocked the Giro d’Italia’s heavy hitters with a tough TT, technical TT win in May.