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From Alejandro Valverde to Wout van Aert: We ranked 70 favorites for the 2021 Olympics men’s road race

There are only a few five-star favorites for the 2021 men's Olympic road race. We ranked 68 riders for Saturday's event.

The racecourse for the 2021 men’s Olympic road race is a brute.

The route packs nearly 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) of total climbing across 234 kilometers (145 miles) of distance, and the whole thing will take place amid sweltering temperatures in the shadow of Mt. Fuji. Two steep climbs fall inside the final 35 kilometers of racing, and the route ends with a fast and furious descent and then chase to the line.

It’s a course that values climbing legs, endurance, and all-around strength, so choosing a winner presents a challenge. A pure climber may get away on the ascent up Mikuni Pass, only to be chased down in the 22-kilometer downhill by a small group, and then lose the sprint for gold. A rouleur may have the punch to win, but he could be dropped on the tough climbs. Whoever wins gold is likely going to have to climb, chase, and sprint for the win.

Below, we’ve ranked 70 riders into star categories (5-1 stars), based on their overall strengths on the course, the predicted roles they will play on their respective teams, and a few other qualities. Disagree with our ranking? Email us at mailbag@velonews.com.

Five stars *****

Pogačar has the climbing legs and the punch to win. Photo: Luca Bettini – Pool/Getty Images

Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia)

Primož Roglič (Slovenia)

Wout van Aert (Belgium)

Richard Carapaz (Ecuador)

There are only four riders with five-star ratings, and two of them are from Slovenia. That’s right, on paper Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič have the well-rounded skills to climb, chase, sprint, and win this race. Despite his comparatively weak team, Richard Carapaz is also on this list, due to his recent heroics at the Tour de France and last year’s run at the Vuelta a España. The final member of the five-star rating is Wout van Aert. Why is Wout on this list? As we learned at the recent Tour de France, you can never count Wout van Aert out on any course, be it a flat, climbing, or punchy route. While van Aert is more than a few watts behind the other three on the climbs, he’s likely the strongest all-around rider in the entire field.

Four stars ****

Adam Yates (Great Britain)

Marc Hirschi (Switzerland)

Michael Woods (Canada)

Alejandro Valverde (Spain)

Bauke Mollema (The Netherlands)

Vincenzo Nibali (Italy)

Nairo Quintana (Colombia)

Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark)

There are multiple riders in the four-star category who could win — they’re just not on the same level as Pogačar and the other five-star favorites. Marc Hirschi and Michael Woods both have the climbing legs and the kick on the flats to win this race. Vincenzo Nibali, Jakob Fuglsang, and Alejandro Valverde have the tactical savvy, the ability on climbs, and the proven resume in races of this distance. Nairo Quintana and Adam Yates are the pure climbers who could get away on the Mikuni Pass and mount a climber raid. And Bauke Mollema has all of the above strengths, matched with one of the strongest all-around teams in the race.

Three stars ***

Greg van Avermaet is the defending Olympic champion. This course may not suit Golden Greg’s abilities. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

David Gaudu (France)

Greg van Avermaet (Belgium)

Remco Evenepoel (Belgium)

Guillaume Martin (France)

Ion Izagirre (Spain)

Simon Yates (Great Britain)

Damiano Caruso (Italy)

Wilco Kelderman (The Netherlands)

Esteban Chaves (Colombia)

Rigoberto Urán (Colombia)

Richie Porte (Australia)

Max Schachmann (Germany)

João Almeida (Portugal)

Dan Martin (Ireland)

Pavel Sivakov (Russia)

Michał Kwiatkowski (Poland)

George Bennett (New Zealand)

Aleksandr Vlasov (Russia)

Alexey Lutsenko (Kazakhstan) 

There’s only a slim difference between many of the three-star favorites and the four-star category, and many of these riders have the same skills as those listed in previous categories. Recent performances, plus each rider’s spot on the team, is what we used to separate those two lists. For example: Greg Van Avermaet is the defending Olympic champion and a skilled rider at this distance. But Golden Greg hasn’t been climbing as well as he did in 2016, and there’s a good chance that the final long climb is just a tad too long for him. Similarly, Wilco Kelderman, Damiano Caruso, Esteban Chaves, and Simon Yates are all world-class climbers. But they may be called on to support their teammates in the finale of the race. Other riders in this category include ones who excel at one or two — but not all three — of the areas that this course requires. David Gaudu and Guillaume Martin are superb climbers, but they may lack the punch to win from a diminished group. Team strength is another factor — one that could make or break the race for João Almeida, Aleksandr Vlasov, George Bennett, and Dan Martin.

Two stars **

Giulio Ciccone in the break at the 2021 Tour de la Provence
Giulio Ciccone has the skills to thrive on the Tokyo course, but he may be called upon to work for Vincenzo Nibali. Photo: James Startt

Tiesj Benoot (Belgium)

Jan Polanc (Slovenia)

Jesus Herrada (Spain)

Geraint Thomas (Great Britain)

Giulio Ciccone (Italy)

Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands)

Sergio Higuita (Colombia)

Lucas Hamilton (Australia)

Kasper Asgreen (Denmark)

Emanuel Buchmann (Germany)

Gino Mäder (Switzerland)

Jhonatan Narváez (Ecuador)

Ilnur Zakarin (Russia)

Tobias Foss (Norway)

Rafał Majka (Poland)

Patrick Konrad (Austria)

Brandon McNulty (United States of America)

Toms Skujins (Latvia)

Merhawi Kudus (Eritrea)

Benoit Cosnefroy (France)

There are oh so many riders who could win this race if the situation goes absolutely perfect for them. If a breakaway containing these riders gets too far up the road, any one of them could win. If there’s a crash, bad weather, a crazy split in the peloton, or other racing dynamics at play, these riders have the all-around skills to win. That said, they’re not the top favorites on this course at this distance, due to a variety of factors including their perceived roles on their respective teams.

One star *

Valgren was an important member of Denmark’s world championships team in 2020 and 2019. Photo: Alex Whitehead – Pool/Getty Images

Mauri Vansevenant (Belgium)

Jan Tratnik (Slovenia)

Kenny Elissonde (France)

Omar Fraile (Spain)

Tao Geoghegan Hart (Great Britain)

Alberto Bettiol (Italy)

Dylan van Baarle (The Netherlands)

Michael Valgren (Denmark)

Lawson Craddock (United States of America)

Michel Ries (Luxembourg)

Nelson Oliveira (Portugal)

Nicolas Roche (Ireland)

Hugo Houle (Canada)

Zdeněk Štybar (Czech Republic)

Tanel Kangert (Estonia)

Krists Neilands (Latvia)

Attila Valter (Hungary)

Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (Eritrea)

Andrey Amador (Costa Rica)

No shame in being a one-star favorite in this race. These riders are all legit contenders, and similar to the previous category, they could sneak away for the win if the racing dynamics play out perfectly.