The Dutch are the red-hot favorites for the women’s Olympic road race, but they won’t have it all their own way.
If Anna van der Breggen, Annemiek van Vleuten, Marianne Vos, and Demi Vollering want to make it a historic three-in-a-row for the orange nation, they will have to fend off a tough line-up of competitors.
While the men’s race Saturday is most certainly one for the climbers, the women’s event Sunday is a much more open and unpredictable affair.
Also read: Olympic road race: What you need to know
Two tough climbs will thin out the bunch, but they are not so difficult that fast finishers cannot overcome them, and the long lumpy run into the Fuji International Speedway will give ample opportunity for regrouping – though a solo win is definitely not out of the question.
With a maximum of four riders per team, and many more nations with fewer, the Olympic road race can be difficult to handle and a Dutch win is not a foregone conclusion.
Here are three teams that could upset the formbook and beat the Dutch, plus a few honorable mentions.
Marta Bastianelli, Marta Cavalli, Elisa Longo Borghini, Soraya Paladin
Elisa Longo Borghini scored Italy’s third medal in this event in Rio, finishing third behind Anna van der Breggen and Emma Johansson. The 29-year-old is the only member of the Azzurri squad from the Rio Olympic Games to return for Tokyo and she headlines a strong squad that is prepared for all eventualities.
Longo Borghini has been one of the most consistent riders throughout 2021 and the medium-mountain parcours should suit her well. However, one of her downfalls is her sprint finish and she will need to attack early if she wants any hope for gold.
Rising star Marta Cavalli all but ensures that Italy will have at least two cards to play when the race gets tough. Cavalli has stepped up another level this year and was the best of the rest behind SD Worx on the two summit finishes at the Giro d’Italia Donne.
Like Longo Borghini, she’s not afraid to ride aggressively and the two together could really be a thorn in the side of the Dutch.
Marta Bastianelli offers the team a quick finisher, if she is able to hang on over the tough middle section. Meanwhile, Soraya Paladin provides Italy a strong support rider and a potential wildcard to send up the road, should they want to.
Emma Norsgaard, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
Denmark failed to earn a berth in the Rio Olympics in 2016 but has secured two for this year’s event. Though the nation does not have the full complement of four, it has selected a powerful duo in Emma Norsgaard and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig that can really take it to the larger countries.
The pair used to be teammates back at Cervelo-Bigla and will have no worries about going all-in for the other, depending on how the race plays out. Uttrup Ludwig will be the favored rider for Denmark over the Tokyo course but if Norsgaard can hang on tight then she could be a real worry for the other contenders.
Uttrup Ludwig was forced to quit the Giro d’Italia Donne ahead of the eighth stage, due to an injury she picked up in a crash during the opening time trial. It was a big shame for the 25-year-old as she appeared to be in flying form when she beat Marianne Vos into second place at La Course.
With two weeks of recovery since then, Uttrup Ludwig should hopefully be back to full form and ready to mix it at the front. Like Longo Borghini and her trade teammate Cavalli for Italy, Uttrup Ludwig is not backward about going forward, and she’ll be ready to take the Dutch on with her usual aggressive flair.
Norsgaard will probably be more focused on the time trial Wednesday, but she can still play a big factor. She has been one of the most prolific sprinters this season as well as being a very strong team rider.
Grace Brown, Tiffany Cromwell, Sarah Gigante, Amanda Spratt
Australia’s road race line-up features a wealth of racing experience, which they will want to utilize to topple the Dutch. The nation also brings some youthful exuberance in the 20-year-old Sarah Gigante.
Gigante turned professional just last year but she has made an impact as one of the most promising young riders in the bunch. She’s been out of racing action since a serious crash at Flèche Wallonne but that time has been spent training hard and it will be interesting to see how the young Melbourne rider goes with a strong line-up around her.
Amanda Spratt is the only former Olympian in the line-up, having raced in London and Rio previously. The 33-year-old climber has had a disappointing 2021 season so far — which was really capped off with an unfortunate crash on stage 8 of the Giro d’Italia Donne — but she can never be counted out.
Grace Brown was also caught up in the same incident as Spratt, but both avoided any broken bones and have had some time to recover. Prior to the unfortunate fall, Brown had been on a good run of form that had featured a podium finish at the Tour of Flanders, a stage win at the Vuelta a Burgos, and fifth at La Course.
Tiffany Cromwell is, surprisingly, making her Olympics debut in Tokyo. While not a medal contender, she is a good road captain to have by on-side in an event that is as unpredictable as the Olympics road race.
The potential medal contenders are not limited to those above, so here are a few more that could rock the boat in Tokyo:
Great Britain: Lizzie Deignan, Anna Shackley
United States: Chloé Dygert, Coryn Rivera, Leah Thomas, Ruth Winder
South Africa: Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, Carla Oberholzer
Poland: Marta Lach, Katarzyna Niewiadoma, Anna Plichta