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Olympics

Olympic road race: What you need to know

Here's your guide for this weekend's Olympic road races.

DATE: Saturday, July 24 — men’s race; Sunday, July 25 — women’s race.

VENUE: Musashinonomori Park on the western outskirts of Tokyo

MEN’S COURSE: The men’s and women’s courses start with the same flat and fast 40km trip through Tokyo’s outskirts before taking in the climb up Doushi Road and Kagosaka Pass. After a short descent, the men’s race takes in the mountainous Mount Fuji loop. First up is the Fuji Sanroku climb, which is 14.3km at 6 percent. Then after the descent to the Mt. Fuji International Speedway, the peloton hits a series of hills before climbing the Mikuni Pass. The 6.5km climb averages 10.6 percent, with ramps nearly 20 percent. After topping out at Kagosaka Pass, there is a fast descent and a final 10km rolling section to the finish at the raceway. The full route is 234km in length.

NORTH AMERICAN MEN: Lawson Craddock, Brandon McNulty, Mike Woods, Hugo Houle, Guillaume Boivin

Lawson Craddock at the 2021 USPRO Men’s road race, Knoxville, Tenn.
Lawson Craddock at the 2021 USPRO men’s road race in Knoxville, Tennessee. Photo: Casey B. Gibson

FAVORITES MEN: Explosive climbers who can also survive a chase to the finish should do well on the course. Tadej Pogacar, Egan Bernal, Michael Hirschi, and Mike Woods belong on the list, but keep an eye on Wout van Aert and the ageless Alejandro Valverde.

WOMEN’S COURSE: The 137km women’s route may lack the bite of the Mt. Fuji climb, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the challenging elements of an action-packed race.

“It’s a hard course,” said Team USA’s Coryn Rivera. “We don’t’ go up Mt. Fuji but we will do 2,600 meters of climbing and that’s a lot. The weather conditions will also prove to be a big factor. For the first 60km it trends slightly uphill at an average of three percent, but it’s kind-of these groups of climbs that keep going up cumulatively. Eventually, there’s a big plateau on top and then one more climb before you descend into the speedway.”

The women’s race will likely favor an all-rounder, rather than a pure climber. At its conclusion, riders will circle the speedway’s lap 1.5 times before the likely sprint in front of the grandstands.

NORTH AMERICAN WOMEN: Ruth Winder, Chloe Dygert, Coryn Rivera, Leah Thomas, Leah Kirchmann, Karol-Ann Canuel

FAVORITES WOMEN: Anna van der Breggen is in a perfect position to repeat her 2016 win, and her teammates Annemiek van Vleuten, Demi Vollering, and Marianne Vos are all contenders as well. Keep an eye on U.S. rider Ruth Winder as a wildcard.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: In the men’s race, watch for fireworks on the ascent of Mikuni Pass, and then additional attacks up and over Kagosaka Pass. Riders may try to go solo, or in small groups, after that final climb. But there’s still 18km of descending and flats to the finish, to the finish, setting up a likely cat-and-mouse chase all the way to the line. Our bet is on a top climber who also has a punchy finish taking the gold. But even a classics-style rider like Wout van Aert could be strongest, should the chase be motivated.

In the women’s event, look for the Dutch team to control the peloton, to either spring Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen for solo attacks, or to set up Marianne Vos for a sprint. Riders may try to attack up and over Kagosaka Pass, but there are still 37km remaining to the finish. Likely the race will be one of attrition, with the winning move being made on the hilly auto circuit, or a small group sprinting for the win.

Annemiek van Vleuten has chosen to train at altitude in preparation for the Olympic Games
Annemiek van Vleuten has chosen to train at altitude in preparation for the Olympic Games Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

WHO HAS THE ADVANTAGE: It’s impossible not to bet on the Dutch in the women’s race, as The Netherlands has the best climber (Annemiek van Vleuten), the most accomplished sprinter (Marianne Vos), and the top all-arounder (Anna van der Breggen). The women’s course will suit an all-around rider who can climb, time trial, and also sprint, as the event is likely to be decided by a small group coming to the line. Which riders are in that group, however, will be decided on race day.

In the men’s race, Colombia has a natural advantage with its lineup of strong climbers like Egan Bernal, Nairo Quintana, and Miguel Angel Lopez. Belgium is similarly strong, with Wout van Aert and Remco Evenepoel. But team Great Britain is likely to be in the mix as well, with Adam Yates and Simon Yates, as well as Geraint Thomas. And don’t sleep on Slovenia, with Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar.