After a brief mountain bike interlude, the road racers return to center stage at the Olympic Games with the individual time trial.
The race against the clock is a pure test of rider and machine, and the competitors will have to leave everything on the road on Wednesday’s undulating course to take gold.
Both the men’s and women’s time trials will be held Wednesday (or Tuesday night if you’re in the United States) and the two fields will tackle the same course with the women taking on one lap, and the men two.
There is a decent amount of climbing between the riders and the finish line, but the ascents are not too steep and there are unlikely to be any bike switches along the way.
Fortunately for the riders, the risk of heavy rain shouldn’t impact the event but there will still be touch weather conditions to contend with. Temperatures are expected to rise to close to 90 degrees by mid-afternoon, just as the men set off, with high humidity and some strong wind gusts also predicted.
Neither of the defending champions from Rio — Kristin Armstrong and Fabian Cancellara — are competing in Tokyo, so new winners be crowned Wednesday.
Who will they be? Here are eight riders from the men’s and women’s time trial that will be gunning for gold.
Filippo Ganna (Italy)
Filippo Ganna has dominated the time trial discipline in recent years and will be the overwhelming favorite to take gold in the men’s event.
Unlike some of his rivals, he didn’t have to ride the road race due to a quirk in the selection rules, and he’s had plenty of time to prepare for this event.
He will also be representing Italy on the track in the team pursuit, the discipline he made his Olympic debut in at Rio 2016.
Ganna dominated the Giro d’Italia time trials, laying waste to those that went before him. He did falter slightly at the Italian national championships in June, where he could only manage fourth place, but he’s sure to be at his best Wednesday.
Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands)
After the Dutch miscue in the road race, Anna van der Breggen will want to get the women in orange a gold medal for their collection.
Van der Breggen took bronze in the time trial at the Rio Olympic Games, finishing third behind Kristin Armstrong and Olga Zabelinskaya.
She hasn’t lost an individual time trial since the 2019 Giro Rosa — when she finished second to Annemiek van Vleuten — and she comes into the event as a hot favorite as the reigning time trial world champion.
Her preparation was slightly disrupted by an overzealous official, who knocked her off her bike at the Fuji International Speedway when she went to recon the course Tuesday.
Thankfully for van der Breggen and the Dutch hopes, she avoided any injuries.
Rohan Dennis (Australia)
Like Ganna, Rohan Dennis did not ride in Saturday’s road race. Instead, he decided to skip the event in order to put his full focus on the time trial.
The decision left Australia one man down for the road race, but it will all be forgiven if he can bring home a medal Wednesday, especially if it is a gold one.
Trade teammates for most of the year, Dennis will be one of Ganna’s major competitors for the top honors in Tokyo. The pair have only ridden in the same time trial once this season at the Tour de Romandie when Dennis came out the victor as Ganna struggled to ninth on a bad day.
Dennis hasn’t raced since the Tour de Suisse in mid-June, but it shouldn’t be an issue for the 31-year-old.
In addition to Dennis, Australia has Richie Porte as another potential medal contender.
Chloé Dygert (United States)
Chloé Dygert’s path to the Olympic Games has been a bumpy one after she suffered a horrific crash at the world championships in 2019 when she looked on course to take victory. She has spent the last year recovering from the leg injury she sustained and building herself back to the rider she was before the incident.
The lengthy recovery process has meant Dygert has scarcely raced this season with Sunday’s Olympic road race just her second competitive ride of the year. Her first came at the national championships in June, where she destroyed the rest of the pack to take the title.
Dygert cracked earlier than many expected in the road race but it’s likely she was trying to save something for Wednesday, her best shot at taking a medal. If she is on form, she will be the overwhelming favorite for gold.
Dygert will also be representing the United States on the track in the team pursuit.
The United States has another opportunity for a medal in former world champion Amber Neben.
Wout van Aert (Belgium)
Wout van Aert has had an incredible summer and a medal in the time trial would be the cherry on an already very sweet cake.
The Belgian rider didn’t have the best build-up to the middle part of the season after having his appendix out but he has bounced back with a vengeance, taking the Belgian national road race title and winning three stages of the Tour de France. One of those stages was the final time trial, where he blew his competitors out of the water with a 21-second margin of victory.
His abilities as an all-rounder made him one of the favorites in the road race and he will be among them again in the time trial. His ride for second place behind Richard Carapaz in the road race was impressive, not least because he had to pull the chasing group almost by himself in the final kilometers.
The Belgian team has another big time trial hitter turning out Wednesday in Remco Evenepoel. The 21-year-old had a slightly disappointing road race but he can’t be counted out as a contender or a medal against the clock.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands)
Annemiek van Vleuten has had a rollercoaster few days after the high of thinking she had taken gold in the road race only to find out it was silver. She’s had time to absorb what went on over the weekend, and it’s full steam ahead for her time trial ambitions.
Van Vleuten took a different approach to the Olympic Games compared to some of her rivals, choosing to sit out much of the racing in June and July to focus on training. Her only appearance between May and the end of July was the national championships where she had a disappointing fourth place.
That’s all water under the bridge now and her performance in the time trial, despite the end result, shows that she’s in very strong form.
Winning gold in the Tokyo time trial would be the perfect opening of a new chapter in her Olympic journey after the rollercoaster of the last two road races. She just has to get past her own teammate and some very strong competitors.
Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands)
It has been a highly unusual year for Tom Dumoulin after he decided to take a sabbatical at the start of the year. A visit to his home race, the Amstel Gold Race, rekindled his desire for competition and he was able to earn a berth in the Dutch Olympic team.
He’s had just 11 race days since he returned to action at the Tour de Suisse, but he’s shown some promising results, particularly with his victory in the national championships.
The time trial will be about more than just Dumoulin’s result, but it could define his next steps and whether he continues as a professional cyclist or not.
He faces a tough battle to beat the likes of Ganna, Dennis, and van Aert but it is not an impossible one.
Marlen Reusser (Switzerland)
While she often doesn’t get the same hype as some of her rivals, Marlen Reusser has made a name for herself in recent years as one of the strongest time trialists in the peloton.
The Swiss rider took an impressive second place behind Anna van der Breggen in the time trial at the world championships last year and a bronze in the Europeans a few months earlier.
Her 2020 has been disrupted through illness and injury but she has plucked some good results out of it, including a commanding national time trial victory in June. She also helped her team to third, behind Trek-Segafredo and SD Worx, in the Giro d’Italia Donne time trial.
She rode a quiet road race Sunday as she conserved her energy for the time trial, and could well be in contention for a medal spot.