Some of cycling’s biggest stars like what they see for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic road race.
Taking advantage of a trip to the Saitama Critérium over the weekend, big hitters such as Chris Froome and Jakob Fuglsang rode part of the elite men’s course that will be the battleground for the gold medal next summer.
The verdict? Harder than it even looks on paper.
“I really liked it,” Fuglsang told the Spanish daily MARCA. “Only a climber could win it. It’s going to be my big objective next year, ahead of any grand tour or other race. It’s good for me.”
The climb-heavy route set for Tokyo means that some of the top grand tour riders will have good chances to win on what will be a very selective race.
Up to now, many Olympic road courses have been similar in design and difficulty as the world championship races, typically held on undulating terrain, ideally on circuit courses for fast finishers who can win out of a select group.
When it was unveiled last year, many were surprised at how challenging the route appears to be. At 244km, with nearly 5,000 vertical meters of climbing, including sectors along Mount Fuji, the route tilts in favor of climbers.
That’s good news for riders like Froome, who usually stand no chance to win a one-day race. Tokyo could be different, and he knows it.
Froome, Michal Kwiatkowski, Fulgsang and France’s Romain Bardet rode part of the course in an inspection ride last week as part of their trip to Japan. Froome posted a photograph on Instagram showing the four heading out for a ride as heavy rain lashed down on the quartet.
All four could have good chances on the course. Froome has twice been an Olympic medalist — bronze in 2012 and in 2016 — but both of those came against the clock.
“I really liked it, and it will be one of the top objectives of the season,” Froome told MARCA. “The top goal will be the Tour, but I believe that you can arrive in good condition for the Olympics. It could be my last big chance to win the gold on the road.”
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Next year, the Tour de France is being held a week earlier on the calendar to make room for the Olympic Games. The road race is one of the first events to open the Olympics, with the men’s race is July 25, set for a week after the Tour concludes in Paris on July 19.
That quick turn-around will be more difficult for riders like Froome, who will be targeting the yellow jersey. Other riders, like Fuglsang — a silver medalist on the equally challenging Rio de Janeiro course in 2016 — or 2018 world champion Alejandro Valverde, will adjust their calendars accordingly. The Olympics is a one-off opportunity for life-changing success.
Speaking earlier this season about the Olympic course, Valverde also expressed optimism that such a difficult course will mean a selective race.
“The route is very hard, one that could suit me,” Valverde said. “We have a big objective next year, and that’s the Olympic Games. It’s going to be one of the top goals for me next year. The Olympics are going to favor a rider like myself.”
The Olympics are still months away, but it’s clearly already bubbling onto the radars of many of the peloton’s top stars.