Reports of a mandatory 14-day quarantine in Tokyo ahead of competing at the Games means those that were hoping to ride either the Tour or the Giro Rosa before jetting to Japan are now left a tricky quandary. Challenge in the sport’s marquee stage race, or take a rare opportunity for success under the global spotlight of the Games?
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The decision may not be all a personal choice, however. It’s a rider’s team that pays the bills, not their national federations. And those employers will want their best to be at the big-bucks grande boucle.
Jim Cotton: Allez en France
A genuine chance at an Olympic medal represents a near-once in a lifetime opportunity for many riders. While a racer’s career may span three or four Olympic cycles, the courses laid on by the Games’ organizers may not always suit any given rider. Unfortunately this year, the mountainous Toyko road race is right in the ballpark of aggressive climbers like Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar – those that will also want to be on the top step in Paris.
However, for a rider like Roglič, his chances of winning the yellow jersey at the head of an all-powerful Jumbo-Visma team, or injury permitting, Egan Bernal at the top of Ineos Grenadiers, are far higher than the one-day gamble in the national jersey at the Games. For me, the choice is obvious.
Besides that, riders like Bernal, Roglič, and Pogačar will most likely not even have the luxury of choice. The guys that fund their substantial pay packets will want them at the Tour, where TV time is golden and sponsor interest is sky-high. Although Pogačar et al may be sporting superstars, they’re also employees with bills to pay and families to feed.
The really tricky situation is for those that couldn’t win the Tour’s GC, but have strong chances in Tokyo.
These are also the exact kind of guys who can win Tour de France stages – something highly treasured by teams of all budgets and profiles. The likes of Marc Hirschi, Julian Alaphilippe, and Michael Woods are going to be having some cringe-worthy conversations when race schedules are set this winter. For someone yet to win a stage at the Tour, a trip to France could be tempting. However, given the choice between another Tour stage or Olympic gold …. cue some awkward team meetings.
Andrew Hood: Go for the Games
It’s an unfortunate quandary for riders and teams. On the men’s side, if you’re a GC rider, the Tour will have to take priority. The Olympics are big, but the yellow jersey is what truly carries the weight in the peloton.
The decision won’t entirely be made by riders. Teams are the ones that pay the wages, so if a team is forking out millions of dollars to win the Tour, that’s where a rider will end up.
When it comes down to it, there are only about a half-d0zen riders who truly face this Olympic-sized pickle. For anyone else, if a rider has a choice between missing the Tour or the Giro Rosa, and a shot at winning Olympic gold, go for the latter. Since the Olympics have allowed pro riders to race starting in 1996, the power and allure of the gold medal has grown. Just ask Paolo Bettini or Greg Van Avermaet how much it meant to their careers. An Olympic medal pushes an athlete into the headlines in their respective countries and can elevate a cyclist into the mainstream much more so than most individual races.
Unfortunately, the climb-heavy Olympics course fits the same profile of Tour-caliber riders. It’s a tough choice to make. Julian Alaphilippe has more chances to strike gold than to win yellow. Go for the gold; the Tour will always be waiting.