Whereas Olympic host cities often struggle to create a testing affair for the road race, 2016’s Rio Olympics have put together the toughest course in living memory to crown one of the first gold medal champions of this year’s games. The course snakes a total of 237.5km, starting and finishing at Avenida Atlantica, though much of the racing will comprise laps of the Grumari circuit and then the tougher Canoas Vista Chinesa climb which concludes the day’s racing before heading back to the coast. To emerge victorious from this gruelling affair will carry immense respect from within the peloton, one of the few races this year which can rival a monuments victory upon a rider’s palmarès.
Alexis Vuillermoz and Romain Bardet finished first and third in this year’s test event, no doubt entering today’s race with a great amount of confidence to repeat their success when it matters most. The possibility of a long-range attack making it to the line will appeal greatly to Vuillermoz, the AG2R rider well experienced in performing upon rolling terrain such as this. Bardet on the other hand is more likely to bide his time, poised to make a move on the final laps of the race with a focus upon the steepest gradients of the race. Julian Alaphilippe continually performs beyond expectation and will look to cause another upset today by striking out late to take the win as part of a small move or solo breakaway.
Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez have experienced a fractious relationship since their combined failing to win 2013’s World Championship Road Race for Spain; resolving such issues today could deliver gold for their nation. Valverde is the favourite for many here, renowned for his ability to stick with the strongest climbers and then descend like a stone, making him a clear favourite to attack over the top of the final climb in an attempt to steal the win during the downhill run to the line. Rodriguez concluded this year’s Tour de France in good condition, though it will be uncertain as to whether or not he will have managed to retain this form heading into the Olympic road race.
Chris Froome is taking much of the attention in regards to Great Britain’s chances of taking a medal here, but it will take a very hard race on the steepest sections to bring the Sky captain to the fore today. Instead, attention might well be better placed upon Adam Yates, arriving here in the scintillating form which secured him the first ever white jersey for a British rider at Le Tour de France. While Yates will be looking to follow the wheels of the day’s big names, teammates Stephen Cummings and Geraint Thomas might well choose to attack late on the climbs in pursuit of a medal placing.
Esteban Chaves, Sergio Henao, Rigoberto Uran and Jarlinson Pantano provide an embarrassment of riches for Colombia during 2016’s Olympic road race. Chaves may not have raced competitively for sometime, though shall be extremely motivated to perform on terrain which plays to his love of attritional days featuring plenty of steep gradients. Henao has looked strong throughout 2016 and will be eager to cash in on a year of great condition, though of little success. Uran and Pantano offer great alternatives in the shape of two talented riders who know how best to contest a breakaway move in order to make it to the line first.
Wout Poels has enjoyed a spectacular season thus far, emerging as an indomitable lieutenant in the highest of mountains for Chris Froome, while also collecting a monuments victory in the shape of Liége-Bastogne-Liége during the spring. He will be the strongest card to play for a Dutch team also featuring Bauke Mollema, Steven Kruijswijk and Tom Dumoulin, providing Poels with a greater degree of protection than other big names here. Poels’ aggression is often disguised by his duties within Team Sky, but when offered the chance, he is an incredibly strong rider who could prove impossible to reel back in once the peloton has been reduced to its bare bones here.
Vincenzo Nibali still has what it takes to win gold despite a disappointing Tour de France last month, though one which did finish with a stronger third week for the Italian rider. Nibali often performs well on attritional courses such as these and the final downhill run to the line will have caught his eye as the ideal opportunity to attack over the final summit, then descend aggressively to the line in an attempt to arrive solo. Teammate Fabio Aru will be a strong auxiliary option if Nibali finds himself too tightly marked to attack successfully, Aru favours these inclines and will appreciate an aggressive race on the harder sections.
Dan Martin has established a strong reputation for peaking specifically for one-day races and will be eager to perform upon a course which plays to his strengths. This year’s Tour de France demonstrated a greater level of consistency throughout the mountains than we had ever seen before from the Irishman, something he achieved without lessening his attacking style. He tried on several occasions to secure a stage win at Le Tour, but with Team Sky’s chokehold on the general classification diminishing any freedom, Martin never succeed in maintaining a gap. With no general classification or finishing times to worry about today, the race for gold will be a much more open affair and this will suit Martin well.
For those riding as part of small teams or even on their own, there shall be no other option than to ride aggressively and attack the race, as attempting to control the day’s proceedings will be impossible. Tim Wellens, Rafal Majka, Jakob Fuglsang, Rui Costa, Ramunas Navardauskas and Andrey Amador are all expected to animate affairs at some point; riders lacking teammates who will be happy to cooperate in order to improve their chances of winning.
1st Romain Bardet 2nd Vincenzo Nibali 3rd Dan Martin