Tom McQuillanComment

Olympic preview - Men’s time trial

Tom McQuillanComment
Olympic preview - Men’s time trial

The Course

The time trial course facing the men at this year’s Olympics comprises laps of the 27km Grumari circuit used in both the men’s and women’s road race - two laps for the men and one for the women. The women will face the The course is largely flat, with the exception of two climbs: the first being the 1km ascent of Grumari at an average gradient of 9%, and the second a gentler 2.3km climb called Grota Funda at around 6%.

Image 1 - Author's own via Strava.png

A quick glance at Strava shows that the first climb should take riders around 3 minutes and the second climb around 5 minutes, so although they’ll be tackled twice each, the climbing will still make up less than a quarter of the time riders will be out on the road. The rest of the time riders will need to focus on the basics of good time trialling - smooth transition of power to the road, good bike handling skills and maintaining an aerodynamically efficient position on their machine.

The favourites

In the absence of London time trial gold medallist Sir Bradley Wiggins (who has returned to the track at this Olympics), the highest place finisher from four years ago is Germany’s Tony Martin. He won the time trial world championship three times on the trot from 2011-2013, and wore the yellow jersey at the Tour de France in 2015.

Had this competition been held a few years ago Martin would have been an absolutely unbackable favourite, such was his dominance of the field of time trialling at the time - due to an extremely aerodynamic position on the bike and an ability to push a much bigger gear than his rivals.

However, since then the German has come back to field somewhat, and despite retaining the German time trial championship in late June this year, he was well off the pace at the lumpy long time trial at this year’s Tour de France a couple of weeks later.

The hilly nature of the Rio course means that reigning Tour de France champion Chris Froome of Great Britain is the bookies’ favourite for gold. Froome took the bronze medal at the last Olympic time trial, and each of his three Tour de France victories since then have been built on his strength against the watch. In this year’s Tour alone Froome gained more time over second-placed Romain Bardet than his final margin of victory - Froome was 4:40 faster in the race’s two TTs than Bardet, but only beat the Frenchman by 4:05 overall. The inclusion of the two climbs of Grumari and Grota Funda (done twice each) will suit Froome’s lighter build and superior ability as a climber, and his recent Tour success was partly built on surprisingly good bike handling skills while descending.

For most of this year the Netherlands’ Tom Dumoulin has been the man to beat in time trialling. The Dutchman won a stage of the Giro d’Italia and two stages at the Tour de France, including beating Froome by over a minute in the race’s long time trial. After such a dominant win the ‘Butterfly of Maastricht’ was an almost unbackable favourite to win gold in Rio, but he fractured the radius and wrist in his left forearm in a crash on stage 19 and has been fighting to regain his fitness ever since. He was required to start the Olympic road race on Saturday in order to be eligible for the time trial, but abandoned within the first few kilometres in order to stay fresh for the TT. How Dumoulin performs will be almost certainly come down to how well he’s recovered from his injuries, as he’s more than capable of winning gold if he’s fighting fit.

At over 50km in length, the Olympic time trial is much longer than most other races on the calendar - only the world championship TT is of a similar length. With that in mind, current time trial world champion Vasil Kiryienka of Belarus is a man who can’t be discounted. The Belarusian automaton can usually be seen controlling breakaways for Team Sky, and is so good at grinding away an incessant pace that rival team Francaise des Jeux named a scooter they use for motor-pacing sessions after him, with the logic being that sitting behind a scooter trying to keep up is exactly the same as trying to keep up with Kiryienka! A good chance to snare a medal, though gold might be a stretch.

The Olympics are often a great venue for athletes to call time on their illustrious careers, and none of the riders retiring in 2016 has had a career more illustrious than Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara. The man nicknamed ‘Spartacus’ won gold in the time trial at the Beijing games in 2008, and was one of the favourites for gold in London before a crash in the road race scuppered his chances. Cancellara has been one of the dominant riders of the last decade in time trials and one-day races, but his form has been waning in the last 18 months in particular, so gold seems out of reach.

If we have to pick a smokey for a medal here, it’s Spain’s Ion Izagirre. The Movistar rider is on great form after a victory in the Spanish national time trial championships a month ago, and in recent years has excelled in races featuring hillier TTs, culminating in a victory on a mountainous stage of this year’s Tour de Suisse. The Basque rider’s form improved all through the recent Tour de France, placing in the top 10 in both time trials before he took the biggest win of his career on the penultimate stage thanks to some daredevil descending on a rain-soaked Col de Joux Plane. He’s in great form, has produced great results in the past and is a fantastic bike handler in the wet, which could be a significant factor if it rains (as is currently forecast).

The Aussies

The Australian Olympic Committee qualified two riders to start the Olympic time trial, but after Richie Porte crashed during the road race and fractured his shoulder, only Rohan Dennis will take the start in Rio. The South Australian has become one of the world’s foremost time triallists in the past couple of years, and took the yellow jersey on the opening day of the 2015 Tour de France at an average speed of 55.446 km/h - the fastest time trial ever seen at the Tour.

This year he still managed a top 5 placing in the long time trial at the Tour, but the fact he finished more than 30 seconds behind Chris Froome and more than 1:40 behind Tom Dumoulin will concern him. Could sneak a bronze.

Our medal predictions - Men’s time trial

Gold - Chris Froome (Great Britain)

Silver - Vasil Kiryienka (Belarus)

Bronze - Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands)