With Foxtel providing live coverage of the men’s Olympic road race starting at 6:50pm on channel 185, I thought that I’d give you 5 riders to watch out for that haven’t been mentioned (much), to date. The first four are arguably the top classics riders turning a pedal today, and the last one is a very quick sprinter who hasn’t warranted any mention, but can challenge the likes of Cav, Greipel and Goss on his day.
One important thing to be wary of is that each team is limited to 5 riders, making the race harder to control and potentially favouring the strong and aggressive classic-type riders who can make the race too hard for the pure sprinters (even accounting for the comparatively – and disappointingly – easy course).
Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)
Arguably the greatest time trialist ever, 4 time world time trial champion fabulous Fabian is also one of the great classics riders of this generation. If Fabian can get a gap on the peloton, he’s proven that he can time trial his way to victory from 40km out, as shown in his emphatic victory in the 2010 Paris-Roubaix. This victory was the following week after he blew away the great Tom Boonen on the cobbles in the 2010 Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).
Although not being in the best of form in 2012 due to an injury that ruined his 2012 Spring Classics campaign, the peloton will be wary of Cancellara getting any sort of a gap and never being seen again.
Cancellara can also put in a mean sprint, including blowing the peloton away in the last 2km. The below clip from the 2007 Tour de France shows Cancellara’s raw power, as he rides off the front of the flying peloton in the last 2km to overtake the break away and take the stage win against the top riders in the world.
Just don’t steal his blanket, that makes Fabian…angry. And the peloton won’t like an angry Fabian.
Cancellara left the Tour de France early to be with his wife for the birth of his child. This will have no doubt impacted on his potential form, but don’t expect Cancellara to sit back and wait for a bunch sprint. It was Cancellara that heroically rode down the lead group last year (including towing Matt Rogers), to steal a bronze medal in the road race from Andy Schleck.
Tom Boonen (Belgium)
Tom “Tommeke” Boonen is the other great cobbles classic rider of this generation, along with Cancellara. Tornado Tom showed he can out-Cancellara Cancellara in his victory in this year’s Paris-Roubaix, riding around 50km solo to record an emphatic win to add to his already unbelievable palmares.
Boonen can also sprint, and was considered one of the top sprinters a few years back. Boonen showed his sprinting pedigree by winning the Green jersey in the 2007 TdF. From a small bunch sprint, Boonen is still deadly, and is one of the real danger riders in the race. To top is off, Boonen also has a super strong Belgian team to back him up, with all being tough classics type riders.
Despite having shown a predilection for partying (too) hard and class A drugs in the past, Boonen is now apparently reformed, and is a very dangerous rider. Although, he has not shown any form since Paris-Roubaix, expect Boonen to be very motivated.
Phil Gilbert (Belgium)
Gilbert won most of the classics he entered in last year, in one of the most dominating displays ever seen on his way to winning the 2012 Velo d’Or as the year’s best rider. Gilbert is most at home in the hills, and has a devastating acceleration that few can follow. Although normally attacking in the hills, last year’s San Sebastian saw Gilbert attacking on the flat in the last 20km to secure his victory.
Gilbert isn’t the best rider once he gets a gap and the group behind puts in a committed chase, but if he gets away in the last 15km or so then it is unlikely he will be seen again. Gilbert also has a handy sprint, and can win from small groups.
Gilbert hasn’t been in great form in 2012, failing to win a single race in stark contrast to 2011, where he won nearly every race he targeted. However, the Olympics and Worlds are the big targets for Gilbert this year, so to underestimate him would be silly.
Alejandro Valverde (Spain)
A hilly classics rider, stage racer and GT contender, Valverde is returning from a 2 year suspension for doping this year, a carry over from Operation Puerto. After showing great form early in the season, Valverde has tapered off recently, but seemed to be riding into form in the Tour de France, including getting a stage win from a long breakaway in a mountain stage.
Valverde has a very quick sprint, and has won Vuelta stages from mass sprints. Look for Valverde to aim at a sprint from a small group, where all the pure sprinters are way back.
Yauheni Hutarovich (Belarus)
Unlike the previous 4 riders, Hutarovich is a pure sprinter, and is seemingly allergic to any road that goes slightly upwards. However, he is also extremely quick, and has shown potential in the past which he hasn’t quite lived up to. After a disappointing Tour de France which was disrupted by illness, the Olympics road race could be his chance to live up to his potential.
Hutarovich will be hoping for a large bunch sprint, which would require riders like the above 4 being well controlled by the peloton.