The Rio Olympics get underway this weekend, and one of the first marquee events is also one of the most compelling. The men's cycling road race takes place on Saturday. It's always an interesting event because of the timing - the best cyclists in the world just finished the Tour de France a couple of weeks before the race, so we know what their form was but can't be sure how well they have recovered. It's also one of the only races we see that features national teams instead of professional teams. The top racers rely heavily on their teammates for their success, but now those teammates can be on different squads. Racers need to quickly develop chemistry and trust with a new set of teammates. Those teams are also much smaller - a maximum of five - so tactics change dramatically compared to the Tour and other races. And then there is the one day factor - anything can happen in one day of racing, whereas the cream will usually rise to the top over a multi-stage race.
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So, who is going to win this race? And, more importantly, where is the betting value? ( Odds are from Bovada):
Alejandro Valverde, Spain (+425): Valverde is favored here because he is so consistent in events like this. He has been on the podium six different times at the World Championships, which is a similar format to the Olympics. He has had a tough year, riding both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour, and a full schedule aside from that. That would be a bigger concern for others than it is for this veteran workhorse. I like his chances of being a part of the podium, but I'll be looking elsewhere for a winner at a better price.
Vincenzo Nibali, Italy (+650): If you just judged Nibali based on his Tour performance then you wouldn't consider betting on him. He was a total non-factor in France. You need to take a larger perspective, though. Nibali won the Giro in the spring, so he's obviously had some form this year. Instead of truly competing in the Tour, he seemed to be using it as some really hardcore training to get ready for Rio. He's a fearless and aggressive rider. He's much more attractive to me than the favorite.
Chris Froome, Great Britain (+950): Froome didn't just win the Tour - he dominated it. I find Froome hard to cheer for in general, but it was a very impressive performance. This race is fairly mountainous, so that suits Froome. I'm not at all convinced, though, that he is truly here to win this race. I suspect that he could ride in support of someone else - perhaps Geraint Thomas. I wouldn't bet on Froome.
Julian Alaphilippe, France (+1100): The French have a strong and deep team here, and they have been focusing on the Olympics perhaps more than any other country. They have a few guys who could contend, but after his showing at the Tour, Alaphilippe seems the most likely. He climbs well and is a very strong sprinter. That's an ideal combination to survive and thrive in this race. He's a real contender for the podium, and this price is certainly fair.
Dan Martin, Ireland (+1300): Martin is a very good rider in one-day races, so he is going to be feared here. He's also coming off a very strong showing in the Tour - the best of his career. My biggest concern is that he has only one teammate here - Nicholas Roche - to protect and support him. That will leave him vulnerable to bigger teams. He's a factor, but I am going to take a risk and pass on him.
Greg Van Avermaet, Belgium (+2500): Van Avermaet is part of a Belgian team that is going to be much more fun to watch than to race against. They are going to be pesky, attacking aggressively to try to make things happen. Van Avermaet wore yellow in the Tour for a few days after a shockingly strong move to claim the jersey. He's in good form and is the likely leader of a strong team. This price is intriguing if you are shopping for a mid-range long shot.
Michal Kwiatkowski, Poland (+2800): This is an intriguing guy here. He won Worlds in 2014 and another huge one-day race last year. He made a move to Sky, though, and that team has so far proven to be somewhat disastrous for him. He wasn't even riding in the Tour, and his results this year have been mostly underwhelming. He has spent the summer training and preparing for this race largely on his own. Can he shake off his funk now that he doesn't have to try to work in the ego-rich world of Sky? He could be worth a gamble.
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