The Olympic men's road race was just brutal, sending more people to the hospital after ugly crashes than wound up on the podium. The time trial should be a little less physically damaging, but it will be no less compelling. In fact, for many cycling fans this is the highlight of the games this year. We have a field which, even after all the injuries and forced withdrawals, has some very talented riders. At the top is a showdown between the two best in the world right now, with a lingering injury making it tougher to know what to expect. This is going to be a great race on Wednesday. So, how does it shape up? ( Odds are from Bovada)
Before we get to the riders, we should touch on the course. This thing is just brutal - not your typical mostly flat jaunt through the country that we often see. This is one tough ride. It's a 25 km circuit that riders will ride twice, with a tail at the beginning and end that raises the total to 54.6 km. That distance is not surprising for a time trial, but the terrain is. There are two very legitimate climbs here. The first, which riders will come to nine kilometers into the circuit, is short - less than a mile - but very steep, topping out at 18 degrees, which is basically vertical on a bike. After a technical descent on the backside of that climb, the riders will travel seven kilometers of relative flat to the next climb. This one is long - a mile and a half - but not nearly as steep. They face an easier descent from this climb and then a straightforward and fast dash of about eight kilometers back to the start. Then they do it all over again. So, the guys who can push massive wattage and endure real pain on the flats will have the edge they always do in the flat segments of the time trial.
They also need to be able to handle the short-but-aggressive bursts of climbing, and they must be able to descend technically - on a time trial bike, which is typically less nimble than a standard ride, no less. The winner of this race will have earned that medal, and he will be a very complete rider. It's worth noting, though, that the same circuit was used four times during the road race, so the riders are all familiar with it. That circuit included cobbles, though, and since that would be deadly on a time trial bike the riders will ride pavement for that section instead.
The race has long seemed to be a showdown between the two best time trialists on tour right now - Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands (+120) and Chris Froome of Great Britain (+125). There are other guys who can certainly contend, but it would be more than a little surprising if one of these two didn't win.
Froome: Froome just closed out his third Tour de France victory in July. Unlike many Tour winners, though, Froome is also a truly elite time trial rider. He won one of the two time trials at the Tour and was second in the other. The time trial he won, though, was an uphill trial - they climbed for more than 17 kilometers that day. He is a strong climber, which will help him here, and is certainly well-rounded. We can't really know, though, what we can expect from him in terms of form. He competed in the road race earlier in the week, but aside from a few challenges here and there he didn't put in a real effort. Was that because he didn't want to or because he couldn't? Did he come out of the Tour in great form, or did the tough win take too much out of him? Tough to know.
Dumoulin: While Froome's form is tough to judge, it's easy compared to Dumoulin. The young Dutch rider was having a spectacular Tour. He absolutely dominated the first time trial, won another stage, and was very good in the other time trial as well. He is a suture Classic winner - of that there is little doubt. Right after the second time trial, though, he fell and broke his wrist. He was reportedly back on his bike training four days after the injury, but we can't know how much of an impact it had on his preparation. We also can't know how much it will impact his riding - specially the climbing, which can put a real strain on your wrists as you pull on your handlebars. Many were looking towards his performance in the road race as an indicator of his form. Unfortunately, he withdrew from that race before he had even broken a sweat, so we know nothing.
Backing him takes a bigger leap of faith than Froome. And that's the challenge here. Head to head on this course I think Dumoulin beats Froome - he's a better pure time trialer, and this course suits him well. I still pick him to win this race despite his injury, but the wrist definitely means that there is no value in this price.
So, I'll be picking him to win, but I won't bet him and will be looking for some safer value elsewhere. I also won't be betting on Froome - I like his price even less than Dumoulin's and question whether he has enough left to give after that impressive Tour win.
Rohan Dennis, Australia (+800): This is the longer price I will make a small investment on in case Dumoulin isn't ready after all. He's an excellent time trial rider and has been open about focusing on this race for a long time. He's not quite as suited to this race as Dumoulin or Froome, but he climbs fairly well and isn't the flat-preferring time trial rider that guys like Tony Martin or Fabian Cancellara are. At the least he's a good bet for the podium.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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