Olympics Mens Road Race – The Contenders.

If you hadn’t noticed from the blanket TV coverage that everyone is complaining about (apparently a sporting event on for three weeks every four years is too much, but nothing being on at 8 in the evening because of moronic soaps where people just shout at each other every waking hour is fine), the Olympics is coming to town. Specifically, the ‘town’ of my University, not that I’m going to be there – various things from the ridiculous cost of trains to the ticketing system telling me I’d got some tickets for Box Hill, letting me pay for them, only telling me I then hadn’t actually got any tickets, put paid to that. So I’ll be up in Newcastle watching from the second best vantage point avaliable – the TV.

Still, the Olympic road race in 2008 was a fantastic event, one of the more exciting one day races I’ve seen at least. The race was made by Andy Schleck attacking ferociously on the climbs (no laughing at the back) and dragging away four other riders, Kolobnev, Rogers, Samuel Sanchez and Davide Rebellin, who would of course later test positive for CERA in the race. Rodgers and Kolobnev were then dropped by yet more Schleck assaults, and the remaining three looked to have distributed the medals between themselves. Whilst everyone frantically tried to figure out who would be able to take the sprint, Fabian Cancellara had other ideas. A biblical attack tore him away from the chasing pack and he caught the dropped Rodgers and Kolobnev, hauling them back to the front to create a six man sprint. If we discount the cheating Rebellin, Cancellara was beaten for second by Sanchez, who surged up the left and held his head in his hands at the realisation of what he had just done. Kolobnev would have to wait a while for his Bronze, but Schleck would, in a manner that would feel increasingly common to him, be left with nothing.

Sammy Sanchez has done a great job as Olympic champion, taking various high placings in Grand Tours as well as the King of the Mountains competition in 2011 at the Tour. More importantly, his jersey, with the flecks of Gold, was lovely to behold, as were his helmet and Sidis, once he got around the Olympic committee’s attempts to stop him using their beloved rings. But who will be replacing the 34 year old Spaniard on the Mall around half 4 on Saturday afternoon? Here’s some ideas, grouped by their chances of victory.

Gold Contenders

Peter Sagan

How can you not fancy Peter Sagan for the win? He has won essentially every race he wanted this year, racking up 16 victories already. He can climb, he can sprint, and has the bike handling skills to avoid any melees that might ensue. The only concerns are that the course may not be hard enough – it it finished at the top of Box Hill, we would already be coronating the 22 year old Slovak, but the flat finish on the Mall makes the race more open to the pure sprinters. Although, as he showed at the Tour, he can beat them in a flat sprint as well. A medal of some colour looks near certain.

Mark Cavendish

Paolo Bettini had the opportunity to call himself ‘World and Olympic champion’ for two years, as did Fabian Cancellara. Now Cavendish wants a piece of that, but the difference is he knows that this is the race of a lifetime – flat courses for the World’s don’t come round very often, and flattish Olympic ones even less so. Unless the Rio course doesn’t include the hills behind the bay, or the 2020 games are awarded to the Netherlands, then this is Cavendish’s one and only chance to take the unique title of World and Olympic Champion. No pressure then. However, he has the abilities to do so. During the Tour, he was even setting the pace on Mountains, and his dropping on small climbs reminded people more of his pre Milan San Remo bluffing. His sprint, looking poor in the first week, was back to full power by week three, and so he will be overwhelming favourite if he gets to the Mall. But this year’s Milan-San Remo will lurk in the minds of his rivals – and they will not be taking prisoners on Box Hill.

Fabian Cancellara

Anyone with a soul should want Cancellara to win the Olympics road race. He is such a classy rider, such a gladiator, that you cannot fail to love his style. The sight of Cancellara soloing down the Mall would be much adored. However, questions will remain over whether or not he is on form after his Spring crash and early Tour withdrawal to be with his pregnant wife. More importantly, can he ge this tactics right and finally get rid of everyone from his wheel rather then dragging them to a sprint? You get the impression he gets incredibly fed up with every second place.

Tom Boonen

After his amazing early season, Tomeke will be keen to extend that success into the second half of the year as he too sets his sights on the Worlds and Olympics double. Certainly he should be capable enough to get up the Box Hill circuit, even if Flanders showed he can be dropped, although it also showed he could still win anyway. He has beaten Sagan in a sprint, and will probably be keen to get rid of Cavendish and Greipel before the Mall, but the burly Belgian would probably fancy a bunch sprint anyway.

Andre Greipel

Greipel showed at the Tour that climbs no longer really bother him, getting rid of many sprinters before powering to victory. Behind the Sagan/Cavendish duel, he may find himself unnoticed and the suprise factor. The German will be keen to ruin the British party on the mall, and has shown himself more then capable of out drag racing Cavendish.

Edvald Boassen Hagen

Boassen Hagen is my dark horse for the race. Whilst his team is none existent with no Hushovd, His showing at the Tour, riding easily over mountains in the front group, indicates his form is excellent, and his ninth on the Champs-Elysees after leading out Cavendish shows his speed has not been blunted. Just don’t think about what the Team Sky bus would be like if he did beat Cavendish.

Silver Contenders

Phillipe Gilbert

Gilbert is an anomaly this year. After winning everything he entered last year, he has yet to take victory this year, with explanations ranging from his bike not being an aero model to being overtrained by the team at the start of the year. Whatever the reason, he looked better at the Tour, and either the Olympics or Worlds, where he was overwhelming favourite in January, will save his season. Will need a break to go clear however – as he has already claimed, it may be ‘everyone versus Cavendish.’

Simon Gerrans

Gerrans took Milan San-Remo after catching the Cancellara express, and showed he can win from small groups. His Tour was underwhelming, but he was often at the front, and is supposedly coming back to form.

Matt Goss

Goss could win on the Mall – could. It’s more likely he is going to become the new Tyler Farrar however, and come perpetually on the wrong steps of the podium. If he has his day however, he could take the anticipated sprint.

Sylvain Chavanel

The ever aggressive Frenchman will attack as usual, probably with Cancellara. That is assured. Whether or not he will get to the finish is debatable, but unlike Phil Ligget’s commentary, he is actually one of the riders who could make it, rather then Phil just trying to create suspense by saying some unknown Frenchman is the only man who could maybe pull off the attack before being caught 500m later.

Bronze Contenders

Vincenzo Nibali

It’s nice that a man on the Tour Podium could win, although his third at Milan-San Remo showcased that he can’t sprint. He’s obviously on form though, so one to look out for in the flurry of late attacks.

Luis Leon Sanchez

And perhaps he’ll attack with this man, who was third in the final TT at the Tour. It’s weird that Spain have no real contender this year, espsecially after last time’s superteam of Contador, Sanchez, Valverde, Freire and Sastre. Valverde and Sanchez are the men for victory, but it looks unlikely for the Spaniards.

What will probably happen: The sprint Royale wont materialise due to some crashes at the base of Box Hill or on the circuit, or some big splits after Cavendish gets dropped on lap two and has too furiously chase the whole day for nill reward, followed by a small group with some unknown bloke winning. Either that or Wiggins TTs away to piss off Cavendish.

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