Am I on track?

Am I on track?

Saturday, 28 July 2012

London Olympics Road Race 2012 - preview & predictions

The opening ceremony fireworks are over, the cauldron has been lit, and the 2012 London Olympics have begun!!

One of the first events is the men's cycling road race.  This is one of the toughest races to win (and predict!), and is a highly sought after victory for every rider.

Why is it so tough to predict a winner?

Length - the race is a long, testing 250km.  If you are a sprinter, you still need to have the legs to sprint for the line after a very long day in the saddle.

Course - The main part of the race is a 15km circuit around Box Hill, which they complete 9 times in a row. It has a short, 2.5km climb in it that averages around 5% gradient.  On its own, that's not too bad - but they do this 9 times in a row.  To make it even harder, the roads on this circuit are narrow, windy, and uneven.  It'll be very difficult to hold you rposition, and even harder to make up ground if you drop back or any reason.

Team size - A normal pro team has 7-9 members for each race (depending on the event). The maximum team size in the Olympic event is 5, and only a handful of teams have qualified this many members (notables include Great Britain, Australia, and Germany).  Many teams have only 1 or 2 competitors, most notably Peter Sagan who is the sole representative for Slovakia.  This makes controlling the race very difficult, and only a few teams have the resources to chase down breakaways or split up the peloton.

No race radios - Race radios are banned, so there are no team instructions or status updates being fed straight to the ears of each rider as per usual racing.  This means they won't know who is in the breakaway until it is away, causing huge uncertainty.   Also, if a key tem member is dropped and isn't immediately noticed, they will be gone and too far back to assist.

Competitor calibre - There is a significant number of competitors who aren't at Pro Tour level, but have qualified as their country's sole representative.  These guys will be doing their best to keep up with the Cancellaras, Boonens, and Gilberts - but could they cause problems on the tighter parts of the circuit with possible lesser handling skills?

So what are the race scenarios?

The race will either end with a large breakaway group winning, or a massive bunch finish with the peloton all together.

I believe a large breakaway will escape and the winner will come from that group.  This is chiefly because only two teams want the race to come down to a sprint - Great Britain (for Mark Cavendish) and Germany (for Andre Greipel).

As I mentioned earlier, team size means Great Britain and Germany have only 8 suppport riders between them (the size of only one normal Tour de France team)to control the pace and chase down any breakaways.  No other team will help them, because Greipel & Cavendish are the form sprinters at the moment - why assist them to the line if they'll just beat your team mate?

So all the other teams will be trying to get riders into the breakaway, and then letting Great Britain and Germany do the chasing if they can.

The tight Box Hill circuit will make this harder too - they will need to close any gap in the long 50km drag race to the finish line at Buckingham Palace.

Who will win?

Let's start with who won't win:

  • Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) - for the reasons above.  Plus I think the course will be a bit too tough on him.
  • Andre Greipel (Germany) - ditto.
  • Matthew Goss (Australia) - he will be shadowing Cav and Greipel, and if I am wrong and it does come to a sprint, they'll be too good for him...

Who will win in my 'breakaway' scenario:

  • Peter Sagan (Slovakia) - this course is made for him, but he will struggle as the only Slovakian team member.  He won't have any team members to get him waterbottles, etc from the team car, or help him chase back to the main peloton if he punctures.
  • Philippe Gilbert (Belgium)- another who likes the hillier course, and has a good size team.  Likely that Tom Boonen will wait for a sprint, while Gilbert will go for the breakaway, so Belgium has both scenarios covered.
  • Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway) - my favourite for the race, a strong sprinter who has the legs to get over Box Hill 9 times...
  • Fabian Cancellara / Michael Albasini (Switzerland) - similar to Belgium, these guys will both aim to get into breakaways. One of them will succeed...
  • Sylvain Chavanel (France) - a classic breakaway rider, but I suspect he fancies himself in the time tiral instead for this Olympics.
  • Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) - one of the best bike handlers in the peloton, he'll look to form a break on the tight Box Hill circuit.
  • Simon Gerrans / Cadel Evans (Australia) - like the Swiss team, these two will both look to get into the breakaway. First one to get into the successful break will have a great chance, while theother will drop back and then protect Matthew Goss.
Can't wait to see how this pans out. It'll be a tough, exciting, unpredictable race!!

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