2021 Olympic Men’s Road Race: The 2020(1) men’s Olympic road race is this Saturday, before the women’s race on Sunday. The timing is not great, unless you live in that time zone, but for a big race you sometimes have to stay ‘sleepless’. Ed Hood runs his eye over the course and riders and who the bookies fancy for the win.
Young Eddy Merckx was amateur World champ in 1964, top favourite for the Olympic title
Let’s go back to 25th October 1964 and the last time the Olympic Road Race took place in the Land of the Rising Sun. A certain Eddy Merckx was race favourite – yeah, even way back then – as reigning World Amateur Road Race Champion but the race, over a 25 kilometre circuit, covered eight times ended in a mass charge of 99 riders with Italy’s Mario Zanin the fastest. Zanin was hot that year, top 10 in the Worlds and Italian National Champion; he turned pro for ’65 with Maino but never reached the heights his amateur career promised with just a Vuelta stage win to show for a five year pro career.
1964 Olympic podium
His snazzy jerseys complete with Olympic rings wouldn’t be allowed now, the International Olympic Committee jealously guard their ‘trademark’ and I remember 1996 champion, Pascal Richard falling foul of the rule when he displayed the rings on his 1997 Casino jersey – a collector’s item now, for sure. Taking silver and Denmark’s first ever Olympic cycling medal was Kjell Rodian – a man who I once saw competing on the Meadowbank Velodrome in Edinburgh. Let’s just say he didn’t look like the kind of guy to give lip to in a bar. Upholding Belgian honour with the bronze medal was the man who would become, ‘The Bulldog of Flanders,’ Walter Godefroot. Zanin and Rodian are forgotten, Godefroot is a living legend whilst Merckx, well, he’s Merckx.
Walter Godefroot – ‘The Bulldog of Flanders’
Fast forward some 57 years and one thing is certain, there will be no 99 mass finish on a tough, unforgiving course. The route covers 234 kilometres with 4,865m of altitude gain – the equivalent of a hard Tour de France mountain stage. The first climb of the day, Doushi Road, comes after 80km followed by the climb of Kagosaka Pass. Next up is the ‘Mount Fuji circuit’ and after 110km it’s the Fuji Sanroku climb some 14.3km @ 6% up to 1,451m. A 15 kilometre descent follows then 40 kilometres of undulations before the Speedway circuit then the final two climbs, the Mikuni Pass 6.5 kilometres at 10.6% and the Kagosaka Pass again. Off the pass it finishes back on the Fuji International Speedway circuit.
The UCi say of it:
“The local Organising Committee and the UCI have chosen spectacular courses that will suit the Olympic format perfectly. It will be difficult to control the race, and this will allow for lots of attacking and aggressive riding in the first stages of the races. The distances and elevation gain will require the riders to make perfect tactical decisions if they wish to win Olympic medals.” Yes, I think that covers it?
And now the 64,000 yen question – ‘Who’s gonna win?’
But first, there are a couple of factors to consider; it’ll be hot, damn hot with high humidity which doesn’t suit a lot of Europeans.
Secondly, the early kilometres will be dangerous with riders there from nations unused to the speed and protocol of riding with best in the world. ‘Back in the day’ the major cycling nations would make the start of the race super-fast to shed the lesser lights and render the peloton a safer place to inhabit. But since 1996 when the Olympics went ‘open’ the standard of riding and competition has gone to a new level, winners since then: Pascal Richard, Jan Ulrich, Paolo Bettini, Sammy Sanchez, Alexandre Vinokourov and GVA are all major/notorious players. As for the winner, we go to the folks whose living depends upon getting results right: The bookies. As those AC/DC boys might say; ‘Listen to the Money Talk.’
Top favourite – Today Pogačar
1) Race fave is Tadej Pogačar of Slovenia, I don’t really need to say much, he’s hot off le Tour with back to back mountain stage wins – and he won Liège-Bastogne-Liège earlier in the season; his only downfall could be the Media demands placed upon a Tour winner in the period immediately after the race. But he does seem to soak those up and he’s at 7/2 to win.
Wout for the win?
2) Second favourite and surely the most versatile man in the peloton – he can climb, chrono and sprint with the very best, is Belgium’s Wout Van Aert @ 5/1 – which looks like a good bet to me. Tired off le Tour – perhaps?
Season saver for Primoz Roglič
3) Pogačar’s countryman, Primoz Roglič won’t have spent his daylight hours watching day time TV since he crashed out of the Tour, that’s for sure. He’s another good bet at 6/1 on a parcours he can handle. The bookies are so wary of the men from Slovenia that, ‘Slovenia to win gold’ pays at 19/10.
Remco Evenepoel will have recovered from the Giro by now
4) Another man who’s been quiet lately – but like they say in the Westerns, maybe ‘too quiet’ – since he was brought to earth with a ‘bump’ in the Giro, is WVA’s ‘Wonder Kid’ compatriot, Remco Evenepoel. If Wout should stumble. . . he’ll pay you 9/1 to win.
Joao Almeida – Another Deceuninck possible
5) Deceuninck figure in every major bike race on the planet and this one is no different, Remco is fourth favourite and team mate, versatile Joao Almeida of Portugal is fifth at 12/1.
Alejandro Valverde – old devil time is chasing him
6) ‘Oldie but goodie,’ the former ‘Green Bullet’ and now ‘Bala,’ 41 years-old Alejandro Valverde of Spain is certainly a man with the ‘big ride temperament’ – he hasn’t won seven Worlds medals, five Flèche-Wallone and four Liege-Bastogne-Liege because he gets nerves on the big day. At 14/1 he’s worth risking a few yen/dollars/Euros ‘each way’.
Michael Woods will be at home on this parcours
7) Michael Woods of Canada will be at home on this parcours but his coming late to the sport manifests in his tactical skills where his unbridled aggression is exploited by the sly foxes who inhabit the World Tour peloton – 14/1.
8) Max Schachmann has been quiet since he won the German Elite Road Race title but his early season was very strong with a second GC win in Paris-Nice and top 10 finishes at the Amstel, Flèche and Liège. The bookies see him at 19/1.
The Yates twins
9) The Yates twins, Simon and Adam are GB’s best [only] medal chance, both are at 22/1 with Adam making no secret of his ambition to be on the podium in Tokyo he’s well worth an, ‘each way’ bet at 22/1.
Richard Carapaz for Ecuador
10) Richard Carapaz of Ecuador has now stood on the podium of every Grand Tour, he’s aggressive and can handle the climbs – but in my book will be tired off his Tour exertions, he’s also @ 22/1. Gianni Moscon of Italy, Jakob Fuglsang of Denmark and Gino Mader of Switzerland are also on odds of 22/1.
As Larry Jon Wilson says in his great tune, ‘Ohoopee River Bottom Land,’ – ‘getcha bet down boy!’
# Keep it PEZ for all the Olympic race reports. #