It’s not often a time trial gets a preview but this is the Olympics. But as special as the occasion might be, the course is a classic test of speed and power for men and women alike. It’s also the moment the Olympics leave London’s shiny new sports facilities and medieval palaces for the suburbs and their brick-built houses.
The Route:4 4km for the men and 29km for the women. If the road race visited the green countryside and Box Hill – scene of one of Britain’s earliest lanscape portraits – before finishing outside the Queen’s palace in London then the time trial is not so scenic. An impressive start in Hampton Court Palace quickly gives way to surburbia and there’s little in the way of technical riding, whether climbing or descending.
Both routes start outside Hampton Court Palace, once home to King Henry and all his many wives. A glance of the map reveals names like Seven Hills Road, Painshill and Strawberry Hill but forget it, the course is largely flat. For the men’s route the total vertical gain is 125 metres.
The men get two extra loops, one before the women’s course and one after. So they start on a flat section, passing alongside the River Thames and then riding below some large water resevoirs whose embankments offer some shelter from the wind. Then they join the same route as the women, it is flat before a short 600m long incline that gains 30 metres, with a short kick to the top to blunt the legs if a rider doesn’t change down the gears enough. Then any height gained is lost and the race heads out to the highest point of the course called The Seven Hills Road. But it’s a gradual rise. The road does indeed have seven slight changes in incline but no more. There’s a short descent soon after followed by one section of road after 14km for the women and 23km for the men that has four uphill ramps. Here pacing and power needs to be balanced here but they’re short and should normally incite riders to get out of the saddle and blast over.
Later the men have a loop to Strawberry Hill but there is no climbing, in fact a railway bridge provides the only noticeable vertical gain before it rejoins the finish outside Hampton Court Palace.
Technically there are not many sharp corners either, most roads are large and wide and the suburban aspect means the junctions are regular. The only irregular aspect is the road surface. The course is suburban and the roads at times look like a patchwork quilt of tarmac with repairs, cracks, inspection covers and more proving the technical challenge. As such riders can’t always take the normal racing line but must always look out for obstacles.
But flat doesn’t mean easy. No, instead the difference comes in two areas:
- Selecting the right line because the road surface varies. The riders can choose between roughened sections and smooth sections. Ideally a clever team will have noted the bad sections of road and relay the information to riders via radio, like a rally driver getting course info via their co-pilot (yes, race radios are allowed). This is small but dunk your front wheel into a small hole and it’ll cost a bit of momentum, ride on a rough section of tarmac and the rolling resistance increases. This is not to say the roads are dangerous, rather one second per kilometre quickly adds up.
- Second, the wind direction could play an even bigger role. Knowing where to go in order to seek shelter from the wind will also help save valuable time. The suburban aspect of the course means the rider can be sheltered from the wind one moment because of garden walls, leafy avenues and big buildings but exposed the next minute. Again taking this into account can save time.
Course summary: flat but the technical aspect comes from picking the right line to avoid the rough sections and exploiting the suburban landscape to find shelter from the wind.
The Contenders: There’s a full start list below for men and women.
In the meantime I see a battle between Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin and Bradley Wiggins but with a few other names in the mix for the men.
- Bradley Wiggins is the home contender. He’s been on form for a long time now but he was so far ahead in the final time trial of the Tour that he’s surely a prime contender today but it’s all part of a plan, “we’ve trained for that”. After the Vuelta last year he kept up the work to be ready for the world championships and he’s hoping to emulate this. I don’t think the pressure got to any of the Brits in the road race but certainly a gold from Wiggins would be very welcome for the hosts of the games as they’ve yet to win a single gold medal. He’s unbeaten in long distance time trials this year.
- Fabian Cancellara by contrast is aiming for gold and left the Tour de France for the birth of his daughter but also to get ready for this race. He was close to Wiggins in the Tour and normally I’d put him ahead of Wiggins given he should be fresher. But he crashed in the road race and has only now confirmed he will ride. Nothing was broken but he’s reported to be riding with some pain in the shoulder.
- Tony Martin is the reigning world champion who beat everyone by some margin in the last worlds. He’s been aiming for this event all year and even sat up in the road race on Saturday to stay fresh. But he suffered a wrist injury during the Tour and if this is gone, he might have found his training thwarted. Without any recent results, he’s a relative unknown quantity.
- Taylor Phinney is my next pick. The American has been training specifically for this since the Giro and so he comes fresh. His powerful build is suited to the course and he doesn’t have any injuries either. I think there’s a very good chance he’ll get a medal.
Next we have a series of outsiders. Chris Froome is a strong time trialist but I wonder if the course is too flat for him, whether he’d like some more climbing in this one. Instead there’s always Gustav Larsson, the Swedish time trial specialist who was been a fixture on courses like this. Finally the flat course might suit Sylvain Chavanel too but I think it’s too much to expect a medal from him. If the Frenchman is suited to the course, perhaps its one for Lars Boom of the Netherlands too?
Women’s Time Trial: who would bet against Judith Arndt of Germany? If you want to then there’s home contender Emma Pooley but the course is one for the big gear specialists and so less suited to her. Instead Linda Villumsen of New Zealand could be a good pick and the same for Kristin Armstrong of the US and maybe Ellen Van Dijk. Vos is in such good form that she could win a medal, even if time trialling is her relative weak point. Normally she would be an outsider but Olga Zabelinskaya was strong on Sunday and could be an outsider.
Weather: the forecasts had been threatening bad weather but now it looks more moderate with a 20km/h breeze from the south and a chance of showers in the afternoon for the men. Even if wet the course seems not too tricky.
TV: the women’s event is from 12.30pm-1.45pm London time and the men go 2.15pm to about 4.00pm. It is all being filmed and broadcast live so your local broadcaster should be showing on TV or online. All riders go at 90 second intervals.
Do: check out the course. Those who have done their homework can easily save 30-40 seconds over a rider who saw the course for the first time this week.
Don’t: put too much air in your tubs. The rough roads means a little bit of give in the rubber will help roll faster.
12:30:00 24 FERNANDES SILVA Clemilda BRA19790625
12:31:30 23 SUNDSTEDT Pia FIN19750502
12:33:00 22 de VOCHT Liesbet BEL19790105
12:34:30 21 MOOLMAN Ashleigh RSA19851209
12:36:00 20 CORDON Audrey FRA19890922
12:37:30 19 ANTOSHINA Tatiana RUS19820727
12:39:00 18 TCHALYKH Elena AZE19740325
12:40:30 17 GUDERZO Tatiana ITA19840822
12:42:00 16 RAMSDEN Denise CAN19901121
12:43:30 15 ZABELINSKAYA Olga RUS19800510
12:45:00 14 FAHLIN Emilia SWE19881024
12:46:30 13 WORRACK Trixi GER19810928
12:48:00 12 CANTELE Noemi ITA19810717
12:49:30 11 GILLOW Shara AUS19871223
12:51:00 10 van DIJK Ellen NED19870211
12:52:30 9 ARMITSTEAD Elizabeth GBR19881218
12:54:00 8 JOHANSSON Emma SWE19830923
12:55:30 7 NEBEN Amber USA19750218
12:57:00 6 POOLEY Emma GBR19821003
12:58:30 5 HUGHES Clara CAN19720927
13:00:00 4 VILLUMSEN Linda Melanie NZL19850409
13:01:30 3 VOS Marianne NED19870513
13:03:00 2 ARNDT Judith GER19760723
13:04:30 1 ARMSTRONG Kristin USA19730811
14:15:00 37 LAHSAINI Mouhcine MAR19850823
14:16:30 36 GIL MARTINEZ Tomas Aurelio VEN19770523
14:18:00 35 HAGHI Alireza IRI19790208
14:19:30 34 AKDILEK Ahmet TUR19880310
14:21:00 33 NAZARET Magno Prado BRA19860117
14:22:30 32 BEPPU Fumiyuki JPN19830410
14:24:00 31 BAZAYEV Assan KAZ19810222
14:25:30 30 McCANN David IRL19730317
14:27:00 29 BAK Lars Ytting DEN19800116
14:28:30 28 ALBASINI Michael SUI19801220
14:30:00 27 DUARTE AREVALO Fabio Andres COL19860611
14:31:30 26 BOOM Lars NED19851230
14:33:00 25 BAUER Jack NZL19850407
14:34:30 24 BRAJKOVIC Janez SLO19831218
14:36:00 23 BODNAR Maciej POL19850307
14:37:30 22 GILBERT Philippe BEL19820705
14:39:00 21 VINOKUROV Alexandr KAZ19730916
14:40:30 20 HESJEDAL Ryder CAN19801209
14:42:00 19 CASTROVIEJO NICOLAS Jonathan ESP19870427
14:43:30 18 FUGLSANG Jakob DEN19850322
14:45:00 17 OLIVEIRA Nelson Filipe S. Simoes POR19890306
14:46:30 16 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald NOR19870517
14:48:00 15 NAVARDAUSKAS Ramunas LTU19880130
14:49:30 14 MENCHOV Denis RUS19780125
14:51:00 13 WESTRA Lieuwe NED19820911
14:52:30 12 KIRYIENKA Vasil BLR19810628
14:54:00 11 LARSSON Gustav SWE19800920
14:55:30 10 ROGERS Michael AUS19791220
14:57:00 9 GRABSCH Bert GER19750619
14:58:30 8 CHAVANEL Sylvain FRA19790630
15:00:00 7 FROOME Christopher GBR19850520
15:01:30 6 PINOTTI Marco ITA19760225
15:03:00 5 SANCHEZ GIL Luis Leon ESP19831124
15:04:30 4 PHINNEY Taylor USA19900627
15:06:00 3 MARTIN Tony GER19850423
15:07:30 2 WIGGINS Bradley GBR19800428
15:09:00 1 CANCELLARA Fabian SUI19810318