Olympic Games Road Race Preview

The ultimate one day race? If the Tour de France represents the pinnacle of world cycling and the Tour of Flanders is arguably the top one-day classic of the season, the Olympic Games road race is unique because of its rarity and international recognition.

The men’s road race is the longest event of the 2012 Olympic games across all sports, taking an estimated six hours. This matters because the course is all about the distance and time, a small climb will be used and if it is not selective once then it will end the hopes of many by the ninth time after which the race heads back to London for a superb finish on The Mall, the proud avenue in front of Buckingham Palace.

The Route: the race heads out of London following the Thames for some time and sticking to a flat route that will be used in reverse five or six hours later until it reaches Richmond Park, the Mecca for London cyclists where the large anti-clockwise outward loop begins. Here the race continues on a flat route until the first climb of Staple Lane at 55km. Short and steep, it is vaguely reminiscent of something out of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, perhaps La Redoute, although half the length. There’s a steep descent through woodland to the main road and then the race then heads east to the amusingly-named town of Dorking, passing typical British scenes of houses with thatched roofs, pubs with monarchist names and where the air should be scented with the midday aromas of roast beef and chicken curry.

No time for the riders to stop as Box Hill awaits. It’s an outcrop of limestone, not quite a cliff but more than rolling hill. The road zig-zags up the climb which is 2.5km long at an average of 4.9% with a maximum of 6.5%. Once at the top of the climb the road carries along the ridge and then turns to continue before a descent in three parts. First it takes a narrow road, then rises with a short steep kick and then descends again, before a short rise and then a left turn and down a long and wide road with a turn at the bottom, then another wide road and then suddenly a sharp left turn onto a narrow road which leads back to the start of the Box Hill climb. There are nine laps in total. The climb itself is not hard but the repetition makes it hard, plus positioning matters as the narrow roads don’t allow too many chances to move up if you slip back and the wider sections are fast meaning riders could struggle to move up. Any rider dropping their chain or puncturing will pay heavily.

The Finish: after the nine laps the riders head north and into the suburbs of London before reaching Richmond Park and picking up the route they took earlier to head back to the finish on The Mall, a worthy rival to Paris’ Champs Elysées for glamour and pomp, only flatter and faster.

The Tactics: in two words: beat Cavendish.

For me only two teams can realistically hope to beat Mark Cavendish in a bunch sprint. Slovakia’s Peter Sagan finished very fast on the Champs Elysées in Paris and could be fresher after the climbing but he’s been riding post-Tour criteriums, rather than calmly planning for this race. On the right day André Greipel has as much speed as Cavendish and he copes surprisingly well with the climbing as we saw on the stage to Cap d’Agde during the Tour. But Cavendish himself can cope with the climbing, he’s won Milan-Sanremo before and he coped with the Cote de Lissac climb before his astonish stage win in Brive. The Great Britain team will work to set up Cavendish, meaning they will close down any breakaways with Wiggins, Froome, Millar and Stannard.

Next we have a second tier of sprinters. Matthew Goss wasn’t quite fast enough in France but you never know, especially as he’s a candidate to make it to the finish, like Greg Henderson, Tyler Farrar and John Degenkolb, who brings a second card for the German team to play. Richeze of Argetina is fast but less certain to be there in the finish, the same for U-23 World Champ Arnaud Démare. And don’t forget Lars Boom, no stranger to winning in London after he won last year’s Tour of Britain.

Next we have many teams who will want to make the race so hard so that their riders can arrive in London without having to worry about the sprinters. Here we have a variety of teams and riders, for example Belgium and Tom Boonen who can easily win sprints, Norway with Edvald Boasson Hagen and Alex Kristoff and perhaps Spain with Fran Ventoso and J-J Rojas, both fast finishers who aren’t troubled by climbing. I’ve got an eye on Poland’s Michał Kwiatkowski who is an agressive and fast rider and then we have the pure attackers like Fabian Cancellara, Philippe Gilbert and Sylvain Chavanel. They will hope for a hard race and then wait for a moment’s hesitation on the run to London to get away, hoping the GB team is either fried or dropped. And who would ignore Fabian Cancellara? Close in Beijing and wanting success after a spring campaign ruined by injury, this could be his day.

With less than 150 riders it will make for an odd race, especially since a good share of the field are relatively unknown riders, for example Cuba’s Arnold Alcolea and Omar Hassanin of Syria. I wish them well but the more established pros will hope the field shrinks to the usual core of pros who make a living for most of the year in Europe.

It all makes it hard to call. Can Cavendish stay the distance and cope with the pace? Can his small team control the race? Every other team will want to drop him but nobody wants to commit to working hard from the start, preferring that someone else wastes their energy early.

Also don’t forget the conflict of interest with riders wearing national jerseys who spend the rest of the year working for their pro teams. There could be explicit – if secretive – alliances between some riders, for example will Austria’s Bernhard Eisel stop the habit of a lifetime and ride for himself instead of Cavendish? You’d like to hope so but there can be implicit agreements, for example imagine if Dan Martin and Ramunas Navardauskas get in a breakaway together, if one jumps would the other shut them down, knowing they’re both team mates with Garmin-Barracuda? It’s not just the riders, note the close links between British Cycling and Team Sky, between Australia and Orica-Greenedge and several other teams.

Weather: a mild day with temperatures peaking at 21°C and a light 10km/h breeze from the west, meaning a tailwind on the Box Hill and for the finish too.

TV: the race starts at 10.00am London time and it seems that it will be filmed live and in full but coverage will depend on your local broadcaster. The finish is expected for 4.00pm but could be earlier.

Local rider: Bradley Wiggins grew up in London and today’s route takes in some of the training roads he’d use as a boy.

Local food: London-specific cuisine is rare, dishes like roast beef and fish n’chips aren’t from the capital. It seems pie n’mash and jellied eels top the list and if this isn’t for you, celebrate Britain’s colonial past and cosmopolitan present with a curry washed down by some ale.

Do: think about riding with some latex sealant in your tyres. Because on the narrow roads if a rider punctures they might not come back and will need most of their team to help. The weight penalty is minimal.

Don’t: just turn up and watch the race. The climb of Box Hill is access by ticket only and these are sold out. You can visit other parts of the race of course.

Guide: there’s a guide to all the cycling events at inrng.com/olympics but note the organisers are slow to publish start lists and other data that you’d normally get well in advance of an ordinary bike race.


1 Azzadine Lagab (Algeria)
2 Ariel Maximiliano Richeze (Argentina)
3 Cadel Evans (Australia)
4 Simon Gerrans (Australia)
5 Matthew Harley Goss (Australia)
6 Stuart O’Grady (Australia)
7 Michael Rogers (Australia)
8 Bernhard Eisel (Austria)
9 Daniel Schorn (Austria)
10 Yauheni Hutarovich (Belarus)
11 Vasil Kiryienka (Belarus)
12 Branislau Samoilau (Belarus)
13 Tom Boonen (Belgium)
14 Philippe Gilbert (Belgium)
15 Jurgen Roelandts (Belgium)
16 Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium)
17 Stijn Vandenbergh (Belgium)
18 Murilo Antonio Fischer (Brazil)
19 Magno Prado Nazaret (Brazil)
20 Gregory Panizo (Brazil)
21 Danail Andonov Petrov (Bulgaria)
22 Spas Gyurov (Bulgaria)
23 Ryder Hesjedal (Canada)
24 Gonzalo Garrido (Chile)
25 Fabio Andres Duarte Arevalo (Colombia)
26 Sergio Henao Montoya (Colombia)
27 Rigoberto Uran (Colombia)
28 Andrey Amador Bikkazakova (Costa Rica)
29 Kristijan Durasek (Croatia)
30 Radoslav Rogina (Croatia)
31 Arnold Alcolea (Cuba)
32 Jan Barta (Czech Republic)
33 Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic)
34 Lars Ytting Bak (Denmark)
35 Matti Breschel (Denmark)
36 Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark)
37 Nicki Sørensen (Denmark)
38 Byron Guama De La Cruz (Ecuador)
39 Daniel Teklehaymanot (Eritrea)
40 Rene Mandri (Estonia)
41 Jussi Veikkanen (Finland)
42 Mickaël Bourgain (France)
43 Sylvain Chavanel (France)
44 Arnaud Demare (France)
45 Tony Gallopin (France)
46 Giorgi Nadiradze (Georgië)
47 John Degenkolb (Germany)
48 Bert Grabsch (Germany)
49 André Greipel (Germany)
50 Tony Martin (Germany)
51 Marcel Sieberg (Germany)
52 Mark Cavendish (Great Britain)
53 Christopher Froome (Great Britain)
54 David Millar (Great Britain)
55 Ian Stannard (Great Britain)
56 Bradley Wiggins (Great Britain)
57 Ioannis Tamouridis (Greece)
58 Manuel Rodas Ochoa (Guatemala)
59 Kam-Po Wong (Hong Kong)
60 Krisztian Lovassy (Hungary)
61 Alireza Haghi (Iran)
62 Mehdi Sohrabi (Iran)
63 Amir Zargari (Iran)
64 Daniel Martin (Ireland)
65 David Mccann (Ireland)
66 Nicholas Roche (Ireland)
67 Sacha Modolo (Italy)
68 Vincenzo Nibali (Italy)
69 Luca Paolini (Italy)
70 Marco Pinotti (Italy)
71 Elia Viviani (Italy)
72 Yukiya Arashiro (Japan)
73 Fumiyuki Beppu (Japan)
74 Assan Bazayev (Kazahkstan)
75 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazahkstan)
76 Sung Baek Park (South Korea)
77 Aleksejs Saramotins (Latvia)
78 Gediminas Bagdonas (Lithuania)
79 Ramunas Navardauskas (Lithuania)
80 Laurent Didier (Luxembourg)
81 Muhamad Adiq Husainie Othman (Malaysia)
82 Harrif Salleh (Malaysia)
83 Hector Hugo Rangel Zamarron (Mexico)
84 Oleg Berdos (Moldavia)
85 Tarik Chaoufi (Morocco)
86 Adil Jelloul (Morocco)
87 Mouhcine Lahsaini (Morocco)
88 Dan Craven (Namibia)
89 Lars Boom (Netherlands)
90 Robert Gesink (Netherlands)
91 Sebastian Langeveld (Netherlands)
92 Niki Terpstra (Netherlands)
93 Lieuwe Westra (Netherlands)
94 Jack Bauer (New Zealand)
95 Gregory Henderson (New Zealand)
96 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway)
97 Alexander Kristoff (Norway)
98 Vegard Stake Laengen (Norway)
99 Lars Petter Nordhaug (Norway)
100 Maciek Bodnar (Poland)
101 Michal Golas (Poland)
102 Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland)
103 Manuel Antonio Leal Cardoso (Portugal)
104 Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Portugal)
105 Nelson Filipe Santos Simoes Oliveira (Portugal)
106 Andrei Nechita (Romania)
107 Vladimir Isaychev (Russia)
108 Alexandr Kolobnev (Russia)
109 Denis Menchov (Russia)
110 Gabor Kasa (Serbia)
111 Ivan Stevic (Serbia)
112 Peter Sagan (Slovakia)
113 Grega Bole (Slovenia)
114 Borut Bozic (Slovenia)
115 Janez Brajkovic (Slovenia)
116 Daryl Impey (South Africa)
117 Jonathan Castroviejo Nicolas (Spain)
118 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spain)
119 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spain)
120 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spain)
121 Francisco José Ventoso Alberdi (Spain)
122 Gustav Erik Larsson (Sweden)
123 Michael Albasini (Switzerland)
124 Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)
125 Martin Elmiger (Switzerland)
126 Grégory Rast (Switzerland)
127 Michael Schär (Switzerland)
128 Omar Hassanin (Syria)
129 Ahmet Akdýlek (Turkey)
130 Mirac Kal (Turkey)
131 Kemal Kucukbay (Turkey)
132 Andriy Grivko (Ukraine)
133 Dmytro Krivtsov (Ukraine)
134 Timothy Duggan (United States)
135 Tyler Farrar (United States)
136 Christopher Horner (United States)
137 Taylor Phinney (United States)
138 Tejay van Garderen (United States)
139 Jorge Adelbio Soto Pereira (Uruguay)
140 Muradjan Khalmuratov (Uzbekistan)
141 Sergey Lagutin (Uzbekistan)
142 Danielys Del Valle Garcia Buitrago (Venezuela)
143 Tomas Aurelio Gil Martinez (Venezuela)
144 Jackson Rodriguez (Venezuela)

68 thoughts on “Olympic Games Road Race Preview”

  1. I like the way the Aussies have a couple of options with Gerrans a chance for a breakaway and Goss as the backstop if it has to come down to the sprint. Not sure how Evans will be feeling – not his parcours, but hopefully he can do something which surprises everyone. I don’t think the Sky loyalty thing will matter for Rogers, he won’t want to help Cavendish at all. Nothing as good as beating the Poms on their home ground! Is it right there are no radios? Will be interesting how that pans out.

    • Australia is a great pick to medal, since they have great cards to play for both a bunch sprint and a breakaway-type race. They might not win either, but they could place in both.

  2. I can’t wait. The Beijing race was very good but I worry the flat finish won’t be so good. With all these small teams it must be likely a rider wins solo, no?

  3. Really looking forward to this – got some tickets for boxhill. going to cycle down in the morning, watch the start on the big screen and then by the road for when the riders come past.

    Oh and on the local cusine front definitely avoid the jellied eels but if you get the chance nip down to whitstable and have some of the local oysters.

  4. I think what could be most interesting is how well the riders from the wee countries with only one or two entrants work together. A breakaway with Arashiro and a few other guys without big teams to support them could either work well together (after all, the Olympics is one of the few one-day races were coming second and third means something), or completely fall apart…

  5. “Slovakia’s Peter Sagan finished very fast on the Champs Elysées in Paris”

    I’ve watched that finish a few times and it seems to me that Cavendish, by going early, got first run (as they say in horse racing) and Sagan was caught a bit flat-footed. He was eating up the distance between himself and Cav all the way to the line.

    I’m not the most experienced race-reader, but it seems to me that he might have got closer if he hadn’t given Cav too much of a head start.

    • Cavendish getting the leadout hepled a lot. Liquigas were further back (though they had been working int he final lap), Sagan was out of position.

      Sagan goes into tommorow on his own; relying on other countries for help

  6. Hoping for some good results from my fellow Colombians! An attack by Sergio Henao on Box Hill would be cool. Probably won’t be succesful, but he likes attacking on those short slopes. Plus, he and Uran are teammates in Sky and Duarte doesn’t have any other allegiances, so they’ll ride for country and not pro team… unless Henao and Uran decide to help their fellow teammate Cav

  7. Look out for the section just after they finish the climb of Box Hill. It goes from a nice, newly tarmaced piece of road to something far less desirable, where puncturing is commonplace and which has acquired the nickname of Collarbone Alley from some local cyclists due to the nature of the injuries sustained there. Anyone puncturing there may have a hard time getting back on again.

    For anyone going to Box Hill, Denbies vineyard opposite makes excellent wines, likely the best in England. Highly recommended.

  8. Two questions/points:

    1) I would think the number of unknowns cause a greater risk of crashes because they are not as experienced in riding in the professional peloton. Could be interesting to see how that unfolds.

    2) Is there a chance riders could get lapped on Box Hill … and if so, I assume there are time chips on the bikes that count the number of laps? The hill circuits do not look particularly spaced out like some other one day circuit races.

  9. You’re right, the road up Box Hill is not steep at all and shouldn’t prove much of a challenge. This is because of the more ‘European’ style road construction (following the contours) rather than the typical British fashion for ploughing straight upwards (see the Rosedale Chimney, Hardknotts Pass etc for example).

    A note for spectators – only small parts of the loop around Box Hill are closed off and ticketed. The remainder of the c.10km will be a great place to watch from. However, if you’re thinking of walking up Box Hill then I wouldn’t try it in your cleats: http://uploads.virtualforums.co.uk/forums/forum.surrey-online.co.uk/Climb-up-Box-Hill-ioe.jpeg

  10. The Fulham Road is not a wide street, and by the time they come back along it they are going to be going like the clappers. Watch out for them going across Brompton Cross to the right turn at the Oratory Church, the road narrows even further and there is loads of street furniture…..dangerous. Right after that is going to be the TV money shot as they come screaming along Knightsbridge. Going to be THOUSANDS of people on the street there, can’t wait to see it, hopefully Wiggins (in yellow helmet?) will be leading the little guy towards the Palace.

    BTW America – Mitt Romney is a total douche-bag, tell him to learn some manners next time he leaves home.

    • RE: Sir Mitterbag Romneydouche, III

      Manners are not in his vocabulary, self-concept, or universe. Though, he may likely have stong ideas about off planet aliens. LOL. Hopefully, the “high net worth country bumpkin” humor provided some chuckles, sad as the reality may be. = D >

      Random Context:
      Salt Lake City, UT, USA, population est. 190,000
      London, England, UK, population est. 8,174,100

      Off topic digression Cheerio

  11. @jeremy – I think they will have a big screen there too.

    I have my tickets and am, as only for a couple of the spring races and the worlds, like a child on Christmas eve. Printed off my start lists, got my stop watch to time the gaps and changing my pedals to flats so I can get around the hill in normal shoes and not cycling shoes. One of the guys I am going with has already been out there for a recce today (the climb itself is closed) and there are already Norwegians camping by the roadside. A massive race on my doorstep and I haven’t had to move to Flanders!

    The one point of the circuit i find will be crucial is this corner here:


    It is where the course turns left to start heading back north after false flat. The breakaway will take it at speed whereas a bigger bunch on the earlier laps may come to a standstill almost.

    they had padding on it when the test race went through there on the test event.

    I am hoping for a Verona ’08 type of finish, with few doped Italians in the final group – perhaps even just isolated individuals all firing shots off while Cancellara proves he is the strongest, yet stupidist…..but I fail to see how it won’t come back together for Cavendish, unless he has a 2012 Milano Sanremo day.

    All psyched up to go….I have a 6:45am departure picking up mates along the route.

  12. I think that a puncture is far more likely than a dropped chain – I would be amazed if anyone goes to the small ring on the Box Hill climb – it is a different proposition now it has been relaid and is incredibly smooth.

    I think Tejvan Pettinger holds the Strava Box Hill KOM – under 5 minutes.

    Josh – there is a chance that riders could get lapped on Box Hill and I understand that if they do, they will be pulled out.

  13. One other thing to bear in mind is that most of the Box Hill circuit is really narrow… plus, factor in the combination of no radios (thank goodness) and the potential for mechanicals (lousy road-surface after the climb – as pointed out by Jeremy above) and the fight for positioning (especially the corner going on to the hill itself) will all lead to a really nervous race – as if it wasn’t nervous enough already.

    As much as this British heart would dearly love to see Cav replicate either his first or second #TdeF12 stage triumph on The Mall… have a sense that the form book is gonna be overthrown. Probably live to regret this but have good feelings about Cancellar, LL Sanchez as well as Sagan. And watch for Dan Craven and Nico Roche too.

    As a race, it has the makings and ingredients of an epic… let us all pray it is and that we’re not subjected to watching a race that’s so uber-controlled as to make it… don’t need to say any more on that subject, do I?!

    Either which way… let us all hope for a race really raced… and won with panache.

  14. I go back and forth on this; half the field will want to destroy the peloton to eliminate the sprinters, and by my estimate only the US, Germany, and GB have most of their eggs in the sprint basket.

    On the other hand, there’s an awful lot of flat leading up to the line. It will take a pretty strong breakaway selection working together to stay away (say, a dozen guys including Spartacus, Chavanel, and LL Sanchez).

    It’s guaranteed to be fascinating. Either it’s a great, selective one-day race, or it will be an edge-of-the-seat sprint finish to see if Cavendish can (once again) confirm his greatness.

  15. So why does Iran warrant as many riders as Colombia or Russia? I follow cycling pretty closely and I’ve never even heard of any of these guys.

    • It probably deserves a separate blog post buy cycling has the World Tour calendar and then local tours, eg Europe, US, Asia. The Iranians are very highly ranked in Asia so they pick up a lot of points this way to qualify.

  16. I was wondering how some of the riders who are competing in the TT will approach this race. Is there a chance that some of them will focus on the TT and so take it comparatively easy tomorrow (and in Sunday’s race as well, let’s not forget)?

    • Yes and no. Wiggins is going to be helping Cavendish, Cancellara is a capable of winning and Tony Martin could help Greipel too. So the three big picks are all likely to be involved. Rest always helps but there’s plenty of time to recover, no problem.

  17. After his amazing spring I am really surprised at the odds of a Boonen win. (30-1?)

    Yes its a long run in but the belgium team is really strong and after all he was able to hold off team sky easily in P-R.

    Maybe his injury from the tour of poland is pretty bad.

  18. Cycling being a team sport, why aren’t the medals given to the entire team? Call me a cynic, but I think a lot of these national teams will be less important than the trade teams which prevail for most of the year. Giving recognition (in the form of a medal and maybe the right to wear olympic rings around one’s sleeves) would surely encourage greater teamwork.

  19. This is the first Olympic cycling I will watch (I only started watching cycling during this years Tour de France), it is very inspiring stuff. Thanks very much for this website and I hope everyone enjoys the race tomorrow. I will cheer for Great Britain for Gold and Silver (as I’m British and like Wiggo) and hope Colombia win Bronze as I like their jerseys.

    How many do you expect will be in the final breakaway group? Will it be similar to stage 20 in the Tour de France or will a breakaway go earlier?

    • Welcome to the party!
      So you like the Colombians do you?
      You are not alone. Amazing climbers!
      Check this blog –>Cycling Inquisition<– for a very interesting look into Colombian cycling and cycling history. The bicycle and Colombia are culturally intertwined like no where else. Absolutely fascinating reading. Not a race style blog like this one is though.

  20. This reminds me of the worlds last year, Great Britain will try to shut it all down for Cavendish and I believe they will succeed. On another note I know that Canada is not a huge cycling nation but why do we only have one rider in the bunch and Iran has three?

  21. No idea what you are thinking, but it is going to be T.J. and Chris Horner tearing up the pack each time the grade picks up and eventually breaking away, finishing in a 1,2 for the U.S. Farrar will get a gift bag for finishing last.

    We sensible Americans, would just like to offer our apologies for Mitt Romney. His own party has noted many times that he is an unlikable fellow. We promise next year, you won’t hear about him again, unless it is regarding some corporate or tax evasion scandal.

  22. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for polsih team. Our cycling wasn’t in the best condidiotion in past decade, but now our young guns are clawing their way to the world peloton. In pre-olympic race Michał Gołaś was 5th, and Kwiatek (Kwiatkowski’s nickname, which means… flower) was 14th. I hope they’ll show their potential. And after all their nic guys to talk 🙂

  23. Team GB tactical prediction: 3-man TTT with Froome, Wiggins and Millar rolling turns, Cavendish in business class, and Stannard going back for water every fifteen minutes or so.

  24. Well, if there’s anything that could stop the incipient cycling boom in Britain, and make us revert to our cynical old selves, it’s a Vinokourov victory.

    There was a shot of him celebrating in front of a typically Olympian banner saying “inspire a generation” that made me a bit sick in the back of my mouth.

    • Not the best representive for the sport to be sure.

      Maybe he’ll hold off on retirement now so he can ride the tackiest gold bike for a few years. He’s always been so classy.

  25. Well, that was an interesting finish, with a decisive win by one of the most controversial riders in the peleton. Can’t wait to hear the feedback from the rabble.

  26. Did all the coverage suffer the same lack of information as the BBC? The commentators had no idea of the time gaps or who was where for most of the race. Not very enjoyable to watch, bit disappointing really after all the build up.

  27. I’m no tactical genius, but what on earth were Team GB thinking of, letting such a large escape form ahead of them?

    Was this in part due to the lack of race radios and a consequent dearth of information?

    Or was it a cock-up in which the other teams wouldn’t play ball because of their fear of handing victory on a plate to Cav, thus breaking Team GB and handing it to the escapees instead?

    The result was disappointing, but even more disappointing was the truly awful BBC commentary.

    – almost complete lack of vital information like
    who was in the big escape after the final ascent of Box Hill
    what was the time gap between the peloton and the escape

    – commentators lulled into embarrassingly jingoistic complacency, droning on and on about how Team GB were controlling the race well past the point when they obviously weren’t

    I feel sorry for Cav, but even sorrier for an obviously distressed and injured Cancellara having a camera poked into his face.

    A race that left more questions than answers I’m afraid.

Comments are closed.