Olympics Women’s Road Race Preview

The women’s road race is on today and features the same start and finish but cuts out the Fuji and Mikuni mountains to make for a more hectic race that will be harder to predict in the finish, although who’d bet against another Dutch win?

The Course: 137km and over 2,500m of vertical gain. As the race has to start in Tokyo given it’s the Tokyo Olympics and they’ve opted for a shorter course there’s no room for Fuji nor Mikuni. This blog doesn’t often cover women’s cycling – perhaps the picks below will prove why – but one of the pet peeves here is that too much of the coverage of women’s cycling is about the coverage of women’s cycling, understandable but it can crowd out coverage of the sport and its athletes. So yesterday was the time to bemoan the course, today is about enjoying the race to come… So it’s the now familiar route out of the city via the Tama hills to Sagamihara, twisting around suburbia via several unmarked climbs that don’t show on the profile but tell on the legs.

From here it’s the road to Dōshi and the Yamabushi pass, a 38km portion of road that gradually gains in elevation and has some sections where it pays to change chainrings but otherwise it’s fast until the final five kilometres. There’s a hairpin bend and a final ramp to the pass which goes via a tunnel.

Then it’s the long way around Laka Yamanaka to the foot of the Kagosaka pass. This is roughly 2.5km at 5% and a big ring kind of climb and comes with 40km to go. Anyone dropped here can hope to get back on the descent which longer, fast and not very technical, there are bends but the road is wide and well-engineered. Once the descent is over there are some local roads with rolling hills to reach the Fuji Speedway circuit.

The Finish: one and three quarter laps around the Fuji Speedway and again this is no dragster course. It’s into the circuit via the sapping climb that Richard Carapaz used to ditch Brandon McNulty before a tour of the tarmac circuit that then heads out into Oyama town on some lumpy roads before going back to the circuit and tackling the “Carapaz” climb once more.

The Contenders: if the men’s peloton yesterday felt small with under 130 riders, here’s a field of 67 although it’s more dense, a higher proportion of the world’s best riders are here rather than sitting at home compared to the men.

When national Olympic committees sit down to work out where they’re likely to strike gold, whoever was doing this for the Dutch NOC*NSF probably put “cycling, women’s road race” at the top of their list. After all Anna van der Breggen won in Rio, Marianne Vos in London while Annemiek van Vleuten has won everything except the Olympics and it feels like a matter of time until Demi Vollering wins. The only problem is four captains and a “too many cooks spoil the dashi” scenario but each time the worlds happens the Dutch manage, taking the rainbow jersey every year since 2017. Still on a hot course not having an obvious helper is a problem but a luxurious position other selectors would love to have.

Rival countries have different tactics. Some can hold tight and pray for a sprint in the hope that they might get the better of Vos and Vollering but on the hilly circuits by the finish the field will be reduced and any sprinters remaining will have blunt legs. Still this is a card the likes of Emma Norsgaard (Denmark), Coryn Rivera (USA) and Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) could play.

Another tactic is to get in a move with at least one Dutch rider and hope that this keeps the others at bay. If other nations attack then yes a Dutch rider could sit on but at least the breakaway knows who their opponent is. Here the likes of Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland), Grace Brown (Australia), Soraya Paladin (Italy) or Juliette Labous (France) can take a risk in order to lose. Meanwhile Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain) will need to take risks but it’s less risky to back her chances of delivering. A part of every neutral must want Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark) to win if only for the post-race reaction and while she’s good on punchy courses, today’s maybe not hard enough.

Chloe Dygert (USA) has based everything on the Olympics this year and while the TT is the big goal if she has the form of years past then she could just try to barge away and while she’ll lack the reflexes from regular racing in the peloton, the wide roads aren’t too stressful. Less of an engine but in a similar manner Mavi Garcia (Spain) can go for a solo raid too. The same for Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) but with more finesse. If they rode up Mikuni then Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa) would have a strong chance but absent a summit finish it’s much harder for the climbers.

Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen
Demi Vollering, Annemiek van Vleuten
Lizzie Deignan, Elisa Longo Borghini, Coryn Rivera
Niewiadoma, Bastianelli, Kopecky, Brennauer
Moolman, Spratt, Cavalli, Paladin, Gigante,

Weather: sunshine turning cloudy and hot again with 31°C but a touch less humid.

TV: live from start to finish, the race starts at 1.00pm JST and should finish around 5.15pm JST, this makes it 6.00am – 10.15am for those on CEST in Europe, 5.00am-9.15am for British viewers and midnight-4.00am EST for those in the US East Coast. If you’re in Europe and need more sleep, you could tune in after two hours for the upper section of the Yamabushi pass and beyond.

Ganbatte Eri-san: Eri Yonamine is one of the home riders. A ITF-ranked tennis player, she took up cycling at university, started riding more, including a long tour towards Mount Fuji and now, via multiple national titles and long spells living in Europe, is back to the same roads she once toured on as a beginner. 17th in Rio, today should be a great homecoming but Yonamine had a difficult spring campaign this year and as she explained in her blog couldn’t find the reason until iliac artery endofibrosis was diagnosed. It’s almost an occupational hazard for pro cyclists and the symptoms of a lack of power from one leg probably need to be trumpeted more. It affects a surprising amount of riders, think Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and the remedy is often surgery. Only Yonamine’s diagnosis is so recent she was faced with having surgery and sitting out the games, or trying to train and race by mitigating and managing the condition. She starts today because of opting for the latter, having adjusted her position.

27 thoughts on “Olympics Women’s Road Race Preview”

  1. Thanks for the reviews. Are you doing the mtb or is that to far out of your knowledge base?

    I don’t know the ladies as well as i should but for the Australians i would have given Gracie Brown more chainrings than Amanda Spratt. 2 or 3 chainrings as she has had some good results in 1 day races the last 12 months.

  2. I predict van der Breggen will hit the front at Km0 and ride a 136.8 Km leadout for her team shredding the peloton in the process. She’s retiring at the end of the year and has shown herself more than happy to work for teammates (see L-B-L). Then it will be a drag race between Vos and Vollering.

    Demi Vollering FTW!

  3. On the BBC commentary, the Dutch team were being lacerated for their tactics, but, in the end they were only 45 seconds from gold, and didn’t have race radios to judge the distance. Clearly a misjudgement, but an understandable one, in my opinion, and at least they got a medal to show at the end.

    • Did van Vleuten think it was gold she’d won? Thought Boardman’s expert commentary on the BBC was pretty awful. Kept declaring the podium done and dusted only to have to eat his own words moments later.

      • That draggy climb on the moto circuit was much harder than any of the commentators really noticed. McNulty blew on it yesterday and the peloton must’ve taken 30 seconds back on the chasers there and caught them as it crested.

      • I didn’t hear Boardman say that – he did say the gold was gone and the Dutch needed to get organized if they wanted a medal. However, he was somewhat below his usual excellent level. Probably exhausted due to two consecutive days of commentating though the night.

        I was also surprised no-one suspected what was going on with respect to the lethargic chase. My first thought on turning on with just over 30km to go was that they were racing as if they didn’t know the leader was out there. The BBC commentary team didn’t even seem to get suspicious when AVV got her hands in the air for silver.

      • Comment of the day!!!! The Olympic backers in the Netherlands should be asking some hard questions of the Dutch federation and the bozos who let the gold medal slip out of their grasp.
        The look on AVV’s face when she realized she was 2nd instead of 1st was priceless!!!
        Another race run without the “safety” of radio earpieces…whew..another bullet dodged!

        • The “bozos” names are van Vleuten, van der Breggen, Vollering, and Vos. I watched the entire race, and they were at the front of the lead peloton throughout the chase. I never saw them spending time at the team car, so I’m not sure what the Dutch federation or anyone else was supposed to do. Kiesenhoffer rode off at km 0, and there were numerous other riders who went off the front, and were caught, throughout a long and very hot day. Kiesenhoffer’s ride was both phenomenal race and completely unexpected. I just read that she paid extra attention to heat acclimation in the weeks before the race, and unlike everyone else has solely focused on the Olympics and not dominating the professional women’s peloton as the Dutch women have been doing. How about giving her credit for doing something epic and noteworthy, rather than diminishing her accomplishment by mocking some of the greatest cycling athletes of all time as bozos?

          • In keeping with my wish this not become cyclingnews.com2.0 I will just reply to your fauxtrage with surprise that none of the Dutch team staff managed to let their riders know what was going on. One assumes there were TV broadcasts viewable by them and I don’t think cell phones were banned, just earpieces, so why wasn’t the staff at the roadside informed so they could relay the splits (You know, the old-time way as in yelling them out) as they handed up bottles, etc? As they say, this ain’t “rocket surgery”!
            The proof is Elisa Longo-Borghini knew that she was racing for silver as she chased AVV to the line so WTF? The Dutch Olympic committee should ask WTF didn’t their riders know what was going on?
            Please note nothing I wrote takes anything away from the winner of this race, it’s YOU who are implying that I’m doing so simply by pointing out that pretty much by any measure this was the Dutch team’s race-to-lose when the team is van Vleuten, van der Breggen, Vollering, and Vos.

          • So van Vleuten was wearing a cell phone in her jersey?! I had no idea. Or were they supposed to pass her a note taped to a water bottle? Or maybe you think they stop and chat with the team members by the side of the road? Did the Dutch directors in the car somehow know that their riders didn’t know that there were three riders up the road? That they might not be getting accurate splits?

            ELB was very smug in her humble bragging about the arrogant Dutch riders. I found her comments rather self serving, but even assuming she was sure there was another rider up the road, that has nothing to do with the fact that the Dutch team members had no way to communicate with someone in the team car when they were busy driving the race.

            Larry, you’re always harping about how the lack of radios would make racing more interesting. But instead of celebrating this improbable event, you instead mock the Dutch team and riders. Do you actually enjoy watching these races at all, or are they just excuses for you to complain?

  4. No mention of Kiesenhoffer in INRNG’s predictions? I sometimes wonder if this man actually knows anything at all about cycling.

    • I do hope there’s an irony emoji in there somewhere!
      What a refreshing result – the upset, the fantastic human performance from this Austrian woman, the breakaway that could, the non-factor of team ‘tactics’ (as in the men’s race).

    • I saw the startlist and her name on it and thought “ah great, she’s starting” and so a small anecdote…

      I can’t remember the climb but from a Giro or Tour stage recon ride I came across an “Anna Kiesenhofer” very high on the Strava leaderboard for a mountain pass, up there with guys from the World Tour. Given the Anna name it stood out and was she a promising U23 ready to burst onto the scene, or perhaps some world-beating triathlete I’d not yet heard of? No, an amateur who was a maths post grad at a highly rated Swiss university, albeit she’d been a semi-pro before. Anyway the name stuck and it was great to see she’d gone to Tokyo. Now… wow.

      • Wonderful anecdote. I think this goes to one reason I especially enjoy following the women’s races. Not only are there plenty of interesting, personable riders who are more than just athletes optimized to cycle, but it’s inconceivable that a guy could come out of nowhere to even get to the Olympics, much less win in the men’s race. I was talking to my mother-in-law around the middle of the race and explaining that the three breakaway riders had no chance and that I’d only head of one of them. It was refreshing to be so wrong. As you said – wow!

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