Olympic cycling road races are studies in contrast

Jul 22, 2021, 7:15 AM | Updated: 7:20 pm

TOKYO (AP) — The men’s and women’s Olympic road races that begin the cycling program at the Tokyo Games this weekend are similar only in their start amid the forests of Musashinonomori Park and their finish line at Fuji International Speedway.

After identical stretches through the outskirts of Tokyo, their courses differ with the men tackling the iconic climb of Mount Fuji twice and the women avoiding it entirely. The men also have the punchy climb of Mikuni Pass that the women avoid, and will end up riding 145 miles to the 85 for the women while nearly doubling the amount of climbing.

Yet the biggest difference between the men’s and women’s races is this: More than a dozen men have a chance to capture the gold medal in Saturday’s wide-open ride through the Tokyo countryside, while the women’s race Sunday amounts to a showdown between the four-woman Dutch team and everyone else.

“Everybody in the world is trying to figure out how to beat the Dutch girls,” acknowledged Jim Miller, the high-performance director for USA Cycling, which will roll with Ruth Winder, Coryn Rivera, Amber Neben and Chloe Dygert on Saturday.

“It’s the Dutch’s race to win or lose and every other nation is going to race off how they control the race. I think we have a good team for that,” Miller added. “We have good tactics to at least have a crack at the Dutch women.”

So, who is on this so-called Dutch dream team?

It starts with Anna van der Breggen, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, fresh off a dominant victory in the Giro d’Italia Donne. Joining the world champ are Marianne Vos, who captured gold at the 2012 Games in London; La Course by Le Tour and Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Demi Vollering; and Annemiek van Vleuten, who was leading the Rio Olympics road race before a crash on a downhill section left her with a concussion and three spinal fractures.

Together, the four riders from the Netherlands have won nine world championships, three Olympic medals and just about every marquee race for professional women — Amstel Gold, La Fleche Wallonne and many others.

“We have a very strong crop of cyclists at our disposal from which we could select three fully-fledged Olympic teams. That really is a luxury position,” Dutch national team coach Loes Gunnewijk said. “We’re one of the favorites but we are used to that. And the riders can also do very well there. It’s still sport, there are no guarantees in advance. All the pieces of the puzzle have to come together that day. But we leave with one goal: that is gold and a third consecutive title.”

Before the women take to the course, though, the men will race for one of the first medals of the delayed Tokyo Games.

Among those at the start line Saturday will be Tadej Pogacar, just six days removed from his second consecutive victory in the Tour de France. He’ll be racing alongside his Tour rival, Primoz Roglic, on the four-man Slovenian team.

Olympic courses typically suit one-day specialists rather than Grand Tour riders, but the huge amount of climbing coupled with a fast run-in to the finish means both Pogacar and Roglic could well factor into the finish at Fuji. So could Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz, who was third at the Tour, and Top 10 finisher Guillaume Martin of France.

But they’re just part of a handful — or several handfuls — of riders with an opportunity to claim Olympic gold.

Defending champion Greg van Avermaet is back for Belgium, but he’ll likely be riding in support of young standouts Remco Evenepoel and Wout van Aert, a three-time Tour stage winner. Colombia’s climbing specialists headlined by Nairo Quintana and Sergio Higuita have an opportunity to shine; Britain brings experience with Geraint Thomas and brothers Simon and Adam Yates; Australia has Richie Porte, Denmark features Jakob Fuglsang and Kazakhstan has Alexey Lutsenko.

Then there’s the Dutch men, who are out to prove they’re every bit as strong as their women counterparts. Bauke Mollema won a stage at the Tour and Wilco Kelderman finished a surprising fifth place in the overall standings.

“There are several guys who did their Tour to prepare for the Games. Maybe they still have an edge,” Evenepoel said. “But someone like Tadej recovers quickly from such a tough race. He also knows how to do it, so I don’t see why he wouldn’t be a joint top favorite. Then when you see how Wout flew in the past few weeks, you can say he’s in the shape of his life.

“He has always said he would work towards his goal and that his Tour would be to prepare for the Games,” Evenepeol added. “He’s done that well. He looks sharp and fresh. This Wout shouldn’t be afraid of this course.”

You can count former Tour winner Bradley Wiggins among those in the brilliant Belgian’s camp, too.

“Wout is the best rider in the world at the moment,” he said said on his Eurosport podcast. “The guy is phenomenal. I have huge respect for him. He’s now the favorite for the road race. He has to be. And I’d love to see him win it.”

___

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Canada's Felix Auger Aliassime, right, celebrates with teammate after defeating Australia's Alex de...
Associated Press

Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov give Canada 1st Davis Cup title

MALAGA, Spain (AP) — Felix Auger-Aliassime fell to his back behind the baseline, then waited for teammates to race off Canada’s bench and pile on top of him. A few minutes later, the Canadians finally could lift the Davis Cup. “I think of us all here, we’ve dreamt of this moment,” Auger-Aliassime said. Canada won […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Arizona State hires Oregon’s Dillingham as football coach

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State hired Oregon offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham on Sunday, making the 32-year-old the youngest head football coach in a Power Five conference. “He brings the energy, knowledge and appreciation of our state and university that is valued by all of us,” Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson said in a […]
1 day ago
Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell looks on in the first half of an NCAA college football game agai...
Associated Press

AP source: Wisconsin negotiating with Cincinnati’s Fickell

Wisconsin is negotiating a deal with Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell to try to make him the Badgers’ next head coach, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Sunday. The deal was not done, but Fickell has emerged as the leading candidate and discussions between the school and Bearcats’ head coach were […]
1 day ago
United States' Mikaela Shiffrin competes during a women's World Cup slalom skiing race Sunday, Nov....
Associated Press

Shiffrin’s bid for 6th win on home snow off to good start

KILLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Overall World Cup champion Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States was fastest in the first run of a slalom on Sunday as she remained on course for a third straight win in the discipline and a sixth on home snow. Cheered on by a passionate crowd, Shiffrin posted a time of […]
1 day ago
England's Marcus Rashford speaks to the media during a press conference at at Al Wakrah Sports Comp...
Associated Press

Rashford thinks booing of England at World Cup unnecessary

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — For Marcus Rashford, the jeers from England’s fans really weren’t necessary. He already knew the 0-0 draw with the United States wasn’t good enough. Certainly not for a team with genuine ambitions of winning the World Cup for the first time since its one and only tournament success in 1966. And […]
1 day ago
Brazil's forward Richarlison, left, scores the second goal for his team during the World Cup group ...
Associated Press

Without Neymar, Brazil takes on Switzerland at World Cup

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — There’s no Neymar facing Switzerland at the World Cup on Monday. Just Richarlison. And Vinicius Junior. And Raphinha. And Rodrygo. And all the rest of the star-laden options in a deep and talented Brazilian squad lacking its most famous player. “Each and every one is super skilled, even the center backs […]
1 day ago
Olympic cycling road races are studies in contrast