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Friday, August 08, 2008

Beijing 2008: Cycling road race

Men's cycling road race: Strong men to the fore

After the glitz and glam of the Beijing opening ceremony, it's rubber meets the road time for the men's cycling road race in Beijing.

The road race is really the first occasion for us to evaluate just how big an impact the:

  1. Pollution
  2. Heat and humidity
will have on the athletes in the endurance events. It doesn't get much tougher than a 245.5 km race through Beijing, culminating in seven laps around a 23.8 km loop which showcases the Great Wall of China. The profile of the course is shown below:

The first 80km will be pretty flat, and then the seven laps begin, consisting of a climb up the Badaling Pass and the subsequent descent. The pass is not, by the recently held Tour de France standards, a monster - it's listed as 12 km at about 4%, but is apparently a little tougher than that in sections. And of course, the heat and humidity, with a race starting at mid-day in Beijing, will pose the greatest threat.

The temperature in Beijing during the last week has ranged between 32 and 36 degrees, with humidity in excess of 50% on all seven days since last Friday. That mix means the race will be a war of attrition.

The medal podium?

The race is incredibly difficult to pick, mostly because the normal Pro-team structures are non-existent, and you get the rather more interesting dynamics of nations competing against one another, pitting team-mates. It sometimes throws up some interesting conflicts, when riders from the same Pro-team break away and find themselves competing against one another for their countries, as happened in Sydney, where Jan Ullrich eventually won gold.

In terms of national teams, Spain would seem to have the strongest team - Alejandro Valverde heads up the strong squad, which also includes recently crowned Tour de France champ Carlos Sastre, 2007 Tour and 2008 Giro champ Alberto Contador, ’08 green jersey winner Oscar Freire and climbing sensation Samuel Sanchez. So they have riders to win regardless of race situation, and would seem tough to beat. Italy has the defending champion, Paolo Bettini, who should feature, and challenge strongly in defence of his title.

Also, a number of men who did not ride the recent Tour de France will be there - Contador is one, Leipheimer of the USA another. They carry "fresher" legs into the race and will have a great deal of focus for the event, having sat out the last 3 weeks in France.

Ultimately, however, it's a matter of who handles the conditions best. I would not bet against the elite group of world cycling, and would suggest that the normal presence of a big surprise athlete in a break won't be seen - the profile will take care of it, and only the very best will survive through all seven laps of the pass. So Valverde, if he's recovered, seems a good bet.

An outside bet is Andy Schleck, who looked incredible in the third week of the Tour de France, and will have his sights set on Luxembourg's first gold medal, perhaps aided by his brother. The CSC team, so dominant in the Tour, might well provide some drama in this race, albeit through men riding in quite different colours!

Whether the race will shed any light on the pollution issue remains to be seen. More likely than not, the race will show only how tough Beijing's conditions are, and the pollution cloud (pardon the pun) will hang over the Games a while longer...

Enjoy the race


Trihardist said...

Any thoughts now that it's done? You were right about the strength of ESP. But what of that pollution? Glad it's not in my lungs.

Anonymous said...

Poor Cancellara, any other place, any other time, any other finish . . . what a ride!

I'm becoming a big fan. Would not be too upset if he wins the TT.