All eyes are unsurprisingly on Chris Froome ahead of this year’s Olympic Games. And why not? The defending Tour de France winner is, on paper, Great Britain’s best shot at a medal in the road race and time trial.
In fact if the courses are anything to go by, this could be Froome’s best ever chance of an Olympic medal. A hilly time trial course has led both Tony Martin and world champion Vasil Kiryienka to describe him as the favourite for gold.
Meanwhile an exceptionally difficult road race course with over 4000m of climbing gives Froome the best chance of letting his physical attributes – being one of the best climbers in the world – overcome his deficiencies when it comes to performing in one day races.
But there are two other riders who could offer GB plenty of options in the Rio road race: Adam and Simon Yates.
As the pair embark on their third seasons as professionals with Orica-GreenEdge, both have earmarked selection for the road race in Rio as key objectives.
“From what I’ve heard, I’ve not seen it, it could be a course that suits me,” Adam told Cycling Weekly from a team training camp in Calpe, Spain. I’d like to go.”
“I’m really hopeful of making the team which will be a hard task in the first place,” added Simon. “It’s a super hard course which favours me more than other riders. I think it would be a really good experience to go. It would be one of the highlights of the season.”
Watch: Yates v Yates
Not only does the course – an arduous effort over repeated short steep hills – suit their punchy climbing characteristics down to a tee, but both have a proven track record in performing well in hilly one day classics in August.
Adam won last year’s Clasica San Sebastian, even if he didn’t realise it straight away. What you might not have realised at the time is that his brother Simon was just 15 seconds back in 14th.
It followed Adam’s debut Tour and Simon’s first full Tour (he started in 2014 but was withdrawn by his team on the second rest day). Adam was close to a podium in San Sebastian the year before too, until he crashed out in the last five kilometres.
And look at the opposition. Adam Yates beat the likes of Philippe Gilbert (second), Alejandro Valverde (third) and Joaquim Rodriguez (fourth)
He also got second at the Tour of Alberta and then second at the one-day GP Montreal on September 13, having finished ninth in an exceptionally difficult Tirreno-Adriatico last March.
Meanwhile his brother Simon last year enjoyed top sixes overall in the Tour of the Basque Country, Tour de Romandie and Critérium du Dauphiné.
The pair are already very capable of racing, and winning, against the very best in the world.
Not wanting to talk up their chances, both Adam and Simon argue that they are still young – only 23 – and relatively unproven over the sort of distance that will make up the road race. This year the Olympic course will be 256.4km long.
“It would be my first Olympic Games and obviously the Olympics is over a super long distance as well, and I’ve never really proved myself over that distance,” said Adam.
And, as Simon acknowledged, one-day races are never straight forward. Great Britain is one of only five nations to have qualified the full complement of riders for the event, however that still only leaves them with a squad of five.
London 2012 demonstrated that with all the will in the world, there’s only so much that a small squad can do. For all their Tour de France winners, UKSI bikes and secret skinsuits, GB were unable to single-handedly bring the race back for a Mark Cavendish sprint. Alexander Vinokourov crossed the line first.
“A one day race is all on one day, and you need a lot of luck and a lot of things to go your way,” said Simon.
“You look at my results from last year and I only had results in GC races and I was never really up there in one days. I’ve only ever won one one-day race in my career, and that was in my first year on the Academy when I was 18, it was a long time ago.”
It’s a long season ahead, and there remains an unknown over how all the riders, including E3 Harelbeke winner and probable Rio contender Geraint Thomas, emerge from the Tour. However GB’s manager for the men’s road events in Rio, Rod Ellingworth, is excited by the prospect.
“We’re yet to formalise what the team structure will be. You can’t go in with five leaders. So again you’ve got to wait, see how the season pans out. We’ve got ideas,” he said.
“Chris has never won a one day race. Geraint has won E3, Adam Yates has won San Sebastian. They’ve won bike races. So I think it’s pretty exciting.”