With the men’s Olympic road race now just days away, we assess how the major favourites are shaping up
Vincenzo Nibali, Italy
With his future sorted following the public announcement of his transfer to the new Bahrain-Merida team, Vincenzo Nibali is able to focus all his attention towards the Olympics. The Italian recently hit back against critics of his Tour de France performance, explaining how he used that race as a bridge to recover from his race-winning Giro d’Italia ride in spring to get into top shape for Rio.
His proven capacity for one-day races remains intact by winning the Tour of Lombardy last year, and, with team sizes at a maximum of just five, his trademark ambitious attacks will be even harder to control than normal.
Alejandro Valverde, Spain
Such is Alejandro Valverde’s extraordinary consistency that it feels he almost guaranteed a place on the podium at least, as he has achieved for Spain at the road world championships six times in his career.
He’s had an exhaustive season, riding both the Giro and the Tour as well as an extensive spring campaign, but don’t expect him to be burnt out – Valverde is pretty much unique in his capacity to ride at the top level all year.
Julian Alaphilippe, France
The French were all over the Olympics test event last summer, where they placed four riders in the top six, including Alexis Vuillermoz in first and Romain Bardet in second. Both those riders return, but it’s another, Julian Alaphilippe, who looks their best bet for a medal.
The punchy youngster built his climbing form with an impressive Tour debut, and, crucially, possesses a very fast sprint that has helped him seal three second places in the Ardennes Classics.
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Chris Froome, Great Britain
Nothing says ‘on form’ more than winning the Tour de France, and Froome was attempting to retain that level by putting in a few speculative digs at RideLondon at the weekend. But winning the Tour de France and winning an Olympics road race are two entirely different prospects, even if the route in Rio is notably mountainous.
Teammate Geraint Thomas has claimed that Team GB don’t yet have a single leader to rally around, so Froome could yet find himself in more of a support role.
Dan Martin, Ireland
Even with only one domestique (Nicholas Roche) at his disposal, few riders will be as feared in Rio as Dan Martin. The Irishman brings strong form into Rio following a career-first top-ten finish at the Tour, and has a history of winning the biggest one-day races with well-timed, punchy attacks.
He has however endured something of a relative barren spell since triumphing at the Tour of Lombardy at the end of the 2014 season, with just three wins added to his palmarès since.
Bauke Mollema, Netherlands
A few weeks ago Mollema would not have featured on a list of favourites for an Olympic medal, but the Dutchman has been on the form of his life, first keeping up with Chris Froome in the mountains at the Tour de France, then bouncing back from an unfortunate end to that race by claiming the first classic of his career with victory at San Sebastian.
He may however have to compete with Liège-Bastogne-Liège winner Wout Poels for leadership of the Dutch team, who himself is on exceptional form and may be itching for a chance to ride for himself.
Greg Van Avermaet, Belgium
Greg Van Avermaet has long-established himself as one of the best Classics riders in the peloton, but his ride at the Tour last month – where he held the yellow jersey for a few days following a
stage win in the Massif Central – proved he can also go well on the kind of longer climbs that characterise the Rio route.
With renowned attackers Tim Wellens and Philippe Gilbert also riding, Belgium should be one of the most exciting teams to watch.
Rigoberto Uran, Colombia
As the only medallist from the London 2012 road race present he’s certainly one to look out for, and has an impressive team of climbers at his disposal. But he’s had a quiet year with little to suggest he’ll repeat that success, with a solid but unspectacular seventh overall at the Giro his most eye-catching result.
Michal Kwiatkowski, Poland
The 26-year old Michal Kwiatkowski remains one of cycling’s most prodigious talents, with huge wins at the 2014 Worlds and 2015 Amstel Gold to his name, but has achieved little since his move to Team Sky this season beyond his impressive victory at the E3 Harelbeke.
This, added to the fact that the Pole hasn’t had the benefit of riding the Tour last month, means he goes into the race as more of a wildcard than a bonafide favourite.
Rui Costa, Portugal
A familiar sight at the Tour de France where he was frequently on the attack in search of a stage win, Rui Costa has built up some considerable form leading into the Olympics.
Portugal far from possess the strongest team in the race, but Rui Costa is a master of going under the radar, following wheels and ultimately taking his rivals by surprise in big one-day races such as this.