Why hasn’t Great Britain won more Rio Olympic cycling medals yet?

Great Britain have just one medal from four cycling events at Rio 2016. What went wrong?

By this time four years ago in London, Great Britain’s cyclists had walked away with three Olympic medals in the road cycling events.

Lizzie Armitstead kicked things off with silver in the women’s road race before Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome claimed gold and bronze in the time trial.

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This year, in Rio, Britain has just one medal – Froome’s bronze in the time trial – by the time the events in the velodrome kick off on Thursday.

“I think we can be pleased with our performance on the road, the way that we tackled it,” said Iain Dyer, GB’s head coach.

“Geraint was properly on the hunt there [in the men’s road race], it went so well for such a long proportion of a big demanding race, and we fell at the last hurdle. But from that point of view we weren’t far off so we can still hold our head up high that we did a good job.”

The pressure is on the track riders over the next six days to bring Britain’s medal haul back up to towards the medal count of 12 from London. What seems to have gone wrong for the road team in Brazil?

Post-Tour fatigue

Chris Froome collected a bronze medal behind Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) and Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) in the Olympic time trial (Sunada)

Chris Froome collected a bronze medal behind Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) and Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) in the Olympic time trial. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada

When Wiggins won gold in London, just a week separated his Tour de France triumph and the road events at the 2012 Olympics, allowing him to carry his form with relative ease.

This year, 18 days separated Paris from Praia do Pontal and the Olympic time trial. Froome, having raced the Aalst criterium and RideLondon plus having spent time at home before travelling to Rio, was undoubtedly lacking his top form.

“I gave it everything I had,” Froome said. “I tried to hold something back for the second lap but got into the second lap and just didn’t have the legs to really push on.

“Potentially, yeah [I have lost form],” he added. “That was one of the challenges; the Tour was the focus of my season and to come here with that form and try to back it up.”


Geraint Thomas looked like Great Britain’s best hope of a medal when he made the lead group of contenders in the men’s road race on Saturday. However the Welshman crashed out of contention on the descent of the Vista Chinesa climb, injuring his hip, glutes and lower back.

Nor did that crash do him any favours in Wednesday’s time trial when, in with a shout of a medal after a late call up, he felt he was lacking power.

“Maybe the crash might have [hindered me] a bit,” Thomas said. “For whatever reason I didn’t feel on it…and on a course like that it really shows. If you’re good you can really motor round and recover in the little downhills, but if you’re not, then you struggle.”

Bad weather

Emma Pooley in the women's time trial, Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Emma Pooley in the women’s time trial, Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Emma Pooley finished a distant 14th in the women’s time trial, 2-05 down on gold medalist Kristin Armstrong in gusty, wet conditions in Brazil.

It’s not clear whether she would have won a medal had the conditions been kinder to her slight physique and lack of raw power, but her GB coach Brian Stephens believed she certainly would have been faster.

“Given a stiller day we would have been in with a lot better shout, but when this wind came up, it was always going to make things a lot harder,” he said. “With her weight, she gets blown around the road a bit. 50kg, it’s not an advantage.”

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A bad week for Lizzie Armitstead

World champion Armitstead was glad to see the back of a difficult week that saw her face up to the revelation that she had narrowly escaped a ban for three whereabouts failures in the run up to Rio.

Fifth in the women’s road race behind winner Anna van der Breggen came down to the narrowest of margins, and Armitstead admitted that some sleepless nights could account for some lost watts.

“I felt a little bit like a zombie going into it – not much sleep in the past few weeks,” she told the BBC.

“Obviously I’ve lost quite a lot of sleep and it’s been a hard time, but that’s not an excuse,” she added.

Time triallists went too hard in the road race

Fabian Cancellara, men's time trial in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

Fabian Cancellara, men’s time trial in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games

GB’s entrants in the time trial were left ruing the effects of the deep efforts they made in the road races the previous weekend.

Tom Dumoulin, Fabian Cancellara and Kristin Armstrong all pulled out of their road races before the sharp end of the racing in order to conserve energy for the time trial.

Pooley believed she could have saved more energy in the road race but did not regret working for her teammate Armitstead.

“If I’d ridden differently on Sunday and maybe saved a bit more,” she mused, “but we had a chance on the road race as well so I had to help Lizzie there. So that’s just the way it is at the Olympics.”

Thomas said that Froome’s efforts in the road race cost him time in the time trial but that it was hard for the Tour de France winner to hold back.

“If he had come here specifically to do well in the TT then that would be the best thing to do [pull out in the road race] but it’s hard to do that,” Thomas said.

“When you’re a bike racer you never want to stop. As it turns out in hindsight maybe he should have taken it a bit easy, but it’s not in Froomey’s nature.”