The Olympic Games road race is one of the toughest events on the cycling calendar to predict.
At 250km in length, it will be similar in duration to the classics or the world championships. Yet a unique and unprecedented course means there is no formula for the race to stick to, or break from.
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The race should be defined by the 15.5km loop around Box Hill in Surrey, to be ridden nine times. On its own, Box Hill is no more than a lump for the riders. But nine times, with a cumulative ascent of over 1500m, and that is a different story.
Will it be too hard for the sprinters? Will a break be able to survive on the 40km run in to London? Who will make it to the finish on the Mall in the best shape? It is very difficult to say.
In addition there will be 145 riders from 64 different countries taking to the start line on the Mall on Saturday, with many nations represented with one-man teams. Unlike the world championships, where teams of up to eight are allowed, the maximum number of riders permitted for one team is five.
The usual professional allegiances are thrown out of the window, and it is a race that is very difficult for one team to control. It should be absolutely fascinating to watch.
Gambling is a mug’s game, so we at Cycling Weekly have picked our top ten favourites for the men’s race.
Mark Cavendish, 27, Great Britain
The Manx Missile goes into the race supremely confident and the outstanding favourite. He has home support and a full strength GB team of Ian Stannard, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and David Millar on his side.
Cav knows how to win on the Mall, having done so at the London-Surrey Cycle Classic – the test event for the Games – last August. He has made no secret of the fact that the Games are his season’s biggest goal; slimming down after the Giro and riding a defensive and conservative Tour de France.
If Cavendish can make it to the finish straight on the Mall in the leading group there are few who would bet against his devastating finish. But that ‘if’ is the biggest hurdle for Cavendish to overcome, and nearly everyone else involved will be working to make sure the world champion doesn’t make it over.
Peter Sagan, 22, Slovakia
Sagan is such an unknown quantity. At just 22 there is no-one, not even Sagan himself, who knows what he is capable of. A dominant performance at the Tour where he won the green jersey suggests the road race is well within his sights.
He can climb better than most sprinters, and stick close to them on a fast finish. Although Cavendish may have won on the Champs Elysees, it was Sagan who looked to be carrying the most speed out of those behind.
How he will get on after an exhausting debut Tour campaign and plenty of post-Tour criteriums remains to be seen, as does his ability to survive the race as the sole representative from Slovakia. Yet this season Sagan has answered all of his doubters with stunning performances, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him do it again.
Tom Boonen, 31, Belgium
A specialist when it comes to one-day races, the tough and strong Belgian had a perfect spring campaign where he came away with four big classics, three of which came from a sprint.
Although he hasn’t come up against Cavendish yet, he should be well placed to deal with Box Hill and has a strong Belgian team behind him. A cracked rib at the Tour of Poland dented his build-up slightly, but Boonen was quickly back to regular training and should be on top form.
Matt Goss, 25, Australia
Goss looked second best at the Tour de France where, despite placing himself well in the sprints, he lacked the kick and speed of the very best.
The one thing the Tasmanian isn’t lacking is consistency, and a strong Aussie team means Goss is very likely to be there at the finish. Cavendish has previously said that he fears his old team mate, who came a narrow second at the 2011 world championships.
Fabian Cancellara, 31, Switzerland
He skipped the second half of the Tour de France to be at home for the birth of his second child so family-man Fabian will be well rested when he hits London at the road race and time trial.
Bumped up to a silver medal from 2008 after David Rebellin’s removal for doping, the only way that the time-trial gold medallist from Beijing can do better this time around is two golds.
You can almost guarantee Cancellara will be in amongst the action, his searing pace able to be matched by none. Yet twice this year the Swiss rider has had this extraordinary strength turned against him as a rival has jumped from his wheel to take the win.
If he wants to win, Cancellara will have to make the race hard. Very hard.
Edvald Boasson Hagen, 25, Norway
A talented rider who can climb and sprint, Boasson Hagen was a key part of Wiggins’ 2012 Tour win and Cavendish’s three stage wins.
He also has the endurance to win alone, as he demonstrated with a fine individual victory into Pinerolo at the 2011 Tour.
He is missing the speed to beat Cavendish, but should be able to hold on in a hard race. But could his versatility work against him and see him lose out to the specialists?
Philippe Gilbert, 30, Belgium
Gilbert has had nowhere near the season he enjoyed last year, where he blitzed the Ardennes Classics. And without his favoured uphill finish to surge away on, it will be tricky for him to engineer a way to win on the Mall.
Nevertheless it is difficult to write off the Belgian who has had a couple of decent finishes to his name in 2012 and, although not the fastest, can still sprint.
Andre Greipel, 30, Germany
‘Gorilla’ Greipel is the powerhouse of the field and has a strong German team working to get him to the line. If any one can outdrag Cav, it will be Greipel, but if he can make it to the finish then Cavendish certainly can.
Luis Leon Sanchez, 28, Spain
One to watch for the time-trial on August 1, Sanchez came out of the Tour on top form with an individual stage win and third on the final TT.
His best chance will come from a lone breakaway, but he’s a wily rider ready to exploit any uncertainty in the peloton and will find Box Hill easier than most.
Sylvain Chavanel, 33, France
A strong and gutsy rider well loved by the CW team, he too will be looking to break clear on the final few kilometres into London. He suffered an illness which forced him out of the final week of the Tour, but he had a good spring behind him and plenty of experience at the longer races.