How is the Olympic Games road race different to the WorldTour?

Think the Rio Olympic road races are like other races? Think again

The Olympic Games road races are just another mass start race on the calendar, right? Well, not quite. For riders of the WorldTour, pinning a number on and racing the Olympic Games road race in Rio de Janeiro can be quite a different experience from the nine-to-five on the continent.

No buses

The Olympic Games road races throw male riders back to their early days of racing as the usual, imposing car park full of tinted-window team buses are replaced by a chaotic line up of camping chairs, car boots and portaloos.

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Riders sat around the cars to change, fuel up, get last minute massages and chat over team tactics. It is just like how cycle racing used to be, before the advent of the multi-wheeled monstrosities. There was nowhere to hide. Except for in the portaloo.

Different team cars

Chris Froome and Ian Stannard relax in a team car ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympic road race

Chris Froome and Ian Stannard relax in a team car ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympic road race

Rather than branded-up Fords, Renaults, Citroens, Skodas and Minis, like you see on the international racing scene, teams at the Olympics all use plain white cars provided from the organisers.

These are rather bog-standard, boxy Nissan Livinas, provided from the official Olympic partner Nissan.

This isn’t all that uncommon in other races; teams use Mitsubishi cars at the Tour of Qatar, for example, to avoid them having to ship out vehicles from Europe, though that didn’t stop Sky from rocking up with a fleet of Jaguars from a local dealership in 2014 before race co-owner Eddy Merckx told them they couldn’t use them.

The smaller nations with one or two riders share cars to avoid clogging up the convoy with over 60 team vehicles.

However it’s unlikely that these cars will be in any fit state to drive after being driven on the very limit in order to follow two road races and two time trials over very windy, fast and technical routes.

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Rio de Janeiro isn’t the sort of place where riders can just hop on their bikes and go for a spin. Security is a concern, although probably not as much as the chaotic traffic and mad drivers that stalk the roads.

Riders have been able to benefit from rolling road closures and police escorts on the Grumari circuit, the loop for the time trial course and the first circuit of the road race course. However some officials reported that the closures didn’t always quite go to plan, with cars making it onto what should have been closed roads.

Team GB Rio Olympics road race preview

Small teams

With 144 starters, the men’s Olympic road race is a small field. With 63 different teams, the tactical dynamic is completely different from a WorldTour race, which usually comprises around 22 teams, each with eight or nine riders.

25 of the nations represented have just one rider, and only five nations – Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Colombia – have the full complement of five riders.

Organising the race and controlling the tactics with such a small team is all but impossible – as Great Britain found out in 2012 when they were unable to bring the race back together for a sprint for Mark Cavendish.

The women’s road race features just 67 riders, however small teams and a smaller field of the top riders is more common in women’s professional cycling.

Olympic rules

Teams must adhere to strict limits when it comes to Article 50 – a rule which exists to restrict any sneaky ambush marketing from brands that haven’t paid a lot of money to be official partners of the Olympic Games.

Teams are allocated water bottles and musettes branded only with the Rio 2016 logo, however Great Britain got around the problem by simply using water bottles with strips of black insulation tape placed over the highly recognisable logo of a multination satellite television company owned by Rupert Murdoch.

The same goes for any other equipment, although bike and equipment brands are on display on the rider’s bikes. Neutral service is provided by Shimano.


With the Olympics being a national event, team staff and mechanics are often spotted working with riders and teams you wouldn’t expect to find them with. Sky mechanics Gary Blem and Filip Tisma both worked on the men’s road race for South Africa and Slovakia respectively, their home nations.