Alexander Miller assesses Australia’s chances for a green and gold rush in the cycling events of the 31st Olympiad.
While August often means quiet nights at home in front of the heater with rain pelting down outside, this year we will get a couple of weeks of reprieve. From 5–21 August, for the duration of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, our lounge rooms will be illuminated with the colour, glitz and glamour of Brazil as we’re treated to a smorgasbord of cycling events (just in case the Tour de France wasn’t enough for you).
Cycling is one of the only sports that has featured at every Olympic games of the modern era. The first event was a men’s individual road race in the 1896 Athens games and was held on the marathon route.
Australia is expected to send a strong team across the South Pacific and there are a couple of good medal chances across the road, track, mountain bike (MTB) and BMX events. Ride On has put together a handy guide with details of all the cycling categories and everything you need to know to help you cheer from your armchair.
Watching the Olympics
Channel 7 have the exclusive broadcast rights for the Olympics in Australia and are expected to produce a package that will make it hard to miss a moment. There will be 22 hours of coverage a day across three digital channels (7, 7TWO and 7mate) as well as live streaming on the 7Olympics app. News bulletins and other programs will also be very Olympic heavy. The full broadcast schedule is yet to be released—so as they say, check your local guides.
Road – 6, 7 and 10 August
The road race (6–7 August) will showcase the natural beauty of Rio de Janeiro with a 241 kilometre course starting at Fort Copacabana in the south of the city, which is also home to a military base.
It’s one of the toughest courses in Olympic history, with plenty of climbing through the hills of Rio, including a very nasty 8.2km climb up the Vista Chinesa. Cobbled segments and beachside roads also feature in the race making for a very scenic ride that should be one of the most exciting Olympic road races in a while. The men’s race (August 6) is 256km, with around 5,000m of vertical gain, while the women tackle 130km of the same challenging course on August 7.
Australia will have at four riders in the mix for the men’s road race and four contenders in the women’s. With Simon Gerrans out due to injury, Richie Porte is a strong chance in the men’s race with capable support from Rohan Dennis, RACV Great Vic alumni Simon Clarke and, in a surprise selection to get around Olympic bureaucracy, Tasmanian mountain-biker Scott Bowden. In the women’s road race, Amanda Spratt will go in as team leader with the backing of Rachel Neylan, Gracie Elvin and Katrin Garfoot.
The time trial (10 August) starts from a small peninsula called Pontal in the West Zone of Rio, and will incorporate some of the same hills as the first half of the road race course—the so-called ‘Grumari Circuit’, named after the 7%, 1.2km climb that is its defining feature. Rohan Dennis is a good chance of a medal in the men’s time trial for Australia, with Australian time-trial champion Katrin Garfoot going for the honours in the women’s event.
For those lucky enough to find themselves in Rio de Janeiro while the games are on but without a ticket there will be free viewing available at the road race and time trial.
Track – 11–16 August
A brand spanking new 5,000 seat velodrome has been developed at Barra da Tijuca (or just Barra) for the 2016 games and will host 10 medal events. The new track should not disappoint and we can expect it to deliver the speed, endurance, thrills and spills that we all love about track cycling.
Australia’s best chance for a medal at Barra will be in the men’s team pursuit, which is considered the blue-ribbon event of the track cycling program. Reigning world champions Australia and Great Britain have a fierce rivalry in this event, and it’s likely to be an edge-of-the-seat race. In other track events, Australia’s looking a good chance as well, fielding a strong mix of veterans and fresh faces in the shorter sprint events. And one of our most famous current Olympians—and this Olympiad’s flagbearer—Anna Meares is expected to put on a good show after taking out the keirin at the 2015 World Championship.
Anna Meares is the only Australian to hold a current Olympic cycling record. Meares set the leading pace for the 500 metre sprint at Athens in 2004 with a time of 33.952 seconds—the first woman to post a time less than 34 seconds.
Mountain Biking 20–21 August
With the event held on the last two days of the games, the MTB medals will be some of the last handed out at Rio.
The Mountain Bike Centre that has been prepared in the Deodoro cluster in Rio has already been hailed a success, with the International Cycling Union even having been quoted as saying that it is “way better” than that of London 2012.
There were a number of key elements considered as part of the design, including that it must be technically challenging, offer good views to spectators and reflect the character of Brazil. In an interesting homage to Brazilians’ preferred footwear, the last element was achieved by creating obstacles in the shape of thongs where riders jump off a lip at the ‘big toe’ part of the thong.
Dan McConnell and Rebecca Henderson, both bronze medallists at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland, will be our best hopes in the MTB. Scott Bowden will pull double-duty, having also competed in the men’s road race.
BMX 17–19 August
Also in Deodoro is the newly formed, 4,000 square metre Olympic BMX Centre. The track has been developed by the same designers as the London and Beijing tracks and measures up at 400 metres long. With many a tight turn, jump and obstacle the track should prove a challenge and also deliver a few tumbles along the way. One of its key features is the ‘Sugarloaf jump’, which has been modeled on Rio’s famous Sugarloaf mountain.
Australia will have strong medal chances in both the men’s and women’s events, with both Sam Willoughby and Caroline Buchanan currently sitting in the top five in the UCI BMX world rankings. Fast-rising male stars Bodi Turner and Anthony Miller will also be hoping to be in the mix, while dual Olympian Lauren Reynolds has had a cracking year so far.
Rio will be the third time BMX has been an Olympic event after its debut in the 2008 Beijing games. There is only one gold medallist in the men’s, with Latvia’s Maris Strombergs winning in 2008 and 2012 at London. Sam Willoughby is Australia’s only BMX medallist, having taken home silver in 2012. He’s also an ambassador for Bicycle Network’s own Happiness Cycle program!
The Rio Paralympics will be held from 7–18 September and will feature 50 road, time trial and track cycling events, to be held at the same venues as the Olympic games.
There are four classifications in Paralympic cycling relating to disability type: blind or partially sighted (where athletes use a tandem bicycle); handcycle; tricycle; and standard (where a regular bike with modifications is used). Within these classifications, races are held for those with differing degrees of disability, such as severely impaired athletes who compete in handcycle events lying down, while less impaired athletes compete against each other while kneeling on their bike.
Additionally, there are 16 events that are factored, where athletes with differing degrees of impairment compete against each other. The severity of impairments is taken into account when determining the result, with some riders then having their times ‘factored’.
Australia’s cycling team for the Paralympics is still to be finalised so we will have to wait eagerly to see who makes the Games, however, we can expect some of our champions such as Caz Cooke and Michael Gallagher to get the call-up.
Track cycling 8–11 September
Cycling will return to the velodrome at Barra for the Paralympics for time trial, pursuit and sprint events held for blind or partially sighted athletes and those on standard bikes with modifications.
Track cycling has featured at the Paralympic games since Atlanta 1996, with Australia faring well. Lindy Hou is the second highest women’s medal winner with five (one gold), while Kieran Modra sits third on the all-time medal ladder for the men with six (five gold).
Road cycling 14–17 September
Road cycling events will be held at Pontal and include road races and time trials for men and women, as well as a mixed time trial and relay.
Australia is the most successful nation in men’s road cycling at the Paralympics, having both the first and second highest medal winners in the sport, in Christopher Scott (six medals, three gold) and Peter Homann (five medals, two gold).
Road cycling debuted at the 1984 Paralympic games, which were held in the USA and UK simultaneously.