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The Olympic Road Race is a competitive road cycling race that takes place on conventional roads in and around London. The course length is 250km for men and 140km for woman that starts in the centre of London on the Mall and includes a circuit of Surrey’s Box Hill. Although it will be an individual rider who will achieve the overall win, generally it’s the hard work and team tactics that will help this rider cross the line first.

Rather than a Grand Tour, the Olympic Road Race generally compares more to one of the Classics; one day races in the UCI calendar where certain riders like Philip Gilbert and Tom Boonen excel at.

In a Classics race or the Tour de France, a team will consist of nine riders, however in the Olympic Road race, the maximum amount of riders in the men’s team is five and in the women’s team, its four.  As qualifying is based on overall standings on the UCI Pro Cycling calendar, not every country qualifies to place a full team in the race. This can mean that some countries will only have one or two riders.

The Olympic Road Race does not allow the use of Team Radios which is generally the main item a team uses to help with tactics. In Pro Races all the riders have a radio so the team manager/coach and the riders in the same team can talk to each other. This plays a serious role in getting things just right. With a radio you can learn who is going off on a breakaway, how far away a break is, whether there has been a crash ahead or if one of your riders is in trouble. Without the radios, the teams must rely on strategies that have been developed before the race begins and the intelligence to lead out your team if the race doesn’t go exactly to plan.

Although there are some differences between an Olympic Road Race and a Pro Cycling Road Race, one thing they have in common is tactics. In the sport of cycling, it’s generally team work and a strategy that will win a race and not necessarily talent.

Tactics can vary depending on the team of riders you have or the overall progression of the race. With the GB team the main objective may be to stop any breakaways from getting away and forcing the peloton to a bunch sprint at the end, knowing that they have an extremely good chance at leading out their missile and placing him over the line first. They practiced this very well in the Tour de France this year when Team Sky led out Cavendish for his win on the Champs Elysee.

A Russian rider attempts to pull away from the Peloton

Some countries who lack a sprinting talent or have a small number in their team, will try for a breakaway (a rider or a group of riders that breaks away from the main peloton), sending their main rider off the front in a specific moment in the hopes that the peloton will not be able to catch them. To make a breakaway successful you generally need more than one rider to help with the work and going on the attack too early can prove to be difficult to stay away, especially with over 100 riders chasing your wheels.

Not only must a team work together tactically, they must also have immense strength and stamina to stay with the riders and stay clear of danger, like being bunched in the peloton at the sprint or being taken down in a crash.

In the Olympics, team strategy may not always work to your advantage especially as there are several riders who may not have an entire team with them, or they may be the only rider from their country. The sole riders have the ability to latch on to another team and sit in their slip stream throughout the race, only to overtake them for a win at the last minute.

Controlling the race is essential for a win. One tactic seen in many pro races is to have one rider in the breakaway whilst the remaining team members take charge of the peloton. That way either group can be controlled to their advantage by either speeding up the peloton and controlling the breakaway or alternatively slowing down the peloton to let the brake stay away.

The Spanish control the peloton in the 2008 road race. Team mate Samuel Sanchez took the overall win.

In the London road race just after the first 40km, the road narrows and this will likely be the place where the main shift in the peloton occurs. The top teams will be fighting for the front where they will be able to control the pace of the race but also know first hand who attempts to escape.

If a breakaway makes it up the road it is likely that the Peloton will pick up the pace within the last 10km to ensure they sweep up any riders who have been lucky enough to keep a distance from the main bunch. But as many believe, this race is too challenging for a sprint finish it may just be that the those in the break manage to stay ahead and finish before the peloton can catch them.

The road race is exciting and can have nail biting moments, but don’t expect there to be successful attacks early on. Riders will want to keep their energy for the last lap or two of Box Hill before trying to get away. But with so many teams and riders after the same gold, it will be a race that not even those with great sporting knowledge can predict.

Samuel Sanchez celebrates his victory in the 2008 Olympics.

 

 

 

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