RIO DE JANEIRO Brazil, Aug 5 – Kenyan born British cyclist Chris Froome will lead the Great Britain team as he bids to emulate the feat of decorated compatriot Bradley Wiggins in the Olympic cycling road race on Saturday.
Four years ago, Wiggins followed up becoming the first ever Briton to win the Tour de France by adding Olympic gold in London and later went on to be voted his country’s sportsman of the year.
That final accolade is one to have escaped Froome, despite his Tour dominance since Wiggins’s trailblazing success — Froome has won it three times in four years.
The Sky team leader still does not command the same admiration or popularity and his more charismatic countryman.
He will have two bites at the cherry in Rio as the Kenyan-born 31-year-old is also entered in the time-trial.
But his best chance of gold will likely come on the 241.5km hilly road race, that he himself described as a climber’s route.
Froome is one of the best climbers in the world and he should be rubbing shoulders with the specialist punchers — one-day classics experts — when Saturday’s race gets to its business end with three ascensions of a 9km climb in the final third.
The smart money, though, is on the likes of Spaniards Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez, or Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali for the gold medal as all three excel in such lumpy finales with a downhill finish.
“It’s a real climber’s course. It’s going to be hard,” said Froome.
“For sure the Colombians will be good, Valverde, Nibali and riders like that.”
Colombia’s team looks impressive despite the absence of Nairo Quintana, who was widely regarded as the world’s best climber before a disappointing Tour where he failed to spark, although he subsequently complained of suffering from a mystery allergy.
Sergio Henao, Froome’s Sky team-mate, Rigoberto Uran, silver medallist in London, Jarlinson Pantano and Esteban Chaves make up a formidable group of strong climbers.
France also have a talented team in Romain Bardet, second to Froome at last month’s Tour, Alexis Vuillermoz, Julian Alaphilippe and Warren Barguil.
Another Froome team-mate in Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski, the 2014 world champion, will also likely be in the hunt, although he’s not expected to relish the 30+ degree Celsius heat predicted for this weekend.
Ireland’s Dan Martin, a former winner of the prestigious Liege-Bastogne-Liege one-day classic, and 2013 world champion Rui Costa of Portugal are others to keep an eye on.
Even if Froome were to win, he may still be upstaged by Wiggins who is going for a fifth Olympic title this year having made a return to the track, where he will compete in the team pursuit, something he won at the 2004 Games.
– Twitter spat –
In the women’s race, which takes place on Sunday but is around 100km shorter, there promises to be a spicy battle between the last two world champions, incumbent Lizzie Armitstead of Britain and Frenchwoman Pauline Ferrand-Prevot.
The two have been involved in a war of words lately over Armitstead’s Rio inclusion despite missing three doping tests.
The 27-year-old was provisionally suspended by UK anti-doping (UKAD) but appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and won her case.
That decision was highly criticised by Ferrand-Prevot, who will also compete in mountain biking in Rio, sparking a social media debate that even involved spurious accusations from Armitstead’s husband.
“I never said she took something or that she has doped,” said Ferrand-Prevot of her opposition to Amritstead’s Games inclusion.
But she added: “The rules have to be respected, otherwise it’s a free for all.”
Reigning champion Marianne Vos should be a contender but she herself believes Dutch team-mate Anna van der Breggen is a better bet due to her superior climbing skills.