The Australian men's team for the Olympic Games road race Saturday is ready to make a challenge for its first male road medal since Clyde Sefton's silver at the 1972 Munich Games. The team of BMC duo of Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis, and Cannondale-Drapac's Simon Clarke have been confirmed for the 241.6km road race along with the intriguing addition of 21-year-old mountain biker Scott Bowden.
All four will be making their Olympic road race debuts with Dennis the only rider with previous Olympic experience after winning silver in the team pursuit at the 2012 London Games.
After his best grand tour result yet, fifth at the Tour de France, Porte had one final hit out at the Clasica San Sebastian before flying to Rio ahead of his Olympics debut where he will lead the Australian quartet.
"Why not, in the Tour I think I showed I was one of the better riders there," said Porte. "I think coming out of the Tour it is always a hard one, but I think I have done all I can do to get here fit and healthy.
"Fifth in the Tour, the form doesn't evaporate in a few weeks. In San Sebastian it was key for me to get out of it safely, another 220km race in the legs is perfect preparation for this race," Porte added of the Fort Cocacobana to Fort Copacabana course.
The Rio course is being regarded as one of the hardest put forward at an Olympics with the parcours expected to suit the climbers. Porte has medalled on several occasions at the Australian national championships, which is also suited to puncheurs and climbers, and will start the race as the favourites for a medal.
However the Tasmanian was coy on his own chances when asked, and suggested the likes of three-time Tour winner Chris Froome, Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali will be the men to watch.
"Froome, also coming out of the Tour, he is in fantastic condition, the Italian and Spanish teams are the strongest teams here," said 31-year-old Porte. "I think it is going to be a tricky and everyone has a great chance to win, there are some huge favourites."
For Clarke, who was called up to replace Simon Gerrans who crashed out of the Tour with a broken collarbone, the course will be as challenging as anything on the world cycling calendar as he explained and is looking forward to the challenge.
"Definitely is a unique race that we don't usually see in Europe, so I think it is going to be really tough," said 30-year-old Clarke who first saw the course during a Cycling Australia recon late-last year. "It has got so many different aspects, with the flat sections we do first the cobbles and then the steep climbs and saw a lot of incidents and things holding up the test event last year, so it will be an obstacle to get over safely.
"Once we are through that, to tackle the eight kilometre climb three times, well there are never three climbs of this length in a one day race."
With Clarke to play the back up card and call the shots on the road, Dennis will be a key support rider with his focus on the time trial on August 10. Dennis, 25, withdrew from the final week of the Tour to ensure peak condition for the Olympic Games, and despite a minor crash in training, explained he is ready for his first appearance in Rio.
"We have Richie and Simon, Richie just came fifth in the Tour and Simon has been there for numerous World Championships when we have performed well, so they are going to be watching us for sure," Dennis said. "Initially I was a little bit worried about not getting the last bit of training block from the last week of the Tour, almost considered doing the last week full on at home. But I have come up good, even yesterday after the crash I felt really good."
Mountain biker Bowden is the second Tasmanian in the squad with the former BMX rider selected in the road squad after Australia decided to allocated a place from the road team to the men's track endurance squad.
"An amazing opportunity for me and I am pretty honoured to be stepping into the role to do a job for Australia," said Bowden who is currently studying medicine at Hobart University