Alex Dowsett (Movistar Team) has confirmed that he is on the hunt for a place in the Great Britain Olympic Games squad, where both he and Chris Froome (Team Sky), amongst others, have their sights on the country’s single time trial spot in Rio.
Froome’s credentials for the place are considerable, and stretch back a long way. Whilst his more recent results do no need repeating, it’s often forgotten the Sky rider’s first ever lead in a Grand Tour, in the Vuelta in 2011, came on the back of a strong mid-race time trial. Then after running close behind Bradley Wiggins in the Tour’s time trials the following year Froome secured a bronze medal in that speciality in the London Olympics in 2012. On paper, too, the hefty proportion of climbing on the Rio time trial course would be to Froome’s liking.
Dowsett has some significant victories against the clock to his name as well, including the Commonwealth Games title in 2014 and silver in 2010, a Giro d’Italia time trial win in 2013 ahead of Bradley Wiggins and multiple national time trial titles. Not to mention a UCI Hour Record.
Dowsett and Froome are just two of several possible stand-out names for that single place, and a lot can happen between now and the final selection. The list of rivals for time trial gold in Rio is a long one as well, with Tony Martin through to Tom Dumoulin and Vasil Kiryenka all possible contenders.
“Rio is a goal,” Dowsett told Cyclingnews, “but it’s going to be super tough as neither me nor [GB teammate] Steve [Cummings] finished top ten in Richmond [the World Championships time trial], so we didn’t secure that extra place.”
Quite apart from Rio being a course he recognises which is “very hilly”, and therefore not so good for him, there’s also a rule which means that the time triallist has to take part in the road race, which Dowsett calls “stupid”. “It’s like asking [top sprinter] Usain Bolt to do the 400 as well as the 200 and the 100. It’s supposed to be the pinnacle of the sport, but putting in a rule like that dilutes the Olympics. A one hour test is very different to a six-hour race. But…c’est la vie.”
Regardless of said regulation, Dowsett’s determination to get to Rio will not be dented. “I’m going to give it everything. I’ve got to lose some weight if I want to be competitive there, start shedding muscle but maintain the power, to an extent like what Wiggins and Tom Dumoulin did, although not to the same extent.”
“Doing that is going to be a tough winter. Obviously nothing’s selected yet, but to my mind the best way would be to win time trials in the Giro d’Italia. Certainly the Chianti one, there’s quite a bit of elevation, perhaps one that could help me in that [Olympic] selection.”
“But I’m under no illusions. I’m going to be up against it. In terms of my road performances this year, they haven’t been all that spectacular.” When it’s pointed out to him that he won the first stage race of his career this season at the Bayern Rundfahrt in May, Dowsett instantly counters, “yes, but it was a flat course. I’ve come painfully close a few times, like the  Tour of Britain.”
Preparing for the Olympics via the Giro d’Italia has been done in the past by British riders, but as a build-up for the track. Pete Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas, for example, both raced the Italian Grand Tour in 2012 en route to racing at the team pursuit in London, where Great Britain took gold. As Dowsett sees it, “the time trial sits in between the road and the track, which is again why it should be an event in its own entity.”
With Rio very much in mind, his changes in training and general build-up to the season will be “polar opposites to the winter last year, because of the UCI Hour Record. This week I’ll take myself off to the Canary Islands for two weeks and another three weeks in January…It’s funny, all the Brits go to the south of Spain in the winter and that’s when all the Spaniards go to the Canary Islands, so I thought I’d just leapfrog the process and go straight down there,” he half-jokes.
But he won’t be joining the Grand Tour specialists in their lonely eyrie-like hotel on Mount Teide for altitude training. “No, the [Canary Island] heat will help get the weight off, and the wind, and just getting the miles in.”
He is refreshingly honest, too, about his chances of making it to Rio, but also highlights about how important it is to him. “I’m up against Froome for Olympic selection, and at the moment, based on past performances, I wouldn’t take me. So I’ve got some work to do to prove I’m worthy for the spot.”
“At the moment, though, I’m not thinking beyond the Olympics. The Tour of Britain, the World Championships, the usual I guess…if I do get to shed the weight, it might open up a whole lot of new doors as to what I’m capable of doing well in. Like the  Tour of Britain, I lost that because of Ditchling Beacon, because of a climb. So who’s to say I can’t turn that around a little bit?”
Movistar’s continuing enormous run of success, he says, helps spur him on. “It’s a bit like when I was back in Trek with Taylor Phinney and all that lot. Taylor was winning, and success breeds success. We were all 'we’d better pull our fingers out as well.’ When you see a teammate winning, you think ‘I could do that.’ It’s great being part of at teammate’s win, but you think ‘I could do that as well’.”
“Movistar is a good place to be for that. There are no egos, everybody rides for each other and it’s not as regimented as I felt it was in my time at Team Sky, but [at Movistar] it works. It really does work.”
“I remember my first team time trial at Movistar. Like Team Sky you’d know what position you were going to be, how many turns you’d be doing…Movistar we were riding up to the start line and they told us over the radios which order we were going to race in.”
“I was there thinking ‘this is going to be a shambles’ but then we ran second to Quick Step.” That led him to realise that - with no dis-respect to Sky intended - Movistar’s way of doing things had its own advantages. “Because it’s a little looser, nobody’s afraid to do a small turn or do a much bigger turn. And that showed in our World Championships [team time trial] this year [where Movistar ran third], a guy like Jash Sutterlin, I kind of stuck my neck out and said he should be in the team. Unlike last year where he went out of the blocks like a greyhound, sat on 600 Watts for two minutes twice and was out half way through, this year I worked with him a bit and you could see that if he was nervous, he wasn’t scared, he rode incredibly well.”
“We’ve got some really great bike riders here, they’re intelligent, they just know how to race and what to do. Morale is good, the staff are super friendly, there are no egos, everybody gets stuck in, I like it.”
The Tour de France is not off the 27-year-old’s radar, particularly after his abandon through injury this July. Instead it remains unfinished business. “I’m more thinking about the Olympics but my role at the Tour was to deliver Nairo and Valverde in stressful situations, something I did well until I crashed, and I did mediocrely after I crashed. If Eusebio says the boys want you there at the Tour, that changes the dynamic again and we’ll work to that. All I’ve said is, from a selfish point of view, how best I can get selected for the Olympics sits well with the Giro d’Italia. But if they sit down and say it’s the Tour de France, I’ll be doing that.”
The Giro is where Dowsett has shone his brightest in the past, though, and he describes his memories of the 2013 Giro time trial win as “kind of a blur. Brad [Wiggins] had been recce-ing it and he told me whoever won it would do so by three or four minutes because it was so hard so I wrote myself off.”
His victory was all the more special for that. “It’s funny in cycling, the best wins are the ones you don’t expect because you actually enjoy them.”
“The ones that you aim for, it’s more a relief than elation. The Commonwealth Games is a classic example, in Delhi [in 2010] I got second and that was completely unexpected so I was thrilled with that, and then in Glasgow it was only gold I was interested in, but when I got it, it was more a relief."