Even though many observers think that the Olympic road race this Saturday will come down to a bunch sprint, chances are some national teams will do anything in their might to prevent a fast finish. Italy, Belgium, Spain and also France will aim to launch their riders into what may well be a powerful breakaway providing chances of victory for those riders better known for their results at the Classics.
France will be represented by a three-man team at the event, including Sylvain Chavanel, Arnaud Démare and Tony Gallopin. At the IOC press conference on Thursday, national coach Laurent Jalabert explained its team selection and gave arguments supporting a different race outcome than what the British team around super-sprinter Mark Cavendish will aim at.
"I see a very open race. I remember in Atlanta, Erik Zabel was the favourite but he only sprinted for 20th place. At the time we had a hard-fought race, difficult to control. The race was on far from the finish line, after just 100km, and it's there that we'll have to be present," Jalabert said, admitting that a sprint finish was probable but that it might not be the world champion who would win it.
"It's easy to say it's a course tailored for Mark Cavendish. Last year he won the test event, but it was basically half the distance. It's the man most on form after the Tour de France, so of course he's on the list of the favourites. But Peter Sagan is more of a favourite than him, for example, the course suits him better," the Frenchman said.
But Jalabert was not convinced that the bunch would stay together until the finish at the Mall in downtown London. "It's not a course I consider easy, but it's not very, very tough either. On the 15km circuit, roads are very narrow, so positioning will be important. There's a climb at 4.5 percent, there's no descent straight away, it's a false flat, it's going to hurt at the top. It's a demanding circuit."
If it comes down to a bunch sprint, then France's card is young sprinter Démare. But the more experienced Classics rider Chavanel will certainly try to get to the race forefront before the finale. "It's a pretty open race, with teams of three, four, five people maximum," Chavanel said. "It will be very difficult to control, although on paper Team GB are the favourites with Cavendish. But can they control the race for 250km with only five riders? You need some alliances and the race is very open."
Chavanel, who is "completely healed" from the bronchitis that made him abandon the Tour de France after two weeks, will certainly be in good company if a breakaway stays away for the finale, as other strong riders such as Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Boonen, Philippe Gilbert, Alejandro Valverde and Alexander Vinokourov - to name but a few - will have the same strategy.
Whether or not successful, Chavanel treasures high hopes for the Olympic time trial. "I can't hide that, given my last results, the time trial is more on my mind. The time trial is a high-level race, and there are some very good specialists. I'll do my best, I'll do what I'm capable of. Since the start of the season I've done some excellent time trials and I hope I'll have a nice surprise at the finish line," the current French time trial champion said.