The road to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games is long and arduous but with Rod Ellingworth leading the way Chris Froome could not be in better hands as the British rider embarks on the season that will see him aim for the Tour de France, a tilt at the Olympic double and then possibly the Vuelta a Espana.
Ellingworth recently accompanied Froome to Brazil for a reconnaissance of the Olympic road and time trial courses. Upon touching back down in Manchester on Saturday evening, the Great Britain elite road coach talked to Cyclingnews about the trip and the early stages of the Great Britain-Team Sky-Froome master plan for Rio.
“It was good for Chris to have a look and get his head around what it’s like there. He was keen to have a look and he rode the road and the time trial course but obviously the time trial course is part of the road course anyway. You kill two birds with one stone there and then on Saturday we rode the finishing circuit for the road race,” Ellingworth told Cyclingnews.
“From what we say from the test event, it’s going to be a climber’s sort of race. There’s a good 4,000 plus metres of climbing. The conditions are a little unsure when it comes to distance with some different information out there but it’s around 250 kilometres. Both the time trial and road race will be tough going,’ said Ellingworth, who has now seen the course twice after attending the test event in the summer.
Froome may have sat on the fence last month when he was asked by the media to weigh up the choice between winning the Tour de France and an Olympic medal but the defence of his Tour title will surely be the most prized target next season. Ellingworth helped Bradley Wiggins and Froome to Tour de France success in 2012 and then helped them take gold and bronze medals in the time trial at the London 2012 Olympics. He understands the demands of three-week racing but believes the longer time gap between the finish in Paris and Rio should allow riders enough time to recover and recharge.
“This time around it’s a better period between Tour and Games. I think the last one was a bit more touch and go but the Olympic champions tend to come out of the Tour,” Ellingworth said.
“It’s a totally different thing this time. In 2012 the Tour finished on the Sunday and then the road race was the following Saturday whereas this time it’s the following week so there more time between the Tour and the Games and that in itself gives you a challenge. Then there’s the travel, which is different but the time difference is only a couple of hours and flights are direct. The riders are used to doing the long haul flights too and you’d be silly to get that all wrong. The main challenge is how you come out of the Tour. You are as you are so you can’t really prepare anything until the final few days of that race.”
Balancing so many objectives, as well as the aspirations of so many athletes remains a hugely difficult task but Ellingworth acknowledged that fluidity within the team’s plans would be paramount. The Tour is three weeks of unpredictability, backed up by the fact that Froome crashed out in 2014 and suffered with illness during the third week of this year’s race. A repeat of either episode would mean a detrimental shift in plans for Rio but Ellingworth is preparing for as many scenarios as possible.
“When you listen to riders like Froome and Thomas; they want to perform at the Tour and then go on and perform at the Olympics. In Chris’s case he then wants to go and ride the Vuelta. Some things like travel and equipment are a given but what you don’t know is how you’ll feel after the Tour and what you’ll do in the days after that. That’s what you have to weigh up. The riders may go home after the Tour or come straight out. We’ve got to work that out.”
“The Tour is what it is. It’s the biggest bike race that you can win. Froome wants to try and win it for a third time so I don’t think that there are any questions with that and as we proved in 2012, Bradley won the Tour and Chris was second and then they both medalled in London. You can do it but for example Chris was sick at the end of the Tour this year. That would totally put the cat amongst the pigeons so you have to stay flexible and understand what this game is.”
Ellingworth is in no doubt that wining the Tour de France would act as the perfect catalyst for Olympic success - as it was for Wiggins in 2012, although the team missed out in a medal in the road race when Mark Cavendish was team leader and protected sprinter. Alexandre Vinokourov attacked with Rigoberto Uran and won the gold medal.
“Morale is a huge area and if you’re head is in a good place and you’ve just won the Tour then you’ll be on top of the world,” Ellingworth suggested. “That will give you strength. It could be that Chris or Geraint falls in the opening week of the Tour and then you have to look at it in a totally different way. We’ve out outlined plans but you can’t force it and you’ve got to go with the flow.”