Rubber meets the road to Rio for 2016 Olympic Games

Construction delays, Zika virus fade in competition spotlight

Brazil has certainly had a bigger share than ever of pre-Olympic jitters, between delays in the completion of venue construction, collapsing infrastructure, and fears of infections with the Zika virus scaring away some competitors. But when the Olympic Games officially kick off in Rio de Janeiro with the men's road cycling event on August 6, all that will be forgotten as the men take to the challenging and unique 241.5-kilometre road race course starting from Fort Copacabana at 09:30 local time.

This event is one of nine cycling events in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, each one with medal opportunities for both men and women. After the first medallist is crowned in the men's road race, the women contest theirs on August 7, and the men and women's individual time trials are on August 10. There are five days of track cycling from August 11-16, BMX from August 17-19 and cross country mountain bike from August 20-21, closing out the Games.

The road events feature a number of stars coming off the Tour de France, including overall winner Chris Froome (Great Britain), runner-up Romain Bardet (France), Best Young Rider Adam Yates (Great Britain), Giro d'Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali (Italy), and Richie Porte (Australia), and San Sebastian winner Bauke Mollema (Netherlands), but the road course could also favour strong Classics riders like Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway), or Dan Martin (Ireland).

Froome, Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands), Rohan Dennis (Australian) and Nelson Oliveira (Portugal) are some of the prime contenders for the individual time trial.

Peter Sagan (Slovakia) will be at the Olympic Games, but will compete in the mountain bike events after finding the road course ill-suited to his abilities.

The road events will be missing two major contender thanks to the IOC's decision to exclude any Russian who had a history of doping - Tour de France stage winner Ilnur Zakarin and Olga Zabelinskaya, a double bronze medalist in London - were pulled from the team following the ruling.

Not missing from the women's race is one of the top contenders, world champion Lizzie Armitstead, who will contest the road race despite having missed three doping controls in a 12-month period. She avoided a suspension after successfully arguing that one missed test was due to an error on the part of the doping control officer, though the controversy is sure to follow her to Rio.

Road

The Vista Chinesa climb for the 2016 Olympic Games road race course
The Vista Chinese climb - photo: Getty

The road race course is one of the most gruelling in Olympic history and perhaps one of the most difficult one-day race courses the peloton will ever see. The race begins with a 39km stretch of flat roads along the Atlantic coastline before it reaches the first of two circuits, named after Grumari Natural Park it encircles. At 24.8km in length, the circuit tests the riders' Classics skills with a rough stretch of cobblestones 2km in length - as long as any Paris-Roubaix sector.

Just after the pave, the race heads up a narrow road through the forest, gaining 126m over 1.2km, and then 9km later hits the second, two kilometre-long climb, either one of which would fit right in at Liège - Bastogne - Liège. The men tackle the circuit four times, racking up 138km by the time they had back along the coast, battling the wind en route to the second circuit.

The Canoas/Vista Chinesa loop is what swings the Rio Olympic Games course in favour of the climbers: the 25.7km circuit will be raced three times and includes a serious climb of 8.9km in length that ascends 500m and has a fast, technical descent of 6km on the other side. The peloton will have 164km in their legs by the time they reach the climb the first time, and with have just 12.2 flat kilometres to go at the bottom of the final descent.

Finishing late in the afternoon, the men will have to endure the hottest part of the day while on the most demanding part of the course - weather forecasts currently call for highs of 31C, with little or no rain.

The women race the same course, beginning at 12:15 on Sunday afternoon, and ending around 16:20pm. They race two laps of the Grumari circuit, hit the Canoas/Vista Chinesa loop at kilometre 115, and take on the climb just once for a total of 141km.

The individual time trials take place on the Grumari circuit, but will use a paved stretch of tarmac adjacent to the cobblestone section rather than the pave' itself. The start and finish are situated in Pontal, 2.6km from the loop, which the men traverse two times for a total of 54.5km, and the women once for 29.8km.

The tents are up for the Olympic Games road race in Fort Copacabana
The start in Fort Copacabana - photo: Getty

Track

The track cycling events take place in the newly constructed velodrome, one of the last venues to be constructed in the Olympic village, and the cause of great consternation on behalf of the UCI because of the delays. The venue's test event was twice rescheduled and then cancelled due to the construction slow downs, but it was eventually completed at the end of June.

There are five events for track cycling: three for sprinters and two for endurance racers. 

The men's team sprint kicks off the competition, with the first track cycling medals on the line at the end of the first day of competition. The team pursuit qualifying heats also take place on day one for men and women.

The men's team pursuit medals will be decided on day two, along with the women's team sprint, with the early heats of the men's individual sprint peppered in between.

Day three will see the medals decided for the women's team pursuit and the women's keirin, with more rounds of the men's individual sprint. Day four of track cycling finally sees the winner of the men's sprint decided and the beginning of the women's individual sprint rounds. The men's omnium begins on day four with the scratch race, individual pursuit and elimination race.

On August 15, day five of track cycling, the women begin their omnium, while the men decide the overall winner with the kilometre time trial, flying lap and points race. The women's sprint heats continue.

The final day closes out the women's omnium, women's sprint and the men's keirin.

The 2016 Olympic Games velodrome in Rio de Janeiro
The Rio Olympic velodrome was completed in late June

Mountain bike

The cross country mountain bike events will take place on a man-made course constructed at the Deodoro Olympic Park specifically to allow for maximum spectator visibility, but the various obstacles and 1km-long climb proved popular at the test event last October.

The short course has been touted as fast and technical, but it will be the afternoon heat that will challenge the riders the most. The women race at 12:30 on August 20, tackling six laps of the 4.85km course. The men race at the same time the next day over seven laps.

While well-established racers like Nino Schurter, Julian Absalon, Annika Langvad and Jolanda Neff will star in Rio, there will be plenty of attention on Peter Sagan as he takes on the cross country event, representing Slovakia.

The current road world champion and Tour de France green jersey winner is a former junior world champion in the discipline.

The 2016 Olympic Games mountain bike venue
The mountain bike venue is wide open and spectator-friendly - photo: Getty

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