Less than a year ago on the streets of Copenhagen Tony Martin signalled the changing of the guard with his World Championship victory. Fabian Cancellara didn’t look like his former smooth self and was relegated to third after a stunning performance from Bradley Wiggins. Almost 10 months later situations have changed ahead of next week's time trial at the 2012 Olympic Games, and the number of 'what ifs' are building. What if Tony Martin hasn’t recovered from his Tour accidents? What if Bradley Wiggins has left too much on the road in France? What if Fabian Cancellara’s home commitments have disrupted his build-up to the Games? We may not be able to answer that until the race is run, but one thing for certain is that it will be a tough struggle for victory.
The Olympic time trial course isn’t an easy one, with several elevations to contend with. Both the women and the men will start from Hampton Court Palace and ride the same course, with a few alterations for the women. The men’s course heads north from the start around Bessborough and Knight Reservoirs, before looping back down towards Hampton Court Palace. From there it is westward bound out to Seven Hills. The first of the hills to tackle comes along this part of the route, at the 14km mark, on Lammas Lane. It is quickly followed by the toughest of the hills on Seven Hills Road, 5km later. While the hills aren’t overly hard, the long drag effect can sap the legs quite quickly.
A further couple of lumps can be found around Esher High Street, at 29km, but the road flattens out for the run to the line. The competitors will ride past the back of the Palace, before heading out to Kingston and approaching the finish from the east. The women’s course differs in two areas - the very start and the finish. Instead of doing the loop of the reservoirs they will turn immediately towards Seven Hills and the final loop around Kingston won’t feature. They will instead come up Hampton Court Road to the finish line.
Recent form and previous results dictate we are going to see an all-out battle for the victory between Wiggins, Cancellara and Martin. Wiggins is in the form of his life and outclassed many of his Olympic rivals during the Tour de France. Cancellara blew everyone away in the Tour’s prologue and looked to be getting back to his best, before he left the Tour to join his wife and new child. Martin’s form has been disguised by bad luck and crashes, but if he recovers from the crash that took him out of the Tour he shouldn’t be underestimated.
All eyes will be on them, but there are a few other names that may nick a podium spot or even victory. Chris Froome has come through as a solid time triallist over the last 12 months and on his day can beat the best in the world. Since working on his riding position Sylvain Chavanel has come back to his best and could be a podium contender. Taylor Phinney has been away from the racing scene since the Giro and will have much fresher legs than those who’ve been battling towards Paris.
The Women’s race will be much harder to predict, with the last form marker, the Giro Donne, finishing almost a month before the race. Emma Pooley will be the clear home favourite, but she has already stated the course is not suited to her. While it is not as hilly as she would like she could still challenge for victory. Her podium spot in last year’s World Championships came on a much flatter course, so even the small hills could help her out.
Reigning Olympic champion Kristin Armstrong has been out of action since her crash at the Exergy Tour earlier in the season, but she can’t be counted out. At 38 she will be one of the oldest competitors in the women’s field. Judith Arndt is the overwhelming favourite, as current world champion. She came sixth in the previous Olympics, but this route could really suit her. Finally Marianne Vos is not known for her ability in the longer distance time trials, but in here current form no one can discount her on anything.
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