The battle for Olympic selection: 8 British riders gunning for Rio

Great Britain have five spots for the men’s Olympic Games road programme in Rio, with one of those places for a rider dedicated to both the road race and the time trial. The selection process for the final five is already underway, with a long-list already compiled ahead of June’s selection deadline. Cyclingnews sat down with Rod Ellingworth, presenting a possible long-list for the British head coach to consider.

Possible role: Froome was the silver medalist in the time trial in London in 2012 and is the most likely and best-suited athlete for the road race-time trial combination in Rio. Great Britain only have one spot for the time trial, and although Alex Dowsett is a specialist in that department, the hilly Rio profile and Froome’s experience in peaking for July and then holding his form for the Games should give the Team Sky man the nod. His role for the road race is slightly harder to predict given his lack of results and experience in one-day events. However, if he comes out of the Tour de France in form and with confidence, he will line up in Rio as one of the bookmakers’ favourites. Whether he’s an actual favourite is another matter.

Chances of making the team: The defending Tour de France champion has already ventured to Rio in order to recon both courses and was accompanied by Ellingworth in November. Barring injury or illness Froome will be on the plane to Rio with his road and time trial bikes packed neatly in the hold.

Ellingworth says: “He’s already thinking about performing in the Games. When it comes to pedigree he really rides Grand Tours and there’s not that many one-day races for him. Liège [Bastogne-Liège] is one but [Il] Lombardia comes late, and [Cláisca San Sebastián] doesn’t suit him with the finish it has. It’s hard to prove pedigree when he doesn’t race one-day races. I took him out there to see the road race and he wants to go and he wants to race the road race and time trial.”

Possible role: The Welshman is behind Froome – and possibly Dowsett – in the time trial pecking order but he is one of the team’s best options and possible leaders for the road race. He focused on the track in London 2012 but his steady progression in one-day races over the last four years has been one of Team Sky’s rare successes outside of the Grand Tour arena. He can climb, he can read a race, and he has WorldTour one-day winning experience, not to mention a Commonwealth Games road race title. There is a long way to go until Rio but Thomas has the attributes to lead the team or play the foil for another rider.

Chances of making the team: Like Froome, if he’s fit he will be on the plane to Rio. He has two Olympic Golds to his name and that Games preparation, albeit from the track, could be indispensable.

Ellingworth says: “He’s put himself forward for the road race and the time trial and he’s one of the guys who is going in the right direction. You’d expect him to be part of the group.”

Rider: Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge)

Possible role: If Ellingworth and his staff go to Rio with more than one leader then Adam Yates is almost definitely a candidate. He has won a one-day race at WorldTour level, triumphing at San Sebastián last year, and despite being repeatedly challenged since turning professional, he rarely looks out of depth. He ticks a lot of boxes.

Chances of making the team: The 23-year-old is of the best climbers the team have to pick from and certainly a decent enough finisher to threaten some of the more established one-day riders in the world. He isn’t part of the Team Sky clique but that could be an asset rather than a weakness come the end of the Tour de France. A very strong candidate for the team.

Ellingworth says: “We have two riders who have performed well and won at WorldTour one-day level and that’s Geraint Thomas and Adam Yates.”

Possible role: He may be less explosive than his twin brother Adam, but Simon is a durable all-rounder. He picked up a number of hugely encouraging placings last year and made it through the Tour de France. If selected, he would be a solid domestique for the team. 

Chances of making the team: At this moment in time it's Adam, out off the two brothers, who probably has the better chance of making the team, but the Tour de France – and specifically how riders exit the race – could fire this particular Yates further up the pecking order. It’s not impossible to imagine both brothers making the journey to Rio.

Ellingworth says: "He’s like Peter Kennaugh in that he has potential. He’s right in the mix."

Possible role: Primarily a candidate for the time trial but if Froome touches top form then the man from Movistar could be left battling for just a spot on the road race team. Climbing could be identified as his one weakness but his experience in GB colours means he is a dependable pair of hands for pulling breaks back and sheltering the leaders.

Chances of making the team: It’s unclear if Dowsett will ride the Tour de France and that may play a part in the selectors’ final decision. However, if he rides the Giro and wins a time trial he will certainly give Ellingworth and co. a tougher decision to make.

Ellingworth says: "We want to bring the best five riders to the start line. What the make-up will be I don’t quite know yet. Do we go with two strikers, two midfielders and one defender? I don’t know. Are we going to go with one leader and four helpers? It’s tricky with Alex, he’s like [Ian] Stannard or [Luke] Rowe but we’ll be seeing how he goes. He’s up for the challenge."

Possible role: On paper Stannard is the strongest domestique the squad has. His climbing is often overlooked and although he lacks acceleration in the hills, he is a diesel engine that never wears out. A domestique deluxe.

Chances of making the team: Whether they go for one leader or three, the selection of domestiques will be critical, especially given the five-man quota. The only question mark for Stannard could be over how he finishes the Tour and if he can recover in time for Rio. Three weeks on the front, slogging his guts out for Froome, might not be ideal.

Ellingworth says: “A lot depends on how he comes out of the Tour de France. We want a damn good team but in a way you’re only as strong as your fifth and final rider.”

Possible role: Similar to Stannard in that he can sit on the front all-day and be relied upon to put a shift in for his teammates. He is marginally the better climber of the two.

Chances of making the team: A lot depends on how many pure workers Great Britain want to bring and how many potential leaders they feel can transition back into domestique duties. There’s less chance in Cummings having to work so consistently and thoroughly for others at the Tour, which should work in his favour in terms of arriving in Rio with freshness.

Ellingworth says: “He’s like Geraint and he is in the mix for both the time trial and road race. A strong rider and someone we would consider.”

Possible role: Could be a leader, could be a worker, given the terrain. There’s a sense that Kennaugh hasn’t reached his full potential and at 26 he has time on his side. On his day he is a talented climber and stage wins in the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de Romandie last year are reminders of his genuine class. Given the Rio course profile, Kennaugh could be the ideal last man for the team’s leader.

Chances of making the team: Kennaugh is certainly not a shoo-in given that he’s not quite leader calibre and there are better domestiques. In his favour is the Rio parcours and he could act as a Plan-B should Froome or another rider have an off-day.

Ellingworth says: "Pete wants to be selected and along with the Yates brothers he’s part of the exciting prospects that we have for one day races."

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Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.