Esteban Chaves heads to start line of Saturday's road race at the Tokyo Olympics as part of a four-man Colombia team which is among the big favourites for success, and he hopes to continue what has been a personally successful season on the mountainous course.
The 31-year-old travelled to Tokyo straight from the Tour de France like his three teammates Rigoberto Urán, Sergio Higuita and Nairo Quintana, with each member of the quartet finishing in the top 30 overall in Paris.
Speaking to Cyclingnews before the end of the Tour, Chaves said that making it to his second Olympic Games is a dream come true, and a continuation of a consistent season on the bike for him.
"It has been a really competitive year for me," he said. "It's also something I've dreamed of. I hope I can keep the momentum longer through the year. It's how I want to be as a rider.
"I used to have either really good results or really shit results, so I don't like that rollercoaster. Instead, I try to be in front and be competitive in any race I do. This year it's going that well so far.
"It's exciting. It's the second Olympic Games for me. I'm happy with that, and for any professional athlete the Olympics is a dream – for me, also, it will be pretty cool to go there. Always when you put the jersey on for your country it's unbelievable. I feel really proud and I'm happy for the opportunity."
Chaves, who finished 13th at the Tour – a career-best result at the race – has enjoyed his best season in several years so far in 2021.
A stage win and the mountain and points classification came at his first race of the year, the Volta a Catalunya, where he finished sixth overall. Top 10s at Itzulia Basque Country and La Flèche Wallonne followed, while third place at the GP Kantons Aargau came before June's top 10 finish at the Tour de Suisse.
At the Tour, Chaves was competitive, making several breakaways throughout the race and taking home a good general classification result without specifically targeting the GC. He said that he enjoyed the race, and had a different feeling in France than during his previous two participations.
"The Tour de France has gone well. I think it has been a really good one," he said. "Personally, I'm happy enjoying the race and being part of it. It's like a dream being part of the race.
"You suffer a lot just to get to Paris but this year the sensation was completely different. I could be competitive. I went in breakaways which was important for me. It was just really nice."
Chaves, who raced in Rio five years ago and finished as the top Colombian in 21st place, said that he thinks he earned his spot this time around with his consistent performances. He said that the course suits the Colombians on paper, but that it would be impossible to make any predictions before the start of the 234km race in Musashinomori Park.
"Just for being part of this selection I think I deserve it this year. About results and being competitive – it's a one-day race so you never know," he said.
"First, we need to finish the Tour. Normally, this race would suit us really well – the climbers – but you never know so we just need to go to the start, which is a dream for me and an objective done. We need to be more focussed on that than anything else yet.
"We have good climbers in the team. We can be really competitive and play really good cards and bee one of the best nations."
He refused to be drawn on his own expectations for the race or on the possible hierarchy of the equally matched squad, saying, "you have to ask the directeur sportif about that."
He did however, say more about the possible contenders at the race, though without naming any names. As with Rio, when Greg Van Avermaet won on what was a tough climber-friendly course, form – rather than type of rider – could be key.
"On paper it suits the climbers really well, but we are not the only climbers in the world," Chaves said.
"[Contenders could be] anyone who can climb well, so almost 100 riders. The people who came from the Tour de France can be really strong. If you went well in the last week and have a good trip, you can arrive with a really good performance even if you're not a pure climber. You saw what happened five years ago, so it's a big chance for most of the other riders."
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