Italian road champion Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) is not one to be easily daunted by a tough climbing circuit, but after clinching second in July at the Olympic road-race test event for Tokyo's Olympic Games, Formolo has one very straightforward prediction about next summer in Japan: "It's going to be a very hard race indeed."
Second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April, and the winner of the difficult Montjuic circuit at the Volta a Catalunya in March, Formolo has succeeded more often than not in hilly climbing races, and is therefore in a good position to compare the tough Tokyo event with similar professional events.
And when asked by Cyclingnews this weekend if the Tokyo course was as hard as the notoriously tough 2016 Olympic road race circuit in Brazil, Formolo answered simply: 'Yes.'
Brazil featured 40 kilometres of climbing, and was won by Greg Van Avermaet for Belgium. Four years later, Formolo feels it will be likely that a small group sprint "of five or six at most go for the victory, maybe less – it's that hard".
The men's road-race test event last month started in Musashinonomori Park, but was 65 kilometres shorter than the projected 2020 Olympic event distance of 234 kilometres. But with a 3,700 metre vertical gain and with four of the main climbs included – Doshi Road, Kagosaka Pass (twice) and Mikuni Pass – only the Mount Fuji circuit and the Mount Fuji Toll Road were missing. However, Formolo didn't feel that the course was lacking in difficulty as a result.
"It wasn't the entire race length that we'll do next summer, as we couldn't do the Mount Fuji part of it because we weren't allowed to go on the motorway up there, so the real race is obviously going to be even harder.
"But there are some really tough climbs, one of which [the Mikuni Pass] is 6.5 kilometres at 9 or 10 per cent," he told Cyclingnews.
"That'll split up the group, for sure, and then there's a fast little descent," Formolo continued, describing the run off the much shorter Kagosaka, a few kilometres further on. "So maybe five or six will get away at most on the main climb, and then after the descent there are 15 or 16 kilometres of flat.
"That small group of riders will fight it out on the last part on the Formula One circuit. So much climbing throughout is really going to affect the race," he said.
Formolo's Italian national-squad teammate Diego Ulissi soloed to victory in July, but the reigning national road race champion feels that it'll be a very different kind of race next summer.
The weather, he argued, will make matters much more difficult, with temperatures averaging the low 30s in Japan in the summer.
"It's very humid, and that's going to affect things for sure," Formolo said. "When we raced this summer, it was not so hot, but with the humidity, you'll sweat a lot."
As ever with an event so far away from much of cycling's main summer action, timing and logistics will be crucial.
"I got a good transfer this time around, but the Tour de France is going to be held a week earlier than usual, so it will be important to re-programme everything," he argued.
While the test event didn't have nearly as many star names as will be present next summer, Formolo said it was a hard-fought event all the same.
"Although I'm sure next year's race will be very different."
Some things, though, are unlikely to change.
"The roads themselves are in perfect condition. That's always the case in Japan," said Formolo, who has raced the Japan Cup in the past, placing seventh there in 2014.
"The test event was very well organised, as always, and the logistics were faultless. They did this event to be sure, but I'm very sure it'll go brilliantly."
As for his own chances, Formolo said: "I hope I'll be up there myself. But you'll have to plan your season very well to be sure of being up there at exactly the right time."
Back in the here and now, Formolo is currently in the thick of the action at the Tour de Pologne – an event at which he took eighth overall last year, with a third place on the final, toughest stage. Since taking 16th in his rookie season back in 2014, Formolo has always finished in the upper ranks of the East European event, and he says he's "in a good place; things are going well".
"It's really nice to be here wearing the Italian national champion's jersey for the first time. It's a very special feeling – a very emotional moment," he said.
And maybe next summer in Tokyo, there'll be even more moments like that.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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