This weekend’s Saitama Criterium has given several riders an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and head out for a reconnaissance of the 2020 Olympic Games road race course.
In an unlikely group ride, the Team Ineos duo of Chris Froome and Michal Kwiatkowski joined Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) to check out the final 40km or so of the Toyko route on Friday.
All four will ride the Saitama Criterium, a publicity event put on by Tour de France organisers ASO, on Sunday in Saitama, 25km north of the Japanese capital.
Froome, who is still coming back from the severe injuries he suffered in a crash in June, was unable to keep up with the rest on one of the climbs but completed the descent and the remainder of the finishing circuit.
The 2020 Olympic road race is one that suits the climbers, with five categorised climbs on the 234km parcours. After a flat opening 40km, the climbs of Donushi Road and Kagosaka Pass appear ahead of the 100km mark, before the race heads for Mount Fuji, taking the toll road to 1,451 metres above sea level.
A descent leads down to the finishing circuit and the Fuji International Speedway track, before the route heads out and up the Mikuni Pass and over the Kagosaka again before the run down for half a lap of the finishing circuit and the finale on the motor-racing track.
Typhoon Bualoi brought heavy rainfall in Tokyo throughout Friday, so the riders limited themselves to the final 40km of the course, setting out from the speedway track just ahead of the start of Mikuni Pass. Froome was soon dropped on the climb. The four-time Tour de France winner is still in the process of rehabilitation, having only started riding again last month after breaking his femur, elbow, sternum and veterbrae in June. Still, he has made no secret of his desire to challenge for the Tour de France and Olympic titles in 2020.
Kwiatkowski dropped back to ride with his teammate to the summit of the two climbs, and the quartet regrouped at the top. Fuglsang did not want to ride the descent in the wet conditions and jumped in a car, leaving the others to complete the rest of the course, all the way to the virtual finish line.
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Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist, and former deputy editor of Cyclingnews, who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.