The route of this weekend’s Olympic Games cycling test event in Rio de Janeiro has been altered due to anti-government protests planned for Sunday morning on Copacabana beach, where the race was due to start and finish.
The start of the 165km-long International Road Challenge will remain at Copacabana beach but has been brought forward by an hour to 8.30am local time, while the finish has been switched to São Conrado, 10 kilometres to the west, to avoid clashing with the protests.
"If we finish the event at the site of the demonstrations it would not be convenient," Rio’s mayor Eduardo Paes said, according to Bloomberg. "It would not be good for the demonstrations or for the event."
The protests against President Dilma Rousseff’s government echo those which took place in the build-up to the football World Cup, including during its test event, the 2013 Confederations Cup. Brazil’s hosting of the two biggest sporting events in the world comes amid an ongoing recession, while anti-government sentiment has risen further in recent months due to a corruption scandal.
A spokesman for the Rio 2016 Olympics said that participating countries had rejected the idea of postponing the test event. "It would naturally be a mess and it would disrupt the event," Mario Andrada told Bloomberg. “It’s a double test event for cycling and protests. Let’s see.”
The International Road Challenge will include laps of both the Grumari circuit, which includes the short, sharp climb of Grumari and the Grota Funda, and the Canoas/Vista Chinesa Circuit, which includes a climb of 8.9 kilometres and a technical, 6-kilometre descent. The race is almost 90 kilometres shorter than the Rio 2016 Olympics road race, which will be 256.4 kilometres in length.
Among the strongest teams in Rio this weekend will be Bernard Bourreau’s French squad, which features Romain Bardet, Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal).
"They’re five motivated riders who are happy to race together," Bourreau told L'Équipe of his team, which was due to fly from Paris on Wednesday. "Gallopin really wanted to come despite the knee problems that he is only recovering from now."
Italian coach Davide Cassani had hoped to bring Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali to Rio this week, but with both men set to ride the Vuelta a España, he has been forced to do without their services. His team is instead made up of Valerio Agnoli (Astana), Valerio Conti (Lampre-Merida), Iuri Filosi (Nippo-Vini Fantini) and Edoardo Zardini (Bardiani-CSF).
"We’ll ride the test event to try it and to evaluate the difficulty of a course that certainly doesn’t seem simple on paper," Cassani said. "The 4,600 metres of altitude gained and the final climb of 9km certainly can’t be underestimated. We’ll get an idea of how the race might develop."
There is no women’s test event this weekend, though British Cycling has previously intimated that Lizzie Armitstead will follow the race in a team car in order to reconnoitre the Olympic course.
The men's and women's road races at the Rio 2016 Olympics will take place on the opening weekend of the Games, on August 6 and 7, respectively.