The Men’s Olympic Road Race will take place in Tokyo on the 24th July 2021 on a hilly course including the iconic Mount Fuji climb.
The Tour de France was moved so that riders would have time to travel to Tokyo after the Tour finished, but it’s still a tight turnaround. It could be that the riders who competed in the Tour will be carrying fatigue, or the three-week race might have set them up perfectly to peak in time for the Olympics.
Either way, with a star-studded field, it’s going to be an extremely tough competition. Despite the notable absence of World Champion Julian Alaphillipe as he focuses on defending his title at the Worlds in Flanders at the end of this year, Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar will be present, as will third place finisher Richard Carapaz.
The hilly parcour means that the race could go in the favour of the climbers, but a descent and relatively flat finish means it could also be suited to puncheurs who might be able to chase back on after the final climb.
Image credit: UCI
With over 4,865 metres of climbing, the route at the 2021 Olympic Road Race is well-suited to riders who excel over mountainous terrain. After a flat opening 40km, the road begins to climb slightly as the riders get closer to the first classified climb of the race: Doushi Road.
The climb has an average gradient of 5.7% and lasts for 5.9km, and the peloton will reach the summit after 80km of riding. They will then have some respite as they race along the flatlands past the picturesque Yamanakako Lake, reaching the summit of the next climb, Kagosaka Pass, 20km later.
After a long descent down, the riders will reach the ‘Mount Fuji Circuit’ where the women’s race will finish. The men’s race, however, will instead ascend the lower slopes of Mount Fuji: a 15km climb averaging a fairly steady 5.8%. At this point, the race will still be 98km from the finish so, although the climb may tire some legs, it’s unlikely we’ll see a decisive attack at this point.
A fast descent will take the peloton back down to the Fuji Speedway Loop, where the riders will complete 1.5 laps of the undulating course. They’ll then head away from the Speedway to the most challenging climb of the race: Mikuni Pass.
This will be the crunch point in the race, the climb is 5 kilometres long with a leg-stinging average gradient of 11.5%. Towards the summit of the climb, the riders will cover a 4km section averaging 12%, and the maximum gradient is 17% – ouch.Image credit: UCI
Those who manage to haul themselves over the monstrous Mikuni Pass will then descend back to the foot of Kagosaka Pass (a climb which they will have done earlier in the race already). As they reach the summit of Kagosaka, 21.5km will remain in the race, 15km of which will be descending.
They will finish with an undulating 6.5km lap of the Speedway Circuit, meaning that this route could serve those climbers who can finish well from a select group of climbers.
Fresh off his second consecutive Tour de France victory, 22-year-old Tadej Pogacar is a big favourite for this race. The tough climbs suit his talent for the mountains, and he looked unbeatable on many decisive stages in this year’s Tour. Primoz Roglic could either be supporting his young compatriot, or he has a good chance at victory himself. Although his early retirement from the Tour de France seemed unfortunate, it may have given him optimum preparation for Tokyo: he’ll be fresh while many of his competitors may be carrying the fatigue of a three week race.
Wout van Aert proved he can climb (and do pretty much everything else) exceptionally well at the Tour. He’s clearly in great form and will be the favourite to win a sprint from a select group. Belgian superstar Remco Evenepoel will also be one to watch, he hasn’t raced since the National Championships but proved he was returning back to his best there: finishing 2nd in the ITT and 3rd in the Road Race.
Portugal’s Joao Almeida is normally in a support role for Evenepoel when they’re riding for their trade team, Deceuninck Quick-Step, but he’ll be a fierce competitor against the Belgian at the Olympics. German Champion Max Schachmann is another contender. Like both Evenepoel and Almeida, Schachmann missed the Tour de France so would have had full focus on Tokyo.
The duo of Adam and Simon Yates are part of the Great Britain team and will relish the steep gradients at Tokyo. Sergio Higuita forms part of an incredibly strong Colombian team, including Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves. Should they play their cards right, the Colombian outfit could have strength in numbers in the latter stages of the race.
Gianni Moscon could be an asset to the Italian team should he get over the mountains, while Vincenzo Nibali and Gulio Ciccone will also be pleased to see such a challenging course. Alejandro Valverde could well be Spain’s hope at a medal, while Richard Carapaz will be hoping to ride strongly for Ecuador.
Other riders with a chance at gold include Canada’s Mike Woods, France’s David Gaudu, Dutch Bauke Mollema, Denmark’s Jakob Fulsang, Australian Richie Porte, Ireland’s Dan Martin, Swiss Gino Mader and Kazakhstan’s Alexey Lutsenko.
The Olympic Road Race is always notoriously difficult to predict. Many riders will come after racing the Tour de France, and this could either be a help or a hindrance. Some may feel fatigue, whilst others may have found their form over the three week race.
Slovenia has a very strong team heading to Tokyo, and Pogacar could slightly lack top-end form, depending on how he recovers from his exploits in France. Roglic’s early leave from the Tour means he will have had additional time to prepare for the Olympics, so he could likely lead the squad.
After Pogacar held up Roglic’s number in tribute to his countryman in the final stage of the Tour de France this year, we think he’ll have no problem helping his older colleague to victory at the Olympics.
Roglic will be hoping to salvage what has surely been a difficult couple of weeks, and we think he’ll be carrying extra motivation to Tokyo. For this reason, he’s our bet for gold.