Under the radar riders: who could pull off a surprise performance in Tokyo?

The Dutch team are the ones to beat, but who is capable of pulling off a surprise performance in the women's road race at the Tokyo Olympic Games?

With the four-rider-strong Dutch squad looking likely to dominate at the Olympic Games Road Race in Tokyo, almost any rider who is not part of that formidable quartet could be described as an outside bet. 

With some nations qualifying far more spots than others, those on smaller teams will have to be wise about how they use their matches throughout the race. The USA and Germany have five riders, while The Netherlands, Italy and Australia have four, Belgium have three spots and many others have just one or two, including Great Britain. 

Related – Women's Olympic Road Race Preview

Related – Men's Olympic Road Race Preview

Marta Cavalli - Italy 

Photo credit: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

The Italian squad are likely to go into the Games with a plan to get Elisa Longo Borghini in the best possible position. However, should Longo Borghini’s legs fail, 23-year-old Marta Cavalli will be waiting in the wings. 

Cavalli, for whom FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope is her trade team, took 6th overall at the Giro Donne recently, including fourth place on the queen stage on Monte Matajur where she finished just behind the SD Worx trio of Demi Vollerng, Anna van der Breggen and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio. 

Cavalli has put on an impressive show of both mental and physical fortitude throughout this season. A climber who can also deliver a fast finish, if she is in a select group towards the end of the race she could very well take a medal. 

Grace Brown - Australia 

Amanda Spratt and Grace Brown crashed at the Giro Donne. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

While Amanda Spratt is the ostensible leader of the Australian squad at the Olympic Games, her teammate Grace Brown could be the one to pull it out of the bag for them. 

Brown and Spratt are trade teammates at BikeExchange and it has been the younger rider who has made the biggest impression this season. Recently, both suffered a crash on stage 8 of the Giro Donne, meaning their climbing legs weren’t fairly tested on the Monte Matajur stage. Brown pulled out a day later and Spratt abandoned the race before stage 10. However the two appear to have fully recovered in time for Tokyo. 

Brown’s Spring season saw her take her first Women’s WorldTour win at Brugge-De Panne in her signature solo style. She backed up that result with a 3rd place at Flanders and rode exceptionally well at Vuelta a Burgos Feminas including taking the first stage and a top-10 result on the category one climb up to Lagunas de Neila. A strong time trialist — if Brown can get away, she might not come back. 

Lotte Kopecky - Belgium

Photo credit: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

One look at Lotte Kopecky’s palmares will explain why she might be considered a contender for the Olympic road race. A consistent Classics season which saw her barely place outside of the top-10 was followed by the 2.Pro Thüringen Ladies Tour where she took second overall. A sweep of both the national road race and time trial titles ensued, followed by a stage win and overall title at the Lotto Belgium tour that same month. 

With all that in mind, her status as an outside contender is due only to the fact that her Belgian team have just two other riders to help her out in the race. However, if Kopecky manages to climb with the favourites she is capable of unleashing a strong finish from a reduced group that could see her take a medal. 

As well as the road race, Kopecky will also take part in the Omnium as well as the newly-instated Madison on the track for Belgium. It is unclear whether her main targets are on the track or the road but with almost two weeks between the events she has plenty of time for both. 

Juliette Labous - France

Juliette Labous is France’s one and only chance at a medal at this Olympic Games thanks to the nation qualifying just one spot for the race. While having no teammates to help her out is bound to handicap the 22-year-old, she demonstrated her ability to hold her own throughout the Giro Donne eventually placing 7th overall. 

Labous also has a strong time trial and is the former national champion in the discipline, meaning her focus may lie in that race. However her considerable climbing talent and ability to hold her own amongst the best in the world — as demonstrated at the Giro Donne and her 6th place at La Fleche Wallonne — makes her a contender for the road race if she can be scrappy enough. 

Liane Lippert - Germany 

Photo credit: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Liane Lippert led the Women's WorldTour classification for the beginning of the curtailed 2020 season and came out of the lockdown still carrying the same consistent form. The then 22-year-old German took 13th overall at the Giro Rosa including multiple top-10s on stages before going on to place 8th at Flèche Wallonne.

While she didn't come into the 2021 season quite as strongly as the previous, Lippert made up for an average Classics season by pulling off a strong performance which saw her take fourth at the Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour, second at nationals and eight at La Course. Lippert then backed up those results with a consistent Giro Donne showing her form is building at just the right moment in the season.

Although Lisa Brennauer is likely to be the leader of the German team in Tokyo, the German team has enough support in the form of Trixi Worrack, Hannah Ludwig and Lisa Klein for Lippert to play a dual leadership role, particularly if Brennauer's focus is on the time trial. 

Mavi Garcia - Spain

Photo credit: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

At the Spanish national road race championships in June, Mavi Garcia and Ane Santesteban were direct rivals. The two rode off the front together in a move that would last to the line and see Garcia eventually take the title. Memorably, when Santesteban slid out on a corner and went down, Garcia waited for her breakaway companion to compose herself before continuing the race. That gesture might stand her in good stead if she wants to take her chances in Tokyo with Santesteban's help.

A former duathlete, Garcia has been steadily honing her racing skills and strength since signing her first UCI contract in 2015. Last season, she was one of a few riders to take on the seven-day Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardèche directly followed by the 10-day Giro Rosa and placed top-10 on GC in both races. More recently, she has put in powerful performances in the Classics, including challenging Annemiek van Vleuten in last year's Strade Bianche to hold on for second, and is a staple in select groups towards the finale of races. 

Having recently come away with 5th overall at the Giro Donne, Garcia has shown herself to be in excellent form for the Olympic Games. If she can ward off the weight of nations with more firepower she might find her way to a medal.