2012 Olympics | July 27 - August 12
Posted: Tuesday July 17, 2012 10:56AM ; Updated: Tuesday July 24, 2012 10:41PM
Austin Murphy
Austin Murphy>INSIDE CYCLING

Olympic road cycling preview

Story Highlights

Road race will start on Mall, run along River Thames, finish at Buckingham Palace

Slovak Peter Sagan has had dominant 2012, but U.K.'s Mark Cavendish is all-timer

Americans Tyler Farrar and Evelyn Stevens represent best hope for a U.S. medal

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We're dividing the four Olympic cycling disciplines into two families: old school and new school. Here, we take a look at the one of the more traditional velo-disciplines, road cycling.

After a mass start on The Mall in London, the peloton will zip through Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea before crossing the River Thames at Putney Bridge. The real action will start in Surrey.

SPORTS EXPLAINERS: CYCLING

There riders will make multiple, 9.6-mile circuits of Box Hill, where Jane Austen's Emma endured an unhappy picnic, and where the suffering of the peloton is sure to be ratcheted up: multiple attacks are sure to be launched on this climb.

From there, the course takes riders back to central London, for what is likely to be a thrilling sprint finish on the Mall, outside Buckingham Palace. Men will race 250 kilometers; women will race 140.

Athletes To Watch

Peter Sagan, Slovakia: With 14 stage wins this season alone, the 22-year-old has been cycling's most dominant rider in 2012. After winning an uncanny five of eight stages at the Amgen Tour of California, Sagan won two of the first three days at the Tour de France. A classic roleur -- a strong, tough rider able to push a big gear for hours on end -- Sagan is better equipped than the sport's pure sprinters to survive those nine climbs of Box Hill with the leaders. In sprint finishes bereft of pure sprinters, he has been unbeatable.

Tom Boonen, Belgium: The Olympic road race is similar to one of cycling's one-day "Classics." That would seem to favor Boonen, winner of four Classics earlier this season -- an incredible run capped by his fourth victory in Paris-Roubaix. The rider known as "Tommeke" skipped this year's Tour de France -- which ends six days before the Olympic road race -- to prepare for London.

Mark Cavendish, England: The best sprinter of his generation, "Cav" has won an incredible 21 stages of the Tour de France, and is the reigning world champion in the road race. With the Olympics in mind, he dropped nine or so pounds this season from his usual racing weight. While he figures that weight loss cost him a smidgen of his top-end speed, it will also ensure that he doesn't get dropped on Box Hill. A native of the Isle of Man, the so-called Manx Missile has focused his season on "competing for the flag I was born under."

U.S. Prospects

Tyler Farrar: the best U.S. sprinter since Davis (Thor) Phinney was winning Tour de France stages in the '80s, the 28-year-old Farrar is the only American to have won stages in each of cycling's three grand tours: The Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana. While he hadn't won a stage of the '12 Tour de France, as of this writing, he did earn bad-ass points by chasing Tom Veelers onto the Argos-Shimano bus after he and Veelers traded paint at the end of Stage 5.

Evelyn Stevens: One of the best stories at these Games. Four years after taking a racing clinic in Central Park -- "They told us, 'If you're gonna do a bike race, you take off your saddlebag, and remove the reflectors from your wheels,'" she recalls -- and three years after quitting her investment banking gig at Lehman Brothers to chase a dream, she won La Fleche Wallonne Femmes last April. The former Dartmouth tennis player was the only automatic qualifier for the Olympic road race among U.S. women.

Fun Fact

After commissioning a detailed wildlife survey, LOCOG green-lighted the clearing of brush and shrubs to accommodate 15,000 spectators along the Zig-Zag Road section of Box Hill.

Gold Medal Dates

July 28: Men's race

July 29: Women's race

Time Trial

Rocking skinsuits and tear-dropped shaped helmets, draped over specialized, impossibly light carbon-fiber racing machines, riders take off at 90-second intervals in this "race against the clock." The course starts and finishes at Hampton Court Palace, built by Henry VIII to rival Versailles. The men's race is 44 kilometers; the women's 29.

Athletes To Watch

Kristin Armstrong, U.S.: Following her dominant win in this event at the Beijing Olympics, Armstrong retired, had a baby boy, Lucas, then announced in 2010 that she was coming back to the sport. Since then, she's won eight of the eight time trials she's entered. After breaking her collarbone in a crash at the Exergy Tour in Idaho last May, she remounted her bike and finished the stage. Her clavicle healed, Armstrong has regained her status as the favorite in this event.

Bradley Wiggins, U.K.: This event could cap one of the most amazing cycling seasons ever for Wiggins, a Briton riding for Team Sky who, at this writing, is leading the Tour de France. Ten days after the Tour, and four days after riding in support of Cavendish in the road race, Wiggins will roll down the ramp at Hampton Court as one of the favorites in the TT. Wiggo has already won six Olympic medals -- three gold -- but those were all in the velodrome. Since Beijing, the IOC has yanked Wiggins' pet event, the individual pursuit, from the Olympic program. So he'll go for glory on the road.

Fabian Cancellara, Switzerland: The Swiss Time Machine has been so dominant in his career that he was accused three years ago of using a hidden electric engine inside his bike. The defending Olympic champion in this event, Cancellara broke his collarbone earlier this spring, but proved that he has re-discovered his form by winning the Tour de France prologue then holding the yellow jersey for six days.

Tony Martin, Germany: The reigning world champion in this event, Martin has had some tough luck this season, fracturing his cheekbone in a training collision with a car last April. In the Tour de France prologue, he was on pace to beat Cancellara, but lost a half-minute with a flat tire.

U.S. Prospect

Taylor Phinney lived up to the hype that has attended his brief career by winning the prologue at the Giro d'Italia, then holding the jersey for three days. The son of ex-Olympic medalists Connie Carpenter and Davis Phinney, Taylor is a two-time world champion in the individual pursuit, and would've been a favorite to medal in that event had the IOC not scrapped it. While the 44-km course is longish, for him, he didn't contest the Tour de France, and will have had two months to get ready for London.

Gold Medal Date

Aug. 1: Men's and women's time trial

 
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