Men’s Olympic time trial preview

Following on from the first day’s men’s Olympic road race, we now have the individual time trial starting at 1415 BST tomorrow (Wednesday) in the genteel surroundings of Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace. For the uninitiated, a time trial is a race against the clock. It relies solely on your judgement and pace. It’s you just cycling as hard as you can go and, hopefully, harder than anyone else. A race that’s likely to be rather more predictable – look out for defending champion and Kitty-fave Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland), reigning world champion Tony Martin (Germany), new kid on the block Taylor Phinney (USA), Britain’s first Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and his wingman and Tour runner-up, Chris Froome.


So who’s qualified to take part? There’s one rider from each nation in the top 15 of last year’s UCI WorldTour rankings, the top seven from the UCI’s Europe Tour, the top four of the UCI’s America Tour, the top two from the UCI’s Asia Tour and the leaders from the UCI’s Oceania and Africa Tours. In addition, ten nations have an extra rider participating as a consequence of their performance  in the 2011 UCI World Time Trial Championships: Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland, Australia, Netherlands, Kazakhstan, Denmark, Spain, Sweden and Canada. Additionally, all those taking part in the time trial also had to take part in Saturday’s road race.

The route

At the Tour de France, time trial stages are particularly popular with fans as they offer a full afternoon’s viewing and, more importantly, the riders are easily identifiable as they ride past one by one. While Buckingham Palace was the backdrop to the Olympic road race, the men’s time trial starts and finishes on the driveway in front of Hampton Court Palace. In between is a 44km tour of Surrey’s pricey commuter belt: Esher, Kingston, Teddington, Sandown, East and West Molesey.

The route of the 2012 Olympic Time-Trial

The route of the 2012 Olympic time trial

The course will take the riders setting off at 90-second intervals over Hampton Court Bridge to circumnavigate the Bessborough and Knight Reservoirs, before looping back through East Molesey towards Hampton Court Palace. From there it heads south-west with the first ‘hill’ at the 14km mark, on Lammas Lane. It is quickly followed by the toughest of the hills on Seven Hills Road, 5km later. While the hills aren’t overly hard, the long drag effect can sap the legs quite quickly. A further couple of lumps can be found around Esher High Street, at 29km. The competitors will then ride round the back of the Palace, before heading out to Kingston-upon-Thames, Richmond, Teddington and Strawberry Vale, before crossing the finishing line back at the palace. Simon Lillistone, the course designer claims:

It’s a good balance of challenges for the riders. As well as the hills, which are taxing enough, there’s the old marketplace in Kingston town centre, which has different road surfaces, not great visual lines round the twists and turns, so the riders will have to get those absolutely right, which is quite an ask.

As this is one of the few events of the Olympics that isn’t completely ticketed (only required for Hampton Court), there should be thousands of spectators. If you want a good spot, get there early and be prepared to stand your ground.

The contenders

Britain’s Bradley Wiggins would overtake Sir Steve Redgrave’s British Olympic record medal haul with a podium finish. Wiggins already has six Olympic medals to his name – three golds, one silver and two bronzes, all in track cycling, but another medal would seal his place as Britain’s most successful Olympian. Wiggins is also a phenomenal time-triallist, comfortably winning the two long time trials in the Tour de France, not to mention those in the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour de Romandie and Paris-Nice. In 2012 he has a 100% record in the six time trials over 10km he has contested. He also won a silver medal at last year’s World Championships.

Bradley Wiggins on the Champs Elysees (image by Kitty Fondue)

Chris Froome did not make the most auspicious of starts to his time trial career, crashing into a race marshal just 100 metres into the under-23 World Championship race in Salzburg, but things have since been on the up. He was fifth in the 2010 Commonwealth Games time trial before finishing second in last year’s time trial at the Vuelta a Espana to Tony Martin. In the recent Tour de France he was second in both time trial stages to Wiggins. To be honest, he’d probably fare better on a hillier parcours but nonetheless, expect him to be in the mix.

The two Britons have the edge over the opposition as they’re both at the top of their games coming out of the Tour while their main opposition, Cancellara and Martin, have enjoyed mixed fortunes this year.

Cancellara is the defending Olympic champion and has four world titles to his name, but his 2012 preparation has been far from ideal. He smashed his collarbone in April’s Ronde van Vlaanderen, which ruled him out of contention for two months, he left the Tour de France early to be at his wife’s side when she gave birth to their second daughter and he crashed out of Saturday’s road race after he failed to negotiate a corner and is still in pain.

Cancellara alone and in pain after his crash (image courtesy of Roz Jones)

Martin is the current world champion and has been on the podium in the past three World Championships. Last year he put more than a minute into Wiggins at the Worlds in Copenhagen and also won time trial stages in the Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana and Paris-Nice. He collided with a car in the early part of the season and then, in this year’s Tour, he suffered punctures both in the prologue and first time trial and, having broken his wrist in the first stage, retired early from the race.

Tony Martin (image courtesy of Tony Martin)

Tony Martin (image courtesy of Tony Martin)

Who else might be in contention? The young American pair of Taylor Phinney and Tejay Van Garderen – both of whom performed excellently in the time trials of the Giro and Tour respectively – Spanish champion Luis Leon Sanchez, French champion Sylvain Chavanel and Italian Marco Pinotti, who won the Giro’s final time trial in Milan.

Link: Interactive route map

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