2021 Olympics: Previewing the men’s and women’s individual time trials

Maps, profiles, and favorites for the Olympic individual time trial, plus sage advice from Kristin Armstrong Savola.

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

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DATE: Wednesday, July 28, from 11:30 a.m. until 5:40 p.m. local time.

VENUE: Both the men’s and women’s courses start at the Mt. Fuji International Speedway, a famed motorsports park situated at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan’s Shizuoka prefecture. The course takes in a partial lap of the speedway before sending riders into the hilly terrain south of the complex, then returning to the speedway to complete the lap.

MEN’S COURSE: The hilly men’s route is 44.2 kilometers long [27.5 miles] and takes in a total vertical gain of 846 meters [2,800 feet]. The route begins with a 4km gradual downhill before tackling the route’s major opening climb, which grinds upward for 6km at approximately 4.5 percent. After a 5km descent, the route hits rolling terrain for 6km more, before riders return to the start and complete three-quarters of the same lap to finish the route in front of the grandstands at the motorsports complex.

NORTH AMERICAN WOMEN: Ruth Winder, Chloe Dygert, Leah Thomas, Amber Neben (USA), Leah Kirchmann and Karol-Ann Canuel (Canada)

NORTH AMERICAN MEN: Brandon McNulty and Lawson Craddock (USA), Hugo Houle (Canada)

WOMEN’S COURSE: The women’s route is short at just 22.1km in length, nearly 10km shorter than the route in Rio de Janeiro won by Kristin Armstrong Savola. The route includes the opening lap of the men’s ITT course, and opens with the same gradual descent into the day’s major climb.

FAVORITES MEN: All eyes are on reigning world champion Filippo Ganna of Italy, who has filled Fabian Cancellara’s very large shoes as the sport’s top ITT rider. Set to challenge Ganna will be the Belgian duo of Wout van Aert and youngster Remco Evenepoel. Keep an eye out for Australian Rohan Dennis, one of the sport’s best ITT riders, as well as Swiss rider Stefan Küng, Frenchman Remi Cavagna, and Brit Geraint Thomas.

FAVORITES WOMEN: At U.S. Nationals in June, Chloe Dygert showed that she has rebounded from her terrifying crash at the 2020 world championships. Dygert comes to Tokyo a favorite, alongside Dutch riders Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen. The short course could also favor Lisa Brennauer of Germany and Marlen Reusser of Switzerland.

KRISTIN ARMSTRONG SAVOLA’S TAKE: “This is a super short time trial compared to what we’ve been doing in the last eight years. The Rio time trial was like 44 minutes, and this one could be less than 30, so you’re talking about a difference of almost 15 minutes. You could see different types of riders being stronger. I think this course will be good for Lisa Brennauer because she’s so powerful. And Chloé — you don’t want to count her out either. Heat and aerodynamics will be important on this course. People need to be sure to not overextend themselves on the climb and let their core temperatures spike. Aerodynamics will be important on this course, but I think the climb is going to be something that’s really critical. And whether a rider loses power in the second half could be significant if you’re not careful. The other thing is there are some really nice descents. It’s hard to gain time in descents but you can definitely lose time. If you don’t put power behind a descent you can lose time.”

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: You can tell when someone is suffering in a time trial because they are shifting on the bike and their head will dip down. When the back of their helmet comes up, that means they are uncomfortable and struggling. Struggles like this limit a rider’s aerodynamics. Keep an eye on riders who post blazing fast times for the opening segment, because the short effort will cater to a rider who is willing to risk going out too fast in order to win.

WHO HAS THE ADVANTAGE? Riders who go later in the day have an advantage, because they can hear on the race radio how close they are in time to the others. The reigning Olympic champion always goes last, and then the other riders are seeded by their UCI ranking, with higher-ranked riders starting later. Hearing that you’re just two seconds away from the leader can be the difference between victory and defeat, says Armstrong Savola. “In my last 5km in Rio, I got a time check that I was just two seconds off. I knew I was in medal contention, it just came down to what medal I’d get. I took every risk possible on the rest of the course, where I may have been more conservative if I didn’t know. Knowing where you are gives you that added benefit because you can mentally push yourself harder. You can dig deep and have an out-of-body experience when you know your times. You are willing to just do things in a race that you normally wouldn’t do if you know that the win is on the line.”

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