Family affair for cyclists Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin in Rio
Cousins in flying form to make most of golden opportunity - Cycling
Published 06/08/2016 | 02:30
While most of Team Ireland enjoyed the Olympic Opening Ceremony in Rio last night, cyclists Dan Martin and Nicolas Roche were tucked up in their beds back in the Olympic Village ahead of today's 237km men's road race.
The nation's only World Tour riders, the cycling cousins will form Ireland's two-man team for the Olympic road race and both go into the event in good form.
Roche completed a national championship road race and time trial double last month in Kilcullen before heading on a self-imposed pre-Olympic training camp at altitude in Livigno.
He then finished eighth at the San Sebastian Classic in Spain last Saturday against many of today's Olympic rivals.
Martin's ninth-place overall at the Tour de France, previous victories in some of the world's biggest one-day classics and his outstanding climbing ability mark him out as one of the favourites in a race with the toughest one-day profile of the year.
Starting at the Copacabana Fort, the race heads west along the coast until the riders reach the first of the day's two circuits after 37km. To be tackled four times, this 27.4km lap contains the climbs of Grumari and Grota Funda, with a steep technical descent in between each time.
After these four laps and almost 140km of racing, the peloton heads back in the opposite direction to tackle three laps of another tougher circuit. Here, the 4km long Canoas climb is followed by another sinuous descent leading to the hardest climb of the day, the 9km long grind to the top of Chinese Lookout. With the gradient hitting 20pc - similar to the slopes of St Patrick's Hill in Cork - this leg breaker is sure to be instrumental in deciding where the medals end up.
The third and final loop of this circuit is followed by a fast technical descent leading to a flat 12km run in to the finish at Copacabana Beach.
"It's a really tough course," said Roche yesterday. "Definitely the hardest Olympic course I've seen and probably the hardest one day race out there."
While Ireland have just two riders in the 142 strong peloton, the qualification process means that the highest ranked nations of Great Britain, Belgium, Spain, Colombia and Italy have a maximum of five riders as opposed to a dozen at the world championships.
"With teams of five, it's going to be a very open, very active race and it will be very hard for any one team to control," says Roche. "I think it's going to be quite an aggressive race because a lot of teams will be trying to get men into the breakaway rather than having to ride behind. If you ride on the front with a five man team then you are going to sacrifice a lot of riders to bring the break back."
Another intriguing aspect of the Olympic race is the fact that you have riders from the same nation racing together for one day of the year before going back to their respective professional teams for the rest of the season and racing against each other again.
Vice versa, you have riders from various nations suddenly pitted against their professional team leaders and allegiances can be sometimes hard to decipher.
The fact that Tour de France winner Chris Froome has never won a one-day race doesn't stop him being firmly installed among the favourites, although his main opposition could come from his non-Sky team-mates Adam Yates and Steve Cummings within his GB team.
Spain have hot favourite Alejandro Valverde and three of his Movistar team-mates among their quintet but Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez will also expect a bite at the cherry on a course that suits him.
Last week's San Sebastian Classic winner Bauke Mollema (Netherlands), team-mate Wout Poels, Italians Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali and French duo Romain Bardet and Julian Alaphilippe could also end up fighting against each other en route.
On the Irish squad though, blood is thicker than chain lubricant and Roche and Martin will help each other as much as possible.
"As a professional cyclist, we don't get to ride for Ireland apart from at the world championships once a year," says Roche.
"To get to ride the Olympics is special and to get to do it with your cousin is even better. It's a very important race for us. For me personally, I'm always in good shape at this time of year so it's important to try and make the most of it here. To get eighth in San Sebastian last week was good for the head.
"I'm feeling more ready for this Olympics than I did in other years and I want to do well. Dan is in great form after finishing ninth in the Tour and this course really suits him. Hopefully we can get a good result for Ireland here."
Having won both Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Lombardy, the only other hilly one-day races of similar length on the professional calendar, Martin is confident of his ability on the Rio course.
"On those courses, over those sort of distances, I'm usually good," he says. "As soon as they announced the Olympic route we were very happy with it. There are only two long hilly one-day races on the calendar and I've won both of them before so I'll be definitely starting the race as one of the favourites but it's a really difficult race to read. On paper, looking at the course, if it was a normal race with normal tactics, I'd be really confident."
Martin recalls how Great Britain's four-year plan to deliver gold with Mark Cavendish in 2012 were scuppered by a late breakaway though, how he hesitated and missed the move, and knows how difficult it is to make the podium, even in his current form.
"I've got a chance. A really big chance. But it's about getting lucky and making the right moves.You can't hesitate in this race. If you hesitate the race is gone."