[As cool as this logo is, it's not exactly ideal time trial form. The head should be lower and the back a bit flatter. But that's nitpicking...]
Nothing about Beijing and the games has been especially ordinary so far, and the Cycling time trial certainly promises to continue that trend. But while the road race was different-but-cool, racing the chrono over the same course might verge over into downright strange.
The skinny: the chrono parcours consists of the very same loop the men's road race circled seven times, and the women's race did twice. For the tme trial, the women will do a single, 23km lap, while the men will do two laps. And that's about all I can tell you, because the UCI is essentially in charge of the race, which explains why I can't find any useful graphic information. Maybe it's for the best: [repetitive, anti-course profile rant omitted].
That said, we've seen enough to say a thing or two... and given how things work here,we were probably going to say a thing or two regardless.
The course goes up, more or less, for 10km, noodles around a bit, then goes down another 10km, with a flat km or so before resuming the climb. And by climb, we generally mean a fairly comfortable grade with a few steep ramps. Regardless of where they place the finish (please make the toll booths the finish line!), riders will be challenged to pump out a rhythm on a course with so little flat spaces. In short, this will be no ordinary chrono.
Time trials tend toward the extremes, either going entirely uphill for the rare and spectacular mountain ITT, or generally sticking to something flat-to-rolling to emphasize power. Often we see course profiles that look like they contain a lot of hills, but the amount of climbing isn't totally significant; what matters (IMHO) is the grade of the climbs, and whether it can shake the power guys out of their rhythm often and drastically enough to swing the advantage to the climbers. My source: I downloaded the Cholet time trial course to my computrainer. Occasional 6% bursts might put me in a bind, but when they're short and infrequent enough, you can easily imagine powerdudes like Cancellara dropping a handful of seconds, getting to the top, and resuming the beating he's adminstering to the field.
The Beijing course is truly different. The mountain guys might want to think of it as their course, given that 45% of it is uphill, but I just don't know if there's enough of a grade to punish the bigger riders. Also, the downhill won't help them, particularly if there's a headwind. What little weight might cost you going up, it's likely to help you the rest of the time quite a bit. Does this flip it back to the power guys? Not necessarily; anyone hoping to get into a rhythm and pound out the wattage has surely gotten real by now. Two other tidbits: last year's demo race went to Cadel Evans, with Mick Rogers second and Vincenzo Nibali third... over an otherwise drab field. The other tidbit: did you see Cancellara bomb the descent Saturday?
To me, this race will feature two groups of riders: the pure power dudes and the all-round, climber/chrono GC types. Pure climbers need not apply (sorry Robert Gesink). Let's see who from the startlist fits these descriptions:
Powerdudes: Cancellara, Zabriskie, Botero, Grabsch, Bruseghin, Clement, Karpets, Larsson.
All-rounders: Leipheimer, Evans, Contador, Rogers, Hesjedal, Schumacher, Nibali, Kirchen, Schleck (LUX has to choose one or the other), Menchov, Lovkvist, Sanchez, Van Den Broeck, Monfort (?).
[Undoubtedly a few names are arguably on the wrong list. I'm open to argument.]
It's tempting to say that the all-rounders have the advantage, since there's no part of the course they can't handle. I would agree with respect to Zabriskie, Karpets, maybe Grabsch... the climbing will probably keep them out of contention. But I refuse to eliminate Cancellara, based on his body of work generally as well as yet another shocking, defiant effort Saturday to beat people he has no business beating. Watching him fly away on the descent certainly raises the question: will this race be won on the downhill?
If so, Sammy Sanchez looks like a double-medal contender. His climbing may be limited, but not by this course, and his descending speaks for itself. Others on the list: Levi, Menchov, Evans and Contador are the big names, a victory by one of these would surprise exactly nobody. Nibali has experience here. Larsson can probably fight his way up the hill well enough. Kirchen, if he's not exhausted, is a serious threat.
Honestly, this is an exceptionally hard race to pick. All I think I can say is that it doesn't play to the great advantage of anyone. Instead, there's an obstacle in there for each type of rider. Which should make for a really, really close contest.