Fabian Cancellara, modern patron of the time trials, has a pretty regular annual routine. Details may vary, but in general he gears up for a strong spring campaign, then finds a way to get ready for the Swiss Tour and Nats in June, then peaks a third time in September for the Worlds. Last year was a bit more typical one, where he took much of May off before warming up at Catalunya, stomping the competition in his home-country time trials, and riding a strong Tour de France. [In 2006 he rode the Giro instead, but otherwise the pattern was about the same.]
What this has generally meant is that Cancellara has a couple valleys between his many peaks, one of which occurs in August. In 2007, after making it all the way to Paris, Tony Spartacus took the start of the DeutschlandTour, presumably to ride the TTT and launch Jens! Voigt's successful GC bid, while he himself dropped out after three days for a month of rest. The year before that, he rode and won the Danmark Rundt, which says as much about the competition and Cancellara's form after sitting out the Tour. In '05, young Fabian stuck it out through the Tour and the DeutschlandTour, but only managed sixth in the latter's time trial. Verdict? Riding the Tour is not the best way to win in August.
Backing up, if you're a time trial specialist who isn't also on the short list of potential grand tour winners, the Olympics have to figure heavily into your planning. The Worlds, by comparison, happen every year, and usually late enough into the season to make most guys wonder if it's worthwhile. Also, guys in this group have few other chances at the big stage... a Tour TT stage win? Great, but most of the attention will be on the GC guys. A prologue? Again, fun, but quickly forgotten. An Olympic medal? As good as it gets. Moreover, a disproportionate number of chrono aces come from countries which don't follow cycling enough, but will be slavishly chained to the TV during the Olympics: Australia, the U.S., Britain, Russia to name a few.
So what does Cancellara do this year? Representing his home country in the Olympics is undoubtedly a big draw, but the race occurs on August 13, well into his habitual dead zone. Is it possible that the time trial patron will go to the Olympics in less than peak form? Can the legions of chronomen dying for a chance to upstage Cancellara start dreaming of gold? Or does CSC let him drop out of the Tour and rest up for Beijing?
If the latter, it should be a battle for Silver. From what I could find (and don't get me started on the state of the official Beijing Olympics "website"), it's a non-technical course, the type Cancellara outright owns. But he's a marquee name in France for CSC-Saxo, and winning Gold for Swiss Cycling is hardly Bjarne Riis' concern. So there's a good chance Cancellara hoofs it over Alpe d'Huez, up to Paris, and straight out of his peak form.
I have this daydream where the various non-GC chronomen at the Tour are milling around before the start of the first mountain stage, looking at each other to try to determine who's going to start. If Fabian starts, half of them run back to the hotel, gather up their stuff, and book their flight to Beijing. If Cance bails... hell, might as well stick it out at the Tour and try to win the last ITT. Anyway, we'll have a better idea of who's planning to contest the Olympics, but there will be some familiar names in the mix: Levi Leipheimer, who isn't very busy in July; Dave Zabriskie, who would be an A-list threat if he could recover from his Giro crash; Staf Clement; Stijn Devolder; Vlad Karpets; etc...