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Last Gasp for Golden Glory: The Olympic Time Trials!

Men and women alike face an unusual course in Wednesday's battle versus the watch

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

The calendar says it's still August, and there's still time for cyclists to pursue their Olympic dreams without having to succumb to... dare I say it... track. Yep, one more shot, the Olympic Individual Time Trial, with both the men and women racing tomorrow. And suffice it to say that nothing like your ordinary time trial is on tap.

I Can't Believe It's An Olympic Time Trial Parcours!

The big story, from the perspective of us regular cycling fans, is that the Olympic race is nothing like your ordinary, standard, flat-to-rolling ITT course, which levels the playing field (literally) and/or tilts it toward the guy with the strongest engine. The course is run in circuits -- one for the women, two for the men -- over the Grumari area that featured early on in the road races. Yeah, it's got some climby bits.

Men's Olympic ITT profile Rio 2016

The women's version is basically the same with the second half removed, but a bit of the final few km left in. Here's what those climbs entail, more specifically:

Rio ITT climbs Rio 2016

So yeah, those are the headliners, but I'm not sure they are the story. Each lap over these climbs counts for 3.4km of climbing, but for the women's race that's 3.4km out of 29.8km, and for the men it's 6.8km out of 54.5. What interests me more is what happens when not on the climbs. The answer is: a bit of rolling up and down. I see that Froome has cited "long, flat sections," so maybe by their standards the rollers don't amount to much, and of course profiles are always misleading. Maybe I'm being misled and we really do have a pretty conventional course, save for a few minutes of climbing here and there. Like the road race, it probably won't reveal its secrets until the race itself.

Men's Favorites

The rankings are easy to produce:

  1. Chris Froome, GB
  2. Tom Dumoulin, NL
  3. Vasil Kiryienka, Belarus
  4. Tony Martin, GER
  5. Fabian Cancellara, SUI
  6. Taylor Phinney, USA
  7. Jon Izagirre, ESP
  8. Rohan Dennis, AUS
  9. Nelson Oliveira, POR
  10. Jan Barta, CZE

That's by dossard number. The reality is that Dumoulin has a wrist fracture, and while he can probably get round the course OK, the pain could well limit him anytime he has to grip the bars and climb. TBD. Also Froome may be a bit gassed from the Tour de France, where he achieved his third triumph in four years, and then went on to a bunch of circuses in the Low Countries to $elebrate his achievement. But he didn't exactly look terrible on Saturday.

Taylor Phinney falls in the same category: guys we haven't heard so much from lately... but he has injury, not age, to blame and if and when he is fully healed (like, maybe now?) we will resume liking his chances, at least a little.

Then there's Kiryienka, considered a fluke winner in the 2015 World Championships and mounting a pretty poor defense of that title ever since. Thirteenth in the Tour de Suisse ITT? Behind fellow world champions like Jarlinson Pantano and Felix Grosschartner? He made nary a peep in the Tour de France cronos, even the last one where his role in helping Froome was pretty much all done. So his high ranking raises suspicions -- not that he's up to something funny but that he's not as good as his crono kit would suggest.

Then there's usual favorite Tony Martin, who has only a German Nats win to his credit, an unusually fallow campaign for him but one which coincides with him passing his 30th birthday. The same could be said of Cancellara, who's four years older and who had two straight seasons of nothing much before this year, when he's resumed his occasional winning ways against the watch.

On to some guys who maybe should be wearing higher numbers... Rohan Dennis has to be a favorite, along with Oliveira, based on recent results. They both lost badly to a healthy Dumoulin in the last Tour ITT, but were right up there with Froome. Izagirre is probably having the best season of anyone against the watch, with three wins and a strong Tour where he won a mass-start stage. [Healthy Dumoulin might argue with this assessment, but I suspect he isn't in Rio.] Darker horses include Edvald Boasson Hagen, with his good all-round skill; Brent Bookwalter, the fine climber; Jonathan Castroviejo of Spain; hot hands Andrey Zeits and Julian Alaphilippe; and Michal Kwiatkowski from the "never underestimate the guy" file.

Women's Favorites

Again, those dossards...

  1. Kristin Armstrong, USA
  2. Linda Villumsen, NZL
  3. Anna van der Breggen, NL
  4. Lisa Brennauer, GER
  5. Olga Zabelinskaya, RUS
  6. Evelyn Stevens, USA
  7. Ellen van Dijk, NL
  8. Hanna Solovey, UKR
  9. Elisa Longo Borghini, ITA
  10. Ashleigh Moolman, RSA

Armstrong is 43 years old!! Oh, and for once she's maybe kinda starting to show it, finishing third in the US Nats. Armstrong has had a great career, but nowadays she's racing almost exclusively in the US, and not even winning those events. Color me unconvinced.

Villumsen is the reigning world champion, but her title defense doesn't exactly jump off the page. She was fifth in the shorter Thuringen crono last month, so maybe it's important not to read too much into that. Also, one of her main foils this season was Annemiek van Vleuten, who of course crashed out of the Olympics on Sunday. And Villumsen was hanging around the front of the race. So she might just be keeping her cards close to the vest.

As opposed to van der Breggen, who announced her credentials rather loudly the other day. She's got the pedigree, the skillset and the hot hand going for her, and has to rate as a top favorite. The only real question is whether bagging the more prestigious road race title was so exhausting, physically and emotionally, that she'll be off her game.

As for the rest, Longo Borghini, van Dijk and Moolman have been getting solid results and should be up there. Zabelinskaya was poor in the Russian nats, but who knows. Solovey is awfully young, but that's not always a bad thing. Stevens might like this course, but I don't think it's tipped enough in her favor. Brennauer was a lot hotter against the clock last season.

The elephant in the room, as far as the top ten exclusions goes, is Emma Pooley, a former world champion who hasn't raced very much after turning back to her studies following the 2014 season. Her recent results are devoid of helpful information -- that Giro Rosa prologue where she finished 41st? Yeah, at 11 seconds back. More tellingly is that in 2015, after not racing at the top level, she came in sixth in the Crono des Nations, against a star-studded field. With something of a season of racing in her legs, with climbing being an issue... I mean, she has to be ranked higher than #15, right?

The other person I wouldn't recommend overlooking on the basis of dossard would be Kasia Niewiadoma. Yes, I'm a bit of a fanboy, but she dominated her national championship last time she got on the aero bike; she's strong on the course in general; and whatever gaps there are in her resume have more to do with the fact that Niewiadoma is only 21 years old and coming on strong. Last, Trixi Worrack should be in the top ten before it's said and done.

My Picks to Win!

Ugh... I think I'll go with Froome, the favorite, and Niewiadoma, the favorite in my heart. Makes as much sense as anything.