Rio 2016 Olympic cycling guide: how to watch the men’s and women’s road races

Chris Froome and Lizzie Armitstead lead Team GB's big for road cycling glory, but what else do you need to know before watching the cycling road race live on the BBC?

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Team GB’s first medals of the Olympics might well be awarded at the men’s and women’s road races, which take place on Saturday 6th August and Sunday 7th August live on the BBC.

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With three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, reigning World Champion Lizzie Armitstead and up-and-coming talent Adam Yates in the team, Great Britain has a shot at early medal success, but it won’t be easy.

Here’s a viewer’s guide to watching the Rio 2016 road cycling on TV.

When is the Rio 2016 Olympic road race live on TV?

Coverage of the men’s road race starts from 1:30pm on Saturday 6th August on BBC1 and BBC4. The women’s road race begins at 4:15pm on Sunday 7th August on BBC1 and continues on BBC4.

What is the course like?

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The Rio road race route is a very different creature to the London course. Among other challenges the 237km men’s race features three ascents of the Vista Chinesa, a short but very steep climb with a maximum gradient of 14% (compared to Box Hill’s 4% slopes in 2012).

This, combined with a short 30km run-in from the top of the final summit to the finish, means that the heavily-muscled sprinters who will struggle to get their weight up the climb will have almost no time to catch up on the way to the finish.

The favourites

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It’s the lighter, nippier climbers who are expected to contest the finish: GB’s Chris Froome, Italy’s 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali, and Spain’s hilly one-day race specialist Alejandro Valverde are the most likely medal candidates.

Strong all-rounders like Geraint Thomas, Steve Cummings and Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski could also put their big engines to use if they can hold on over the climbs. But the revelation of this year’s Tour de France, Bury lad Adam Yates, could be a good outsider bet to cause an upset: crowned the best young rider in Paris last month, this steep, choppy course could suit his strength.

The women’s event will cover 141km over the same route, but with fewer laps of the start and finish circuits. 2012 silver medallist and current World Champion Lizzie Armitstead is the hot favourite for Great Britain, but she’s had a tough week and she will face strong opposition from Marianne Vos and Anna van der Breggen.

Both from the Netherlands, 2012 gold medallist Vos competes on the back of a stellar career and van de Breggen has had a prolific season. Other names to note include Team USA’s Megan Guarnier and Mara Abbot.

What to watch for

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Helicopter shots of the peloton as it speeds along will give you a good indication of the state of the race. A block or blob-shaped peloton tends to mean that the pace is low, and that any riders who have escaped from the main group aren’t considered a threat.

Should the peloton take on an arrowhead formation, you can assume that the bunch is wary and the pace is being kept pretty high to stop the breakaway riders from building up too great an advantage. And if the group stretches out into a long, thin line, you’ll know that the riders are going “full gas” and are riding their hardest to reel in any escapees, or to dislodge weaker riders from the back of the group on the climbs.

The coastal location of the route might mean that the riders contend with crosswinds, which smash a race to pieces as each rider tries to shelter by tucking in alongside the next. This creates echelons – diagonal lines of riders stretching from one side of the road to the other – and the limited space across the width of the road forces the race to split into numerous small groups. It can be astonishingly difficult for a rider to make it from one group to another, with no space to squeeze in if you do.

Riders working together in small groups will take turns to ride on the front to keep the pace high, and will “flick” their elbows to the side when they want the rider behind to come through and take a turn. Keep an eye out for this – crafty cyclists start to ignore the elbow flicks in the later stages of the race to conserve energy for the finish.

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On TV, the most important data is the kilometres to go graphic and the gap – this tells you how far the lead rider or group is from the finish, and how far behind the chase has fallen behind the leader. Often, times will be given for as many as three or four groups if the race has split up. Each time gap will be taken from the leading rider, so you can tell how close the groups are to each other by calculating the difference between their respective times to the leaders.