RIO DE JANEIRO – Chris Froome was the young British upstart at the London Olympics four years ago when compatriot Bradley Wiggins was fresh off his Tour de France triumph and targeting time trial gold.
Now, it is Froome is trying to pull off the rare double.
The reigning Olympic bronze medalist is coming off his third victory on the Champs-Elysees in four years, accomplished in part by his ability to race against the clock, and is one of the heavy hitters in the time trial on Wednesday at the Rio Games.
“I was really chuffed to get bronze four years ago. It was really important to me,” Froome said, “and to be able to medal here after the summer I’ve had, it would just be incredible.”
The path to Olympic gold is significantly easier than it was for Froome in London.
Wiggins has largely retired from road cycling and will instead chase gold with the men’s pursuit squad on the track. Australian rival Richie Porte broke his scapula in Saturday’s road race and will not start, and several contenders such as Nelson Oliveira of Portugal also crashed during the race.
Perhaps the biggest roadblock to Froome’s double is Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands, who broke his wrist in the final week of the Tour de France. He jumped off the bike early during the road race so that he wouldn’t aggravate the injury and has pronounced himself ready to compete.
Other threats include Froome’s trade teammate Vasil Kiryienka, the reigning world champion, and Taylor Phinney, the American rider who has spent the past six weeks preparing for the time trial.
Like Dumoulin, Phinney also pulled out of the road race early.
“I’ve been training really specifically for this course and the kind of effort I’m going to need for Wednesday,” he said. “There’s guys coming off the Tour de France and people are motivated – it’s the Olympics – but I do feel confident and proud of the work and sacrifice that I’ve put in.”
Before the men tackle the course, which uses the same Grumari circuit featured in the road race, the women will take on a slightly shorter version of the same route.
Anna van der Breggen of the Netherlands will try to follow her road race title with another medal Wednesday, though teammate Ellen van Dijk may have the better chance at gold.
Both will have to better two-time and reigning Olympic champion Kristin Armstrong.
The American rider retired for the second time after her victory at the London Olympics, but she decided early this year to chase more gold. Her selection to the team was not without some controversy, though, after she eschewed racing internationally to spend more time with her family.
Armstrong was picked despite facing the weaker competition, and two other American riders tried to replace her on the team through arbitration. Armstrong’s spot was ultimately confirmed.
“The only (American) female athlete in an individual sport who has medaled three times in the same event is Bonnie Blair,” Armstrong said of the speed skater. “So yeah, if I were to pull off a third gold then that would be history. I mean, come on, Bonnie Blair.”
One of the big questions heading into the time trial is how much the brutal road races took out of the field. A few riders pulled out early but many others completed the course, the men logging 150 miles of hard riding and the women dealing with some wet, slick conditions.
Froome was among those who said there should be ample time to recover.
“I actually think it is better to race hard on the Sunday and have some tension in my legs for the time trial,” said world champion Linda Villumsen of New Zealand, who escaped injury in a fall of her own in the road race. “Some prefer the other way round but I like this.”